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By jojoraewilliams

Weeraba means goodbye in Luganda, and even though I have said it a thousand times here in Uganda, today it is especially hard. I am wrapping up my last week of my semester and getting ready to catch a flight back to the US. I can’t believe that it’s December, and that I have to leave Uganda so soon. It has been a truly incredible semester. I love the scenery, people, culture, food, academics, and nature of Uganda. I am excited to see my family, but I am definitely not ready to leave this country.

This last week has been amazing. Academics ended last week for us, so we spent this whole week together as a program in Murchison Falls National Park. On the first day we went on a boat safari on the Nile to the base of the falls. We saw elephants and giraffes grazing on the banks, while crocodiles and hippos swam in the shallows. The hippos were some of my favorite animals that we saw on the trip. The falls were beautiful from the bottom and on our way back we saw one of the most beautiful sunsets over the Nile that I have ever experienced.

We went on a total of three game drives that were all incredible. We saw over 50 giraffes every time we went out. They are such cool animals and I love to watch them lumber over the savannah. We also saw a bunch of elephants, various herd animals, monkeys, beautiful birds, and a leopard. The leopard was my favorite animal we saw because we were able to watch it run for a long time across a plain. It moved so fast and with such graze that is was mesmerizing.

...continue reading "Weeraba!"

One week until I leave Uganda. It’s incredible how fast the time has flown this semester. One of the parts of this program that has had the biggest impact on my time here has been my homestay family. Throughout this trip, they have gone above and beyond to make me feel comfortable and have really made this country feel like home for me. My family (baganda wange in Luganda) is comprised of my mom, my dad, my sister who is 16 and my four brothers who are 20, 18, 12, and 7. Having such a big family, and one with such a different culture than I’m used to, was intimidating at first, but they were so welcoming that my fear was quickly replaced with a sense of belonging.

My first few weeks my family was amazing while I lived in their home. We had dinner together every night, where we exchanged stories about our days, talked politics, and explained our respective home countries to each other. My younger brothers always provided entertainment. My mom was the center of my family, and was as much a mother figure to me as my mom at home is. She was always there to help when I needed her, gave me the best advice and friendly conversations, and even drove me to the hospital at 3:00 am every morning for a week while I was sick. I love every member of my family and there is no other family I would have rather spent my time in Uganda with.

During the second six-week period of our semester, we were all doing independent research projects and we moved out of our homestays so that we could be closer to where we had to work. Even though I wasn’t living with them anymore, my family always checked in on me, and always had room for me if I wanted to come over. I would make the trek to their house every Sunday for family lunch, to catch up with my mom and two brothers around my age, and to play with my younger brothers. Every Sunday over my large steaming plate of matoke and g-nut sauce, the sense of home I had during the first six weeks would return and it was always hard to leave.

...continue reading "Baganda Wange"

A large part of my time in Uganda has been centered around the longest river in the world, whose source is found in Jinja, Uganda. Some of my favorite memories of this country are going to a music festival on the banks of the Nile, and a relaxing boat ride with all of my friends to see the source of this famous river. Rivers have always been important to me and being able to spend so much time on the Nile has been a truly incredible experience.

Since I was eight years old my love of rivers has been grounded in my favorite sport, whitewater kayaking. The White Nile is generally considered to be one of the best rivers for kayaking in the world, and the best whitewater on it happens to be conveniently located right outside of Jinja. I spent the last week kayaking with some locals and some old friends of mine from Canada that I ran into here. The rapids are massive and the wave, Nile Special, is definitely worth the fame it has. I finally got the adrenaline rush that I've been missing in Uganda, and it was definitely my favorite week so far in this country.

Other than beautiful days spent on the Nile, it is also a big part of my academic life here. Part of my program includes a six week independent study project on a topic that you find interesting. Naturally, I wanted to incorporate the Nile into mine, so my project is officially on the geopolitical relations of the Riparian states around the development and use of the River Nile, using Uganda as a case study. Doing research on the river by conducting document analysis and having interviews with officials from places like the Ministry of Water and Environment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has provided me with unique opportunities to understand the importance of the Nile.

...continue reading "The Nile"

As of when I first started writing this blog post, I have exactly 17 days, 1 hour, and 33 minutes until my flight from Uganda to the US takes off. I want to be clear that I don’t have this countdown because I can’t wait to leave Uganda; in fact, it’s almost the opposite. I love Uganda. My semester here has been incredible and I have learned so much through classes, cultural immersion, and research. Time has really flown by here and it is hard to believe that we are about to start wrapping everything up. The next two weeks are going to go by in the blink of an eye.

