Friday, December 28, 2012

Rejoining the blogging world

After several months of sulking about the relative boringness of my life in LA, I am going to restart this sucker. Blogging is good for the soul. 

I've spent the past two weeks in San Jose with family and friends. Each time I return home, I remember how blessed I am. I have parents that continue to welcome me (and my animals) into their home. I love spending hours in the hot tub with them contemplating ways to stop the dogs from digging up the yard, plotting life plans, and reflecting on transitions. I have grandparents who encourage and love generously. I could sit on their couch listening to stories, poetry recitations, and family updates for hours. I have genuine relationships with both my brothers. No matter how much we joke around, I know that we are protective, supportive, and proud of each other. I have friends who have known me for 10, 15, 20+ years. There is no self-consciousness with these friends. Only lots of laughter, banter, and tough questions. So nice to go from a slow social life in Socal to tacky sweater parties, miniature ice skating rinks under palm trees, white elephant exchanges, baby showers, hot tub soaks, annual Christmas parties, social walks, wine bars, and coffee dates. The full-blown extrovert in me has reveled in this people time. 

It gets easy to wallow in self-pity about the difficulty of transitions (in case you haven't gathered, my transition back to the US has been a bit bumpy). Yet, I am reminded this holiday that there are a lot of amazing people in my life. Not only in San Jose, but all over the world. Happy holidays, everyone!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Transitions Suck

Transitions. They can be exciting. They can be adventurous. And yet, they can be really challenging. For all their hype, the thesis of this post (can you tell I'm back to student mode): transitions suck.

I have been in LA for about a month and a half now.  My walk to UCLA can be conducted on auto-pilot. I no longer rely on google maps to get me to the basic pit stops. I've definitely gotten fully immersed in course work. I have favorite iPhone apps. I know which grocery stores have the best produce. I know which running routes have sidewalks. My room feels like a refuge.

And yet... I have only begun to build social networks. I miss my old life and communities considerably. I am trying to adjust to living as a frugal student as opposed to living freely as a financially comfortable working adult. To having roommates after years living on my own. To losing control of my work (teachers set coursework, TA/students are at the whims of professors).  To LA's vastly different values and social paradigms. To studying within a quarter system and a large chaotic school.

Looking back, each major transition I have made has been accompanied by a period of grieving, second-guessing, and loneliness. I shouldn't be surprised. It is a natural part of the transition process.

And yet, each time I find that I get impatient. I want to be back to my upbeat, enthusiastic, social self. I want to flash-forward several months to when I feel known and connected. I know it'll happen. I just need to ride out the low.

In these periods, I find I just don't write. But perhaps it is better to be honest with myself that life isn't all roses right now, and that that is okay.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

American Life Begins

It has been a month and a half since I left Uganda.

While I still struggle to regain my parking skills from a driving perch on the left side of the car, I very rarely veer towards the wrong side of the road or accidentally activate my windshield wipers instead of my turn signal. I don't have to pause anymore to consider which side of the toilet I will find the flusher on. Power and internet access feel normal and I have learned a plethora of relevant jargon. Along with the rest of America, I have become addicted to my iPhone and see why the church signs reminding congregants to silence their devices pictures a smart phone (not one spotting of a Nokia cheap phone here yet). I now remember to bring a sweater with me in the evenings. My environmentalist excitement over solar-paneled parking lots in schools and mandatory reusable bags in all SJ stores has dimmed.  It’s true that my blood pressure continues to rise when asked to write a check or quickly navigate a credit card machine. I still find malls, OnDemand, and grocery stores overwhelming. And yet, on the whole, I feel that I have adjusted reasonably thus far.

My pets, too, have made the shift towards American life. Scout has adjusted from geckos, birds, and cockroaches to feathers on sticks and cardboard scratchers. Ben can’t stop wrestling with his now fast friend, Bailey, and has become a fan of dog parks. He no longer noses the front door, looking at me with big questioning eyes that beg to go home to Uganda. Both pets interact with my parents with much the same affection they held for Harriet or my longtime night-guard, Jaqueen. We all have settle into the start of routines.

