Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I only have four weeks left in Uganda. Part of me feels like that's an eternity (I kinda miss London, even if it is raining there) but mostly I'm freaked out that it's not nearly enough time for me to figure out this whole master's degree thing, i.e., HELP ME, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING!!

Speaking of which, I really shouldn't be online. I should really get back to figuring all this out. Must quit using blogger to stall.

More pictures! This weekend, I lost inspiration to draw anymore, and was worried that it was gone forever after only five days. However, it has come back somewhat (though not full force), so it's all good.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Amazing day

Amazing day today. My first (and possibly only) day in which I am immersed in the Africa I expected to see, the Africa I have been studying for one year and reading about for many years.

I took my first long journey over a rutted and pitted red dirt (murram) road. The plants lining the road were copper brown from a thick layer of road dust. You know how, when you’re on a bumpy road, you kind of clench all your muscles so you won’t get thrown around the car? My stomach was quite tight by the time we arrived at our destination.

We arrived in a village and pulled up to what I thought was an abandoned building. People were ranged about on the lawn being counselled by TASO (The AIDS Support Organization) counsellors. We entered a room of the building full of ancient hospital beds with doctors and nurses sitting with patients. What I had foolishly thought was an abandoned building was an active community health clinic. Come on, Kusems, you’re in Africa, remember? TASO rents out part of the building once a month to treat patients with HIV (HIV/AIDS services not being offered by the normal health clinic). We did a bit of a tour, then sat down across from a worried woman with a pretty baby. Doctor Julia told her to come sit in the chair next to me. I was inches from the baby and wanted to reach out and touch her, but the mother didn’t look like she’d appreciate it and the baby herself was off in her own little world. Most babies and kids are fascinated by we white people, but this one just stared off into space, her eyes sometimes rolling back in her head the way a mentally disabled person’s might. I noticed that she was quite thin for a baby. The proceedings between doctor and patient took place in Luganda (the local tribal language) but I glanced at what the doctor was writing on the baby’s form: TB refill, fever, oral thrush. Oral thrush is a common infection among people with AIDS. I was sitting inches from a baby with HIV and tuberculosis (and possibly mental handicap?). This realization, perhaps combined with having missed lunch and having spent the past hour with a clenched stomach, not to mention the fact that hospitals have always freaked me out, made me feel a bit queasy and I had to take several deep breaths and focus on the vegetation outside the window. Here was everything I had been studying all year, sitting right in front of me. I knew what Africa was like, I knew it was this way, but it still caught me off guard and threw me for a loop.

After a while of sitting around not doing much, we caught a ride with some of the TASO workers to a place that served pork with cabbage. The place was a roadside set-up that I never would have recognized as a restaurant. A heaping portion of the food was served on a large plate. We ate with our hands (after sterilizing, of course) and it was delicious, but I haven’t mastered eating greasy, shredded cabbage with my hands, and I made an absolute mess of myself. The TASO workers chattered in Luganda and paid little attention to me, until one of the women asked if I was married. I thought it was an innocent enough question, until she pointed at the youngest man there and said, “He’s not married either. He’s a good catch, too. He’s a doctor, he’s young, attractive” etc. We all laughed, but I’m sure none of them missed the deep blush in my face. “I have his number if you want it,” she added. “You should give me yours, too.” Awkward!

After that, we got a ride home with them. I was crammed in the back of a van on a bench suited for four people, but holding six, being careful with my feet to avoid stepping on the beans and yams being stored on the floor. At one point, we passed two men on a motorbike carrying a bicycle. After a while, Doctor Julia turned to me and said, “We haven’t given you a Ugandan name!”

“Someone already gave me one,” I responded.

“Oh really? What is it?”

“Namutebi,” I answered, and everyone burst into laughter. I have no idea why, but it wasn’t mean laughter so I shrugged it off. I think they just thought it was funny that I had a Ugandan name.

So that was my odd, slightly scary but wonderful day.