While I don’t want to leave Uganda, and I wish we had more time here, I am also excited to come home. Right now, in my home town of Corrales, New Mexico, fall is in full swing. Fall is my favorite season in Corrales because all the cottonwood trees along the Rio Grande are bright yellow, Pumpkins and decorations line everyone’s driveways, the air is crisp, everywhere you go the air smells of roasting green chile, and Wagner’s Farm is selling the best caramel apples.

I am also missing Thanksgiving, and while my friends and I are planning to have a Ugandan Friendsgiving, I always miss my family around the holidays. Other than fall things, my friends and I all have lists of foods we miss and are going to eat as soon as we get home. Breakfast burritos, BBQ ribs, and steak and mashed potatoes are at the top of my list. Ugandan food is great, but one can only eat so much rice and matoke.

...continue reading "Mixed Feelings"

By jojoraewilliams

My semester in Uganda has been incredibly interesting and valuable academically, but it has not looked like a normal college semester. The School for International Training prides itself on experiential learning, and I have loved being a part of it. My program, which is officially SIT: Development Studies in Uganda, is divided into two sections. The first part is six weeks of classes and site visits, and the second six weeks is an independent study project (ISP) or internship. As we are now done with the class section and half way through our ISPs, I can say that both halves of our program have been valuable in different ways.

The classes we took during the six-week period were a Development Studies Seminar, Research Methods and Ethics, and Luganda. In general, we would have a lecture for one of these classes in the morning from a professional in the field, and then would go on field excursions in the afternoons that related to what we were learning about. For example, one day in Development Studies, we had a lawyer from an established advocacy group in Kampala lecture us in the morning on constitutionalism in Uganda; in the afternoon, we went to the Parliament of Uganda and could ask officials there any questions that arose from the lecture as we sat on the floor of parliament.

This style of classes allowed us to understand the theories and concepts that we needed on a subject through traditional lectures, and to apply what we learned in the field in the afternoons. The first six weeks were important because they helped us learn about development in Uganda in many areas and taught us how do conduct research here before we were on our own.

...continue reading "Academics in Uganda"

By jojoraewilliams

If you are white and ever find yourself outside in Uganda, a chorus of "Muzungu, Muzungu!" will follow you wherever you go. Kids will chase you yelling it, men will try to get your attention with it, and taxi conductors will shout it to get you to go with them. Being white in Uganda you already stick out like a sore thumb, and having locals constantly point it out doesn't help very much. Muzungu is just their name for a non-African, and while sometimes it can get on your nerves, if you remember that no one means it to be offensive, you get used to it pretty quickly.

The word actually means wanderer and has an interesting history. When Europeans first started exploring Africa the locals didn't understand why all these crazy white guys were just walking aimlessly into the bush, so the locals starting calling the explorers wanderers, or Muzungus. The name stuck and has spread to most of East Africa. After years of colonialism and then the era of aid in this continent, Muzungu has evolved to also mean a person of wealth and so sometimes wealthy locals are called it as well.

Muzungu will follow me around for the rest of my time here. As I hike the beautiful national parks, walk the banks of the Nile, or continue exploring the crowded capital I think about how the term wanderer is fitting.

By jojoraewilliams

In Ugandan culture, it is customary to invite guests to your house for extremely large and delicious meals. Everyone here feeds us so well and you eat until you feel like you are going to explode at most meals. Even at restaurants food is cheap and comes in huge portions. A full plate of rice with meat and steaming sauce usually costs about 7,000 Ugandan shillings, which is equal to about 2 US dollars. Typical meals consist of a base like rice, cassava, Irish potatoes, matoke, or posho, and then a meat like chicken, beef, or goat, and a sauce that is either meat or ground nut based. Whatever combination of these dishes you get, your meal is bound to be delicious.

One of the most common base dish is matoke, which is my personal favorite. Matoke is essentially large, unsweet, green bananas, similar to plantains, that are cooked and mashed. While doing a rural homestay in Eastern Uganda, I got the chance to learn how to make this tasty traditional dish. First you must remove the thick peel with a knife and wash the sticky matoke. Once they’re clean you line an aluminum bowl with the lush green banana leaves and fill them with the matoke.

Next you make sure that they are wrapped tightly in the leaves and place the bowl and place it on a traditional mud oven. You know it’s ready when you begin to see steam and the leaves just barely turn black. Let it cool until you can touch it, then you can knead the leaves to mash and mix the matoke. At the end, you are left with a hearty meal base that is about the consistency of mashed potatoes.

...continue reading "Matoke Republic"

By jojoraewilliams

I have never been a soccer fan; when people say football, I think of my favorite team, the Broncos, and fond memories of NFL Sundays. Despite this, the Uganda vs. Egypt World Cup Qualifier that we went to a few weeks ago was one of my favorite things we’ve done so far.

All 15 of us on my program got general entry tickets, and armed with the knock-off jerseys and vuvuzelas that we bought from street vendors, we blasted pump up music and made our way slowly through the typical Kampala traffic to the Nelson Mandela Stadium. The swarms around us heading to the stadium turned the usually lively streets into a living Ugandan flag of red, black, and yellow as everyone pushed their way up the paths to the stadium sporting their country’s colors.

Once we were inside the stadium, the real fun started. Everywhere we go in this country, shouts of “Muzungu,” the local term for any non-African, follow us, but the stadium was a whole other level. We couldn’t even walk ten feet to grab a soda without Ugandan’s stopping us to take selfies of the muzungus in bright red Ugandan jerseys. Everyone was excited to see us and the energy in the air was electric. The whole stadium was general seating, so we found some spots near the back, where there was less attention drawn to us, to make our base.

...continue reading "Uganda Vs. Egypt"

By jojoraewilliams

Recently, Uganda has been having some political unrest regarding changing the age limit for the president in the constitution. Currently there is a clause in the constitution that says the president cannot exceed 75 years old and cannot run if he will turn 75 during the next term. The current president, Museveni, has been in office for 31 years and over time has consolidated power so that he now serves as more of a dictator than a president.

In the next election in 2021, Museveni should not be eligible because he will turn 75 during the next term. To keep his power, he and the NRM, the ruling party, have been trying to amend the constitution. There has been growing unrest in the country, especially by youth, calling for reform and a change in leadership. This background and rising tension in the country culminated into two debates in parliament that have been dominating the news lately.

Chaos! Dark Ages Return! Doomsday! – These are real headlines that have been on the front pages of local newspapers the last few weeks describing the political issues in the country. The first time that parliament sat to discuss the age limit change, the opposition was so unruly, including excessive yelling and singing the national anthem on repeat to delay tabling the vote, that the prime minister had to end the session and send everyone home.

One week later parliament came together again to discuss the same issue. The tensions escalated to the breaking point within the members of parliament as a full out fight erupted in the hall. News coverage was shut down in the entire country for over an hour so the government could try and control the situation. After the news returned videos of parliament members in a large fist fight, throwing chairs at each other, exploded over social media and news outlets. The session ended with twelve members of the opposing parties, including the leader of the main opposition party, being arrested with questionable circumstances. With major opposition taken out, the amendment was tabled and will probably pass.

...continue reading "Chaos in Parliament"

By jojoraewilliams

First things first, you need to understand that taxis here are not quaint yellow private cars like in the US. They are cramped white and blue vans that function as the country’s public transportation. To get where you want to go on them you need to know the general direction of your location and the nearest taxi stage that has vans going that way. There are never any signs and conductors often don’t speak English so even this first step can be a challenge. Make sure you ask a Ugandan friend for directions before setting off.

When you find your stage, you will probably have to wait a while for one to show up. While you wait men on motorcycle taxis called boda bodas will drive up and try to get you to go with them. Bodas are faster than taxis, but are more expensive and get in frequent accidents, so it is better to wait for your taxi.

Eventually a taxi will pull up and a conductor will slide the door open, jump out and start shouting at everyone to try and fill the van. Go up to him and clearly say where you are going. If he says no then wait for another, if he says yes then you can push your way onto the crowded taxi.

If you get the chance to pick your seat try to avoid the front two rows because the drivers and conductors often pickpocket distracted riders. As you squeeze your way to the back you will most likely bang your knee, head, or catch your skirt on something so be careful. Each of the four rows has three seats, but there are usually four people in every one so make sure you leave all concepts of personal space at the door. If you’re not sure about your land marks, try to sit in a window seat so you can watch for your stop.

...continue reading "How To: Take a Taxi in Uganda"