Sunday, July 29, 2012

Of Mutatus, Mosquitos and Marriage Proposals

Greetings from the Pearl of Africa! This year (just like last year) I naively convinced myself that I would write many shorter blog posts about the interesting little things that happen everyday here in Uganda. Obviously this has not been the case. So I'll try hard to give you a glimpse into my daily life here without making it a play-by-play.

Mutatus: Most every morning I pile into a van (little more than a metal box with carpet seat covers) with 16 other sweaty people while the "conductor" hollers out the window things like "Kampala Wandegeya! Kampala Wandegeya!" or "Tugendi?! Nakawa Ntinda!" This convenient torture chamber is known as a mutatu and is the taxi/bus of Kampala. It looks something like this:

I stole this from another girl's blog.
Another form of transportation around the city is featured on the left in this picture, the boda-boda. Although bodas don't require as much cramming and take you directly where you need to go, my dad doesn't allow us or any of the students to use them. The reason being that they do crazy things to avoid traffic, like drive on the sidewalks or on the wrong side of the road. They also drive really fast and weave in and out of cars. And it's not like anyone wears helmets. Often, when you're crossing one of Kampala's dangerous streets, the cars might be stopped, but just as you're starting to cross, a boda will zip out from nowhere and almost hit you. So, we don't ride bodas.

Mutatus really aren't that bad anyways. They might be slow, but they're cheap and they get you where you need to go. They can even be funny. It's a little hard to see on this picture, but most of them have a name of some sort spelled out across the top of the windshield in shiny stickers. They can be silly (Puff Daddy), religious (God is Able, Inshallah) or just plain bizarre (Synagogue Cares: Thank U Jesus). As a side note to that, there's actually a lot of religious titles here. You can hardly go anywhere without seeing a Trust in God supermarket or Jesus Loves You butchery. But it's heart-warming to know that religion is so important in this country that it's a good advertisement.

Mosquitos: I haven't contracted malaria yet, but I do have mosquito bites up the whazoo. I take great joy in killing annoying blood-suckers and will sometimes stalk them around the room, jumping on furniture and over people in order to end their miserable lives. (Ugh, I just got three more while I was typing that. So bugged! No pun intended.)

Marriage proposals: Yes I have had one, although more often I get boyfriend requests and a lot of asking for my number. That's just the life of a muzungu girl here; the local boys love you and are very forward about it. It doesn't help that I spend most of my days helping one of the research teams conduct their study which consists of me standing on street-corners and talking to random people. But even at church it happens. There is one brother who's asked every single girl in our group to be his girlfriend. It gets really old honestly. Most of the time I try to convince them that black girlfriends are just as good (if not better) than white ones.

The proposal story is pretty good though. I was just standing on the street, doing my research, and a guy I had already talked to came back to me. He started out very subtly: "I have always wanted a muzungu wife." "That's nice," I replied. "But I won't be it." When he asked why not, I must admit, I lied. "I, uh, have a boyfriend. Back in the United States." The only upside to that answer is it made the rest of our conversation rather short-lived. But honestly, this type of exchange is not unique to me. I'm pretty sure every girl in our group has had a similar experience. Oh these forward men...

So there you have it, a bit of my day-to-day. Pretty much, every day is an adventure!

Ok, this has nothing to do with the post, but I needed some pictures and these were the most adventurous. In the top one, my siblings and I play with adorable toddlers at Sanyu Babies orphanage.
 Mom, Robbie and I got pretty dirty playing futbol with some kids at the cricket pitch.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rwanda Revisited

So I made it to Uganda (yeah!). Literally we had one day at home in Kampala and all we did was laundry. 5 people + 7 days in Europe + no washing machine = a LOT of dirty clothes. Then the next day very early we went on safari at a park called Murchison Falls. We spent two days there and got home Saturday night. Then, again in the early morning, we left on Sunday for Rwanda.

Honestly, I was nervous about going back. (For those of you who haven’t read last year’s Rwanda post, click here. It might explain why I was anxious, but it’s a pretty heavy post so be warned.) Last year was so hard to stomach, I wasn’t sure I needed to witness all the stuff again. In fact, my mom and Abi didn’t. They sat outside the Genocide Museum and stayed at the hotel for the church site. The problem is that, going through that museum, you are hit by wave after wave of awful information and you start to shut yourself off in a futile attempt to prevent your heart from drowning. Last year I couldn’t decide how to feel, there was so much pain being thrown at me. So I had to mentally digest everything, “Oh my, that’s a child with a massive scar in its head,” before I could feel any of it. But this year I was able to feel more real empathy, with less processing. Still, by the end my heart was lead and my feelings rather numb and worn out.

The next day, however, compensated for the pain as we experienced the living Rwanda. A group of us decided to go on an adventure to a lake on the Congo border. The scenery on the way there was GORGEOUS!

Rwanda is known as the “Land of a Thousand Hills” (Milles Collines, if you’re familiar with that phrase), and it lives up to its name. 

Obviously I was obsessed with the beauty of this country.

When we made it to Lake Kivu, we commissioned a ferry boat to take us on a tour. At one point we asked the driver to stop the boat and everyone (except for me) jumped in for a swim. The driver and his wife thought we were crazy, and I think we were because we found out later that Lake Kivu is infested with the bacteria that cause Bularsia. Hurray for tropical diseases! And I didn’t even escape it because I was standing in the stagnant water in the bottom of the boat. No one’s had any symptoms so far but I hear it takes 7 years to kill you anyways…

The offending body itself
But the absolute highlight of the Rwanda trip was on the drive back to Kigali when we stopped on the side of the road to take a group picture with one of those fantastic views. When I got out of the bus, Peter has his camera out and his fingers to his lips. I peered over the edge of the cliff and heard what he’d found. There was a group of kids singing together at the bottom of the hill. As soon as they finished we all burst into applause, which started them into another song, this time with dancing too. All of the sudden, two white streaks started hurtling themselves down the hillside as Wayne and Brady ran to join the dancers. None of us could resist this experience and we all hurtled down after them (some with less grace than others). What followed I can only describe as the most joyous, energetic, amazing, mind-blowing, African experience I have ever had. It culminated with us, crazy Muzungus, joining into their beautiful dance, ruining it but also getting to beat our feet and celebrate life with them, in the total ecstasy that was their motion. Oh, and this video might help explain it, compliments of the amazing Peter Carroll.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Obrigada Portugal

So I probably should back up and tell you that we didn't jump straight from Amsterdam to Portugal. We did fly there, but we had a 13-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany first. I wish I could say for all my German-loving friends that I had a good time. But we had a hard time finding things to do and there was terrible restaurant service and we spent like an hour and a half in the wrong part of the Jewish museum. We did go into a really cool old Catholic church though. I was in love with the artwork.

The siblings in front of the super cool church; town square, Frankfurt.

But they we got on another plane and headed to Portugal! The cool thing about Portugal is that my dad served his mission there and he hadn't been back since then (27 years!). We got there Saturday night, and on Sunday we went to a ward he served in, in Porto.
Church building in Porto. Note the super cool purple leaves design on the walls!
It was neat to listen to church in Portuguese. My parents (who both speak it) translated for us a little bit and I was able to pick up on a few words here and there that were like Spanish.

After church we took a train to a town an hour outside of Porto; Braga, where my dad's favorite companion lives. His name is Xavier (pronounced Shavi-air) and he and his family are so so great! All his kids are older than us, but their English is fantastic and we had sooooo much fun eating and talking with them. And Abi and their youngest son Davíd gave us a concert. Davíd is studying music at the local university and has a voice like an angel! It was so nice, in the midst of running from one country to another, to have friends to share a Sunday afternoon with, and member friends at that. Helped me remember what brings me the most joy and peace.
By the end of the day we were old friends.
Braga is also the center of the Catholic church in Portugal. So Xavier took us to a huge church on a mountainside. We took a trolley up that was powered by water!

Beautiful. The church is nice too.

Portugal is such a gorgeous country!
Then the next day we went to the beach, which was fabulous except for one little thing... (If you are offended by naked shoulders you might want to skip then next couple of pictures.)

Needless to say, my sunscreen job was sub-par. But I now have the funniest tan-lines of my life!

With another flight back to Amsterdam, thus ended our Europe trip. Twas my first but I hope not my last! I very much enjoyed "the old country."

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Grand Beginning: Amsterdam

More canals than Venice. More bikes than Copenhagen. More Dutch than...well, pretty much anywhere. I give you (fanfare): Amsterdam!

Doesn't it look lovely June?
And truly it was a lovely city. Lots of quiet little streets, tiny cars, bike paths on every road, pastry shops, graffiti; everything I imagined Europe to be.
A tiny car (pink!) in it's natural, tightly parked, habitat.

Oh and museums! So many we didn't have nearly enough time. We went to THE museum, the Rijksmuseum. In addition to the Rembrandts we enjoyed, we also saw several Vermeers, that I didn't have a chance to photograph.
This is from the Rijksmuseum. It's called "Fishing for Souls. Protestants in the left boat, Catholics on the right.

This is a Rembrandt and it's amazing! You can't tell in the picture, but he painted the turban in such a way that it actually sparkles! Mom and I loved it.

Of course. Rembrandt's "The Night Watch." And wow is it powerful in person! So large and majestic and full of motion. I probably could've looked at it all day, if I hadn't sworn to my family I'd do the museum in an hour.
To further enjoy the Dutch Golden Age, we visited Rembrandt's house. This was fun not only because you got to see how he lived, but also because the walls of the house were covered in paintings. They all had a number and you could enter it into your audio tour in order to learn more about them. It was very interesting, as were his engravings. You should really look them up (sorry, no pictures of that either), he was a master!!! They were so carefully done.

We visited another famous residence in Amsterdam, this one a little more recent and more somber. Our first day in the city we went to Anne Frank's house. It was beautifully preserved, thanks to the diligent efforts of Anne's father, Otto. The secret annex itself was very saw, and very dark since they couldn't have any light from the windows. The weight of being trapped in there, day and night, not being able to move for fear of being heard, finally sunk in. What a fate. It's no wonder she and Peter would gaze at the skylight. And it was weird, since I'd memorized and performed the scene from the play about her life that involves that very skylight, to see the thing itself. A window into another world that survived long after Anne had left this one.

"Do you know what I do? When I don't think I can stand being cooped up for another minute? I think myself out." --The Diary of Anne Frank
We were also able to visit the Van Gogh museum on our last night. What an enigma of a man! His work was so influential, yet he lived and died so ignominiously. I definitely want to learn more about him.

To Robbie's relief, we didn't spend all our time in stuffy museums. We also took a spend bike ride in the country. We were trying to make it to a castle, but we ran out of time. Some lovely views though.
This path was perfect. Tree-lined for forever. I honestly felt like I was in the Wood Between Worlds or something with that kind of magic. It was gorgeous.
The food in Amsterdam was also fantastic. We especially enjoyed their (you guessed it) stroop waffles! (Which we called woofles. Makes sense right? Dutch accent and all...)
My [adorable] siblings enjoying some pure heaven.
Probably the thing I liked the least about Amsterdam was the immorality plastered everywhere. It was really disgusting and sad to see a society care so little about modesty. But my favorite part of Amsterdam was definitely the bikes. There were so many and everyone used them and I just really wouldn't mind if everywhere in the world was like that.

Our family's rented bikes all hooked together. So cute!

My bike and I got in a fight. I have to admit, he won. But by the end of the 20 miles, we were the best of friends. I even learned to deal with his pedal brakes.

"The claw" even pulls bikes out of the canal! Seriously, this guy fishes for big pieces of junk!

My all-time favorite. :)
So there you have it. Amsterdam. Land of the Orange, Home of the Dutch. One awesome city and the first stop for our week in Europe!