Over the last month or so, people have periodically asked me how I am doing with culture shock; I haven’t quite had the words to answer. Sure, there are glaring differences between the Bay Area and Kampala. Of course there are shifts as I transition from my own 3-bedroom house to a shared space with my parents and their dog. It is not surprising that I have had periodic pangs of grief for the life I am leaving behind. Or that I have thoroughly enjoyed catching up with family and friends. Or even that I have been a bit numb to the emotional aspects of repatriation—pushing off the processing to another day.

I think the shock of it all has been postponed partially because I am accustomed to travel. Most years I have returned to CA for several weeks at a time; this experience has been reminiscent of such past trips. Even if I manage to conceptualize that this is, in fact, a transition instead of a trip, it is hardly the first time I have uprooted myself and moved from city to city, country to country, continent to distant content. I am quite proficient at acclimation.

Now, though, is when I usually transition abroad. For the last three weeks I have been finding an American housing rental, a University job, and a domestic car (check, check, and check) instead of tediously weighing my personal items to consider if I have enough space for an extra bag of chocolate chips or dried fruit in my luggage. Instead of speed-reading a 500 page book to save myself the travel weight.

As time creeps into August, I feel like I should be getting back on a plane to hug Harriet and Loveline, to catch up on a long walk with Lindsay, to ogle at the growth of babies Kaitlyn, Malia, Chelema, and Isla, to be mocked by Jamie, to hear the details of Johnny and Amber’s summer escapades, to lounge at Mark and Lucy’s, to plot a new trip, to meet the new arrivals, to assume brace position for the onslaught of new school year craziness.

Instead, I remain in CA and wondering if I should put my passport in the safety deposit box. I am bombarded by the ceaseless air raid of expenses that come with American living (car insurance, phone bills, health insurance, AAA… the list goes on and on). I find myself contemplating what life will look like when I don’t have parades of teenagers meandering in and out of my classroom. What life will look like when I am the student again.

I guess it is fair to say that the processing is beginning. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day!

I am blessed to have amazing men in my life.

Thanks Dad, for being so incredibly devoted, hard working, and supportive. I could not ask for a more reliable father!

I also have been blessed with a grandfather who has been loving, compassionate, and encouraging. Thanks for being such an inspiration!

While I am getting increasingly devastated by my upcoming move and the goodbyes that it entails, I cannot wait to be closer to family! Looking forward to being around for holidays and having the opportunity to give hugs (or even cards) more easily!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

And then there were 10... (days remaining)

Last night the school held a tribute party for departing faculty. It was a lovely night of good company, amusing roasts, and touching speeches.

I love these events-- they always bring out the best in communities. Friends celebrate, lovingly mock, and articulate the depth of relationships. These parties, in various forms, mark the undebatable descent into the final days on international schools' calendars. They signal that goodbyes can, and should, officially begin.

It felt very surreal to be a leaver this year. My friends re-wrote a song that simultaneously belittled and elevated me. It successfully reflected the intimate knowledge my friends have of me-- the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. As I listened to my friends belt the words into a microphone as I watched a slideshow of hideous pictures of myself, I reflected on the degree to which friends in international settings become family. I have been very blessed to have genuine friendships with people who care deeply about each other and me. I am going to really miss these folks!

It's becoming real. Soon, I will really have to say goodbye. I don't want to.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Thought 1: My friend had a dress sale today. I was trying things on when it dawned on me... I'm going to need clothing for something besides infinite summer. Is it sad when LA seasons are going to seem extreme?

Thought 2: I talked to Peter last night and it hit me that I am really going to have several months of down time! No curriculum to develop, no new course materials to read up on, no collection systems to plan. I am already making lists of things I want to do, languages I want to learn, stories I want to record, people I want to catch up with...

Thought 3: I need to be careful, or I will be addicted to Amazon. For years I have had to worry about the precise (physical) weight of each and every item I purchase. Now that I have free access to ground transport, I am realizing the danger. I have bought about 30 used books already that are waiting for me in CA. I just used a gift from friends to purchase some kitchen items (including an espresso maker and a pressure cooker). What can't I find on Amazon? I am slightly scared that I will immediately get sucked into the ease of American consumerism. In some ways, being in communities void of shopping opportunities has made life so easy!

Thought 4: Moving is exhausting. It is 9:02 pm, I have finished my glass of wine, and I am ready for bed. Goodnight, moon.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Reflections, D-18

I know that LA traffic is known for being bad, but I think it is going to be a cake walk after driving around Uganda. Yesterday I drove into town to run some errands and then meet up with friends and was reminded how chaotic life here is. After avoiding stalled cars, unmarked 10-foot-deep holes in the middle of the road, stray goats, swerving bodas with giant wooden beams piled on them, mutatus spewing black smoke, venders frantically shoving carts across major roads, airtime salesmen walking in and out of stopped cars... I reached a roundabout that has potential to flow normally. However, a gathering of traffic cops were controlling the circle and creating more havoc than the 5pm crowds caused on their own. They sent half the cars clockwise, the other half counter-clockwise...needless to say, loud honks and gridlock arose. Then they held my line of 15 cars (waiting to enter the roundabout) for 22 minutes before waving us into the kurfuffle (yes, I was counting). This is one thing I am not going to miss at all.

I went to see my first Ugandan basketball game last night. It was the club league championship game. I was packed into the Kampala YMCA facilities along with several hundred other viewers. We practically sat on each other's laps to watch the surprisingly tight final game. I was surprised at both the quality of play (way better than I imagined it would be!) and the energy of the crowd. Next time, I'll have to bring something to cushion against the cement seats and the knees jabbing into my back (or perhaps a tarp to keep my pants from soaking up the sweat of the man sitting in front of me). A random cultural experience indeed. 

A few friends had a goodbye dinner for me tonight (before end of term hits full swing). I really appreciate the sentiments! When I think about the things I am going to miss, people are number one. I have met some really lovely people here. My friends are experienced travelers, confident individuals, intellectual readers, highly competitive board game players, caring friends, culinary experts, and loving spouses (to each other-- nice models). They have taught me a lot about being a settled, mellow adult (it might be a stretch to call myself either of those things, but I have certainly learned to slow down much more here!).   

Important aside:
Happy birthday, Dad!

That's all for tonight, folks. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

20 days and counting...

I'm going to miss Ben's head greeting me through the gate's peephole. Dog will still be with me, gate will not. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Reflection, 21 Days Until Departure

My grade 9 students just finished a unit on major conflicts/their impacts on individuals within war-torn communities. As part of the unit, students were asked to interview someone who was directly exposed to a major political or military conflict. I had no idea how easy this was going to be.

Most of my kids interviewed close family members: mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts... my students' families were in rebel attacks in the Philippines, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, WW2, the Rwandan genocide, the Bosnian conflict, the Ethiopian Civil War, the civil war in Burundi, political conflicts in Mali, large scale unrest in Romania, various violent upheavals in Uganda (including tortures at the hands of Idi Amin and the forced immigration of individuals from Asian decent); a variety of ISU faculty members and teaching assistants also volunteered their stories.

Interviewees were soldiers that fought on fronts, civilians that fled across continents, friends with presidents, genocide targets, Indian generals, refugees,  jailed political activists, parachuting air force members, military deserters, and IDP camp aid workers. Many watched family and friends die. Nearly all were shot at, bombed, or threatened with violence. Most were neutral civilians that were actively victimized. A few reaped the benefits of war. More suffered heavy losses.

I have been blown away with the horrific situations so many of my students and their family members faced; I've been shocked by the relative political power many held.

I realize that in my lifetime, there have been many armed conflicts, most of which I heard little about in their times.  How has the escalating violence between Sudan and South Sudan been sheltered from the public eye? Where was the media as Hutu and Tutsis violently clashed in Rwanda and Burundi?

Where was I? Why didn't I know more/care?

Working in the community that I work in, I have realized how little I really know of the world. One thing I do know for certain: I've lived a blessed life of peace. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Processing: Part 1 of unknown

The end of my time in Uganda is rapidly approaching. I feel as though I am avoiding blogging partly because I have been excessively busy in preparation for my departure and partly because I have begun the whirlwind of conflicting emotions. However, I am conscious that in several months I am going to want a record of this emotional journey.

In a few weeks…
I won’t be silently cursing the relentless string of belting choir practices.
I won’t have to check my water cooler light to confirm if my power is on.
I won’t wave to a host of familiar neighborhood guards every time I walk or drive.
I won’t be greeted by “Hello Madam” or Loveline’s huge hugs every time I enter the compound. I won’t be questioned about English vocabulary by Harriet. We won’t swap our cultural approaches towards an array of topics.
I won’t hear the regular Nokia SMS chime at 4:45 and know that it is Lindsay confirming our evening walk. I will not need to stress about getting Ben on leash to avoid baby goats running free on campus. I’ll have no concern about whether my dog will kill someone’s stray chicken. The chained guard dog under the tree won’t faze me.
I won’t have to fight copy machines, Umeme, the business office, or Orange.
I won’t hear the VanPee kids speed their un-muffled motor cross bikes up and down the road.
I won’t have game night, or Bible study, or home-church Lubowa.
I won’t have to avoid eye contact with traffic cops.
I won’t run into six coworkers every time I want to buy milk at the store.
I won’t be chased by half-naked children shouting “hello muzungu” as I slope through the fields. I won’t watch my step to avoid lines of safari ants.
I won’t have to cook for every social gathering.
I won’t be passed by the president and his entourage, complete with a port-a-potty, every other time I head into town (usually driving on the wrong side of the road at high speed, like all “important” diplomatic sorts).
I won’t have a backyard. Or a three-bedroom house with a porch. Or two broken toilets, one broken shower, one constantly dripping faucet, and about a dozen broken lights.

No one will ask me how I am doing before saying hello.
No one will try to buy my dog while I walk.
No one will stroll beside me casually carrying a gun.
No one will park a tank in an intersection. Or a cow, for that matter.
No one will ask me what we’re doing in class or when I will return their papers.
No one will drive up on a boda, or a mutatu and offer me a seat.

I’m excited. I’m sad. I’m frustrated. I’m lonely. I’m loved. I’m pushing away. I’m clinging. I’m not sure I’m ready to let go in just three weeks.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Making more than Kony “visible”

Emotion. It is what has driven millions of social media consumers to care about evil people and unjust situations. It is the force that has prodded me to unravel my own knot of oscillating sentiments towards the campaign.

On one hand, I am awestruck by the momentum of the movement. The KONY2012 video uses every single propaganda/persuasion technique one of my classes has ever examined and uses them effectively, seemingly effortlessly, to address a social justice issue (well, maybe not effortlessly… they have poured thousands of dollars and dozens of minds into the infomercial’s success). From a media literacy perspective, this has been an incredible “experiment” (to use I.C’s words), and I have been genuinely amazed to see how quickly friends on nearly every continent are posting about Uganda. When I announced to people I was moving here two years ago, most people knew next to nothing of my new home. An American customer service rep, just last month, asked me to spell the country’s name… obviously hearing of it for the first time. Now, Invisible Children has succeeded at putting Uganda on the international radar. That cannot be understated.

In the Invisible Children video, Kony is portrayed as a horrific figure with evil plots and a menacing presence. I wholeheartedly support aims to capture him. I could not agree more that families should not have to live in fear. That children should not be forced to be soldiers, to kill their own families. That people should not be displaced by fighting. That international attention has been far too limited and hundreds have suffered in (media) silence. That people geographically far from justice abuses can, and should, make a difference. That social media and the unity of many voices both hold substantial power.

And yet… I have been hesitant about a full-fledged support of Kony2012 and I think I have finally figured out why: on a small level, I am hesitant about Invisible Children’s approach for many of the same reasons other critics have voice (props to Invisible Children for directly addressing many of these concerns at least). But to a greater degree, I am baffled why Kony is such a huge international villain while other, albeit less dramatic/sensational tyrants, ravage this region. Kony has not been in Uganda since 2003. His forces have been diminished to about 200.  Does he still do bad things? Of course.  Should he be stopped? YES. But there are dozens of other issues that, in my mind, need more of an immediate response:

*Malaria and AIDs claim the lives of thousands in this region each year (lives that could be saved with more affordable health care, larger-scale education campaigns, access to/education about mosquito nets, etc).
*Millions in this region face an immediate threat of starvation due to the large-scale famine in East Africa. Similarly, thousands of Somali refugees flee to Kenya to escape political instability and droughts.
*Here in Uganda, food and gas prices are wildly inflated. People regularly protest and the government has taken often excessive and violent measures to quell protesters’ anger at their inability to afford basic amenities.  Many who can afford to eat still suffer malnutrition because it is too expensive to eat balanced meals.
*Public education is limited and many cannot afford school fees (and did you know that Uganda has the 2nd highest birth rate in the world? The average woman here births 6-7 children!). That's a lot of kids to educate!
*Child Sacrifice continues in Uganda and the government has not yet taken a strong proactive stance against it (note: this is a practice where virgin children are abducted and slain by witch-doctors, their body parts sold because they are thought to bring prosperity to the buyers). 
*Each year, thousands of women in the region are subjected to female circumcision (part of numerous tribal traditions; technically outlawed but still prevalent).  
*The government is considering, yet again, a national law that would subject people who are homosexual in Uganda to the death penalty.  The death penalty!

After several days of reflection and seemingly constant mental churning of the issue, I revisit an idea I posted on facebook early on: I desperately hope that this campaign drives people to learn more about this region. If the Invisible Children film succeeds in doing that AND somehow aiding the process of catching Kony in the process, than it is a victory for the Ugandan people.

Please take the time to learn more about this part of the world. There are many people and causes that need support. Consider splitting your support between these causes! Below you can find links to some groups I respect that are doing things to help a few of these causes:

Hunger/famine: Oxfam:

World Food Programme:

Child Sacrfiice: Gideon Foundation (note: this was started by one of my students)

Disease control: UNICEF

Some interesting facts about Uganda (ex: literacy rates, HIV prevalence, etc):

A friend runs this group that uses sports to educate/reach Ugandan youth (including those in the region the I.C. movie focuses on):

Monday, March 5, 2012

My Favorite Things

*Written in honor of my decision to take my offer at UCLA*

Sushi and smoothies and berries that glisten
Walking at dusk with no fear of being bitten
Passing a cop... what no bribes have to sling?
These are a few of my favorite things

Strolling on beaches and artists that doodle
Target and malls... the whole kit and caboodle 
 Blossoms that come with the start of the spring [seasons?]
These are a few of my favorite things

Downloads in seconds and uploads in flashes
Rubbish in bins in lieu of burning stashes
Family close by and the hugs that they bring
These are a few of my favorite things

When the power cuts
When the choir sings [at 2 am?] 
When no water’s had
I simply remember LA’s offerings
And then I don't feel so bad

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Vulnerable (adj.)

Without more education, she is constrained to low-paying jobs. Without a stable job, she cannot afford the classes (which, in  turn, require time off work). Without a full-time job, she cannot pay her daughter’s school fees. She has no means to eat, to pay rent.
Her desires for a different life persist; she dreams of work as a secretary or caterer (both require certificates here). Yet the means to achieve her ambitions are limited. An impossible situation.
I am already flooded with guilt for leaving Harriet when I leave Uganda. The country, the system, me: we all leave her vulnerable. I am thrilled that I am going to be starting a PhD program that I am excited about (95% sure I’m going to accept my offer at UCLA). I am ecstatic about being closer to family and the ocean. And yet, I feel utterly helpless to aid a woman who has meant so much to me here!  

February in Pictures

At the start of February, I accompanied the grade 11 students to Fort Portal and Kibale Forest for ISU's Week Without Walls. Students conducted science experiments in the forest, participated in local service projects, learned about the Toro Kingdom, toured fair trade tea estates, etc. It was a great bonding time with students! As an added bonus, my group saw a family of chimps in the forest! 

My student leaders for the Global Issues Network organized the first (of hopefully several) fair trade coffee house at ISU. They sold fair trade products, orchestrated an evening of musical performances, displayed green artwork, shared information about causes, etc. I was VERY proud of their efforts!

Last week I toured Ethiopia during my half term break. It was a beautiful and fascinating country! It was so different than Uganda (everything from landscape to religion to language was unique). A fantastic trip!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Travel Jitters

See post from Feb. 10 for context

Cultural Chaos Part 2: 
Day 1; 7:02 am: After about 25 minutes of loading and rearranging, we finally pull out of the driveway. The dog barks from within the compound, his head protruding through the gate’s peephole, his cocked expression perplexed at the sudden disappearance of all his people. Harriet calls goodbye out the front window and returns to her conscientious examination of Ugandan maps. Seven-year-old Loveline sits behind me with a sprawling grin, her right foot taps in an anxious beat on my seatbelt. Before we even make it down the street (note: my street is exactly one house in length), she asks to pull over so she can urinate. Gracious re-adjusts himself in the back seat as Loveline scampers from the car, pulls down her leggings, and squats on my perimeter lawn. Gracious’ 3-year-old son, Kevin (named after an action figure), remains a statue on his dad’s left knee. The toddler glares at me and studies my movements skeptically. Gracious pets his son’s shoulder and slides his other hand reassuringly along his wife’s knee. He mumbles to her as Loveline hops back in the car. She hugs the 9-month-old girl to her chest as Loveline settles at her side. 

I start driving again and head towards the main road. As I merge onto Entebbe Road, Gracious announces that his wife is terrified of cars (things that would have been nice to know before strapping her in a car for 20+ hours of driving in two days). On cue, she flings a blanket over her head to shield herself from the moving world. I peer through the rear-view mirror to see a rocking purple mound where a mother and baby were once visible. My eyes return to the potholes. Gasps escape the mound with each bump. Gracious nudges her and chastises in Luganda. “I want to enroll her in the army, teach her a gun” he proclaims loudly in English, a language completely foreign to his wife. I navigate around a stalled mutatu in the left lane, unsure how to appropriately respond. I look in the mirror, his smile offers a hint. “Then she will not be afraid of cars,” he exclaims with a laugh. Harriet chuckles in the front seat. I force half a laugh as I try to imagine the purple mound behind me bearing a riffle. My mind is still searching for a link between comfort with guns and comfort with vehicles, but Loveline breaks my thoughts with another toilet plea. 7:18, pit stop #2; this time she squats in the ditch beside a chapatti stall. The lack of car movement suddenly reveals that the infant beneath the purple blanket has wet herself. Harriet notices as well and recommends we recommence our journey; “then the smell won’t catch us,” she says. I try not to breath or let my face give away my discomfort.

A few minutes later as the pothole dodging continues, Gracious calls out for a plastic bag; the three-year-old is motion sick and puking. A chain effect, the purple mound and Loveline follow the toddler’s lead. I stop again to let three back seat passengers empty the contents of their anxious stomachs on the side of the road. 7:27. Pitstop#3. I make note of our whereabouts—even with Gracious’ shortcut and a complete absence of traffic (a rarity in this city), we are not even half way out of Kampala.

Mints are distributed. Nerves are calmed. We start yet again.

7:47: We make our final pit stop within Kampala. This time, Loveline dodges a group of goats and relieves herself beyond the edge of a lime green building.

8:14: My passengers’ digestive tracks and bladders are sufficiently empty. My seatbelt has stopped contracting in an anxious rhythm. The purple blanket has moved to a bag on the floor. The toddler is looking out the window while Gracious identifies cows and trees in heavily-accented English. As we spin around the Northern Bi-pass, finally exiting Kampala, I breath a sigh of relief that the first round of jitters have effectively been quelled. Only another 19+ hours in a confined moving vehicle to go!   

Thursday, February 9, 2012

All You Need is Love

“After that trip, you’ll have enough stories to write for a year!” a friend joked as I told her of my plans to take the people who work for me and their families on their first safari. I guess she’s right; if you pack 4 adults and 3 children under the age of 7 (6 Ugandans + 1 muzungu; 6 completely inexperienced travelers); 2 full and 2 half English speakers (with a total of 3 first languages); 2 days’ worth of food; 1 tent; 1 headlamp; 1 strobe light; and a leaking kerosene stove into a 5-seater RAV4 destined for a distant game park, cultural chaos is bound to ensue…. and ensue it did. Alas, the first of (likely) many intercultural musings from the trip.

Cultural intersection #1, in honor of Valentine’s Day:
I occasionally lament playing the role of bachelorette, the never ending search through the muck of leftover men…or perhaps undiscovered gems (so I like to believe). I still maintain an utterly idealistic picture of a man who will whisk me off my feet and cling to the hope that one day, I will “just know he’s the one.” As I wait/date/search, it is easy to bemoan the required effort, to loathe the disappointments that accompany such romantic notions.

Over a shared flask of Waragi our first night, I discovered some of my travel companions took a vastly different approach towards spouse-hunting. Three years ago, my gardener, Gracious, informed his village he would be returning home to choose a wife for his 30th birthday. Several women appealed for consideration. Gracious returned to his home village, met his (present) wife--once, talked with her on the phone-- twice, asked for her consent to marry-- was approved, and held a wedding just one week later. Only a month after their wedding, Gracious’ 19-year-old bride was pregnant with their first child.

In the U.S. it takes engaged couples longer to settle on a florist than it took Gracious and his wife to meet, marry, and reproduce. Through my western lens, this approach towards marriage is both foreign and slightly unsettling. And yet, as I attempt to extricate my cultural biases, I am struck by the problems that such an approach eliminates (think: a limited number of awkward first dates; far less psychoanalysis of compatibility; an absence of breakups; no pangs over flirtatious text message phrasing…). At the base of it, there is something oddly romantic about the faith a couple (that know next to nothing about each other) put in the construct of marriage, in the idea of fostered love, commitment, and family.

I still gravitate towards Westernized conceptions of love. Yet, as Valentine’s Day rolls around (and I am just as single as ever), I can’t help but chuckle at the idea of an announcement in the San Jose Mercury proclaiming my intent to marry. A line-up of men to choose from might not be so bad!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sonata of Clinton Close

The first movement begins as the sun's fat fingers stretch beyond the precipice of the hills. Mosques shatter the subtle hum of nocturnal insect ensembles with insistent calls to prayer: reminders reverberate like ping pong balls, reflecting across valleys and over wire-clad walls, to the ears of restless sleepers. The morning curtains raise and reveal bleeding oranges and pinks that signal the entrance of the sunbirds' delicate chirps. The whir of trucks speeding down gravel, the bleats of moving herds of cattle, the rapid footsteps of work-goers, and the honks of half-filled mutatus quickly join the tune.

By midday, the key shifts and the cacophony crescendos into a muddled din.  Dogs bark sharply at wandering goats. Boda bodas chastise swerving cars. Laughter trills; another couple is reposed under the shifting shadows of my overgrown ficus. Tires fling pebbles as cars announce their arrivals with echoing horns; metal peepholes rattle open and close; sandals slap the pavement as escaries pull at squeaky gate hinges. Radios atop vehicles or bicycles blare Lugandan tunes. Children 's falsetto voices call "mzungu, how are you?" as pale men amble towards Quality Shopping. Squawking turacos add their staccato jabbers to the dissonant chord. My dog and cat scutter about, a duet of screeches and growls as they wrestle; dry leaves crunch as the cat escapes under a bush. An ibis protests the hoopla with angry cries as it abandons the scene in search of more peaceful gardens. The tempo of this afternoon medley is fast, its fortissimo tune broken only by momentary pauses as life frantically grasps for air.

By sundown, a nearby bar's bass serves as a metronome. Its persistent rhythm keeps time for rounds of impending car alarms, off-key choir rehearsals, and rambling 1 AM wedding speeches. The syncopated jingle of my cat's bell signals a gecko hunt in progress. There is a harsh grating of nails as she scales the door's mosquito screens. The wire sags under her cumbersome weight. A generator purrs in the distance. Meanwhile my inverter struggles to compensate for Umeme's failed promises; it groans as it fights to protect my duty-free chocolate in the fridge. Strays report their locations; my dog lifts his voice to join the canine glee club and my scolds banish him to the yard. Crickets commence their enthusiastic all-night minuets.

Poco a poco the volume decrescendos. The celebratory ululations from various churches decrease in frequency. The tinny voices of a guard's radio prod him awake. My cat concludes her nightly stalks, her bell silent at last. The relentless drip from my faulty bathroom sink patters in time. The bugs continue their steady nocturnal strums, their high-pitched buzzes forming a seemingly infinite fermata. Even in these wee hours, the drone of life and movement persists. Pianissimo, a term Uganda does not know.