Stormy sleep

Grr, did not get great sleep last night. The neighborhood dogs returned for another bark-off, though this time slightly down the road from the guesthouse. Then I had a dream that I was doing lab work and it pretty much embodied all my insecurities from the last two years with respect to lab work. I couldn't remember what I was doing, I didn't do it right, I was too slow, etc. Then, at 5:30am, a massive storm broke out. It started with rain so heavy, it sounded like the force of it would crush through the roof. I was sure it must be flooding into my room (it wasn't). Then there was lightning and delayed thunder. I got up to use the toilet, and while I was there, a sound like a gunshot rent the sky and scared the bejeezus out of me. I couldn't sleep again until it calmed down.

I had a meeting this morning with an American woman who is associated with the project I'm doing, and she suggested that I go with one of her team members out to the field today. Sweet! I'd get to see HIV/AIDS support in action. I hope it works out.

Another drawing: this thing was soft like a lamb's ear. My drawing of it doesn't really do it justice.

Daily Show

I was watching the Daily Show yesterday (thank you, African internet for thinking I'm in America!) and my housemate/fellow student was asking about it. I was trying to describe it, and she said, "Oh, that's like Nevermind the Buzzcocks."

"Uh, no...Nevermind the Buzzcocks is a music game show."

We then had a debate about what Nevermind the Buzzcocks was, and I was wracking my brain trying to figure out what she was thinking of. 8 Out of 10 Cats? Would I Lie to You? "Oh! You're thinking of Mock the Week!"

And then I realized: I knew more about British game shows than a British person. America is never gonna let me back in the country. Maybe I can leverage the fact that I watch the Daily Show?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Pitchers from ma camra.

Having read a ridiculous amount of Natalie Dee comics this weekend, I was inspired to start doodling. I've been going for two and a half days now! And I'm quite proud of some of the images I've come up with...if only I had a way of getting them onto my computer. I may take crappy photos of them to show them off.

Yesterday as Roya and I walked home from work, we passed a house with a bunch of kids playing in the yard. Roya's supervisor was there and she called Roya over to talk to her. A chubby toddler sucking on mango walked right up to me, and I took the opportunity of knowing Roya who knew the supervisor who knew the mother of child to reach out for the child's hand. Of course, I would never do that with a strange child (could have rabies!) She grasped her sticky mangoey fingers around mine and I died a little bit inside knowing that eventually, I would have to let go. Clearly, I haven't been getting enough quality baby time this year. But Holly's sister just had a baby, so hopefully, when I get back to London, I can rectify that problem! Thanks for squeezin' one out, Holly's Sister!

Monday, July 13, 2009


My stomach is much better, thanks! I think it really was just an adjustment phase. Anyway, if I do get food poisoning or catch something from the water (which I’m not drinking), then I have some heavy duty antibiotics from the travel clinic to clear things up.

On Friday, I filed a police report in Kampala. They gave me a "temporary" report that supposedly lasts 1 month (whatever that means), as a permanent one would cost $30. "Hello officer, I've been robbed." "Your money was stolen? Hand over more money and I'll investigate." I don't know what a permanent report would involve, anyway. They don't seem to have an automated system of reports, as my temporary one was hand-written. The man handed a blank form to my driver and told him to go upstairs to have it photocopied--that would cost 200 shillings. 200 shillings for them to photocopy their own blank form!!! He then filled in the form by hand, asking me to list the items I wanted recovered, even though I had already listed them all for him.

Later, I called my travel insurance company to file the claim, and they said I should get £150 back for my phone. Sweet!

We had a ridiculously expensive dinner on Friday night. Okay, it was only about $20 per person, but that's a lot of money in Uganda! Nothing costs that much. We should have known better than to go to the restaurant closest to the UN station and the airport, where most of the customers are white. On Saturday, we went to the Botanical Garden here (no pictures because we didn't want to pay the 2000 shilling camera fee) and to a resort beach. It was nice, but I wouldn't swim. Them there's schistosomiasis-infested waters.

On Sunday, it was a housemate's birthday, so we had drinks and a cake we bought in Kampala (looked pretty but was horrible! We had to use a knife to create holes for candles in the rock-hard icing).

Rain, rain, go away. I want to eat lunch in one of the tents on the lawn, and you are making that difficult. It has been off-and-on stormy here for the past two days. There is no drizzle here. Rain is heavy, fat, and noisy on the corrugated tin roofs, but it never lasts for long. Now the sun is coming out again.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Ugh...my stupid stomach. Why do you hate me? Is it the malaria tablets? Do you have a problem with me trying to protect myself against malaria? Is that what's going on here?

It's funny, for how horrible I feel, I haven't missed a single meal. My stomach may be churning and I may be excreting undigested matter at an appalling rate, but that doesn't affect my appetite one bit.

My classmate, Alicia is visiting the institute today as part of her summer project. She's from Seattle and she brought Cheez-Its! New best friend! Even my stupid stomach can't resist Cheez-Its. I can't even remember the last time I've had them (well, I remember someone sent some Cheez-Its to Alex, but they were the extreme flavor ones and were pretty disgusting.) I don't think you can buy them in London. It's weird seeing a familiar face in this unfamiliar place. I think I have a tendency to compartmentalize my life, so when Jacque visited me in London, or when Becky visited me in France, I couldn't reconcile having a Seattle person in a foreign city. It felt surreal in a way.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


I brought some US dollars with me to Uganda because I was told it was the only currency accepted at the airport (in case I needed to bribe any bureaucrats). I decided to only carry a couple twenties around with me at any given time (again, in case I needed to get out of sticky situations) so when my wallet was stolen, there were only $40 in it. This means that I had about $120 back in my room, locked away. I will now have to live off of this $120 for at least two weeks until I get a new ATM card (not actually all that hard to do around here). I went on an unexpected two hour walk yesterday in search of a good exchange rate (one dollar is roughly 2000 Ugandan shillings). I did find a good one, though, so score! In the evening, we housemates decided to walk down to an advertised beach (less a beach and more a bar on the lake). That ended up being another unexpectedly long walk, in the pitch dark, not exactly sure where we were. It’s all good, though. We eventually found our way back. I think that’s my exercise for the year.

My stupid UK bank won’t send a new debit card to Uganda. They’re sending it to London, which of course, doesn’t help me a whole lot. However, despite the fact that I was a bit mean to the guy on the phone, he was really nice and said he would figure something out for me. It sounds like I might have to transfer money from my account into my housemate’s UK bank account, then she can withdraw cash for me from an ATM here. Complicated, but I have few other options. The bank guy said he might be able to send a bank order here, but I don’t think banks here would have any idea what to do with that. My housemates brought travelers checks and tried them at every bank in town, then several banks in Kampala before finding a place that would take them, and then they gave a bad exchange rate on them. If banks here can’t take travelers checks, I doubt they’ll be able to handle a bank order. I think transferring to my housemate’s account will be more fool-proof, although now that I’ve said that, I’ve probably jinxed it.

My housemate, Roya’s mom packed all sorts of ridiculous things into her luggage without her knowledge. Roya arrived in Uganda to find several tins of food, lots of chocolate bars, a frying pan, and much, much more. Last night, she discovered that her mom had packed her housecleaning gloves, and when she put them on to wash the dishes, she further discovered that her mom had written her name on each glove. Too funny! As if the rest of use would have brought rubber gloves that might get mixed up with hers. Honestly, when I considered all the things I would need for a comfortable stay in Uganda, somehow rubber gloves didn’t come to mind.

Today I’m sick, but as the symptoms are the same as the stomach issues I had back in Feb/March, I’m hoping this is just my body adjusting to different food and stuff, and not an actual infection. We drink bottled water, so I don’t think it would be a water-borne infection, although it could be if the food I’m eating was washed in bad water. I’ve been eating a lot more fresh fruit prepared by someone else, so who knows. Or it could be the milk. Anyhoo, I’m gonna cross my fingers and hope for the best. Let’s all chant together: No worms! No cysts! No malaria!

Day 3

In which I get pick pocketed…twice.

The four of us living in the lower guesthouse ventured out to the capital city of Kampala accompanied by a very nice Ugandan man from the institution. We went by public transport, which involves very rickety vans with about 14 passenger seats. According to my guidebook, Kampala is nicer than other east African capitals such as Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. If that’s true, I’m not in any rush to see Nairobi or Dar, as Kampala was crowded, dirty, and ugly. But that’s just the spoiled snob in me coming out, I’m sure.

We ran a few errands in the city, had lunch, and then headed to the Bugandan kingdom’s administrative center for a festival held on the palace grounds. Uganda is ruled by a president, but the country is composed of several ancient kingdoms, the biggest of which is the kingdom of Buganda. Kampala is located in the Bugandan kingdom, so when the British colonized the country, they gave almost all administrative power to Bugandans. We went to visit the Bugandan parliament (not to be confused with the Ugandan parliament) and the palace of the Bugandan king. We didn’t actually see any of the palace, but there was a sort of festival on the grounds that involved animals in small cages, food, shopping, and live musical performances. I think it was while looking at the animals in cages that my wallet was stolen, though I didn’t realize it for several hours. It was at that time that I noticed the out flap of my bag had been undone, but my cellphone was still in its spot. I had a glance inside the bag, and my iPod and stuff were still there. I thought my wallet was tucked further down, and I didn’t bother verifying that, but I think now that it was probably on top, thus within easy reach of sneaky fingers.

I continued to check my phone periodically throughout the day, so I’m not sure exactly when it was stolen, but much later in the day. I remember using it to check the time at 5:30pm, so it must have been soon after that.

Grr. I just feel like such a moron. And a target. First I miss my flight, then I get pick pocketed twice in one day. What next? I shudder to think of the possibilities. I’m a paranoid person naturally, so I’ve been slightly on edge since I arrived here, but now I feel all that much more vulnerable. I feel like nothing is safe, even if locked up. I need to practice non-attachment. If Jesus’s wallet had been stolen, he would have just shrugged it off and moved on. If Jesus ever even had a wallet to start with.

But it’s not so bad. The cell phone was four years old and didn’t have a Ugandan SIM card in it yet. It’ll suck to have to recollect everyone’s phone numbers, but people lose phones all the time. The wallet had my US credit card and UK debit card, my driver’s license, $40 and 40,000 Ugandan shillings (about $20), and nothing else of much value, all replaceable. It’s a hassle to have to close accounts, especially from abroad, and especially because the phone system in the guesthouse is run through the institution’s switchboard, which only operates during business hours, Monday through Friday. Great system, huh? No one told me this until yesterday, so if there had some emergency here, I would have had no idea that I would need a cell phone to call the police. Scary.

My housemates were super supportive and paid for everything for me for the rest of the day. Bryoni offered her cell phone to call the banks, and Roya gave me a chocolate bar and decided that we needed to go out clubbing to cheer me up. So when we got back to Entebbe, we changed clothes and headed to the two decent nightclubs in town. Myth: All African people can dance. Some African men dance just as badly as white men. It was much like clubbing in London, except that everyone stared at us and I'm pretty sure I saw a cockroach scuttling across the floor. Fun times.

A few pictures of my first days.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Day 2

Last night when I entered my bathroom to get ready for bed, there was a gecko hanging out on the window screen. Even after establishing that it was on the outside of the screen, I still couldn’t relax, and a moment later, it had somehow managed to squeeze through a gap in the window and into my bathroom. I know these lizards are completely harmless and are more scared of me than I am of them, and I also think they’re sort of cute, but they freak the heck out of me all the same! The way it wiggled around when it moved and the speed with which it descended the wall towards my toilet made my skin crawl. I left, shut the door, and had to recompose myself. When I used the toilet later, it was only after making a thorough inspection of the room.

I know I need to get used to critters like lizards and bugs being around. I’m sure I will encounter many of them in the next seven weeks, and the ones big enough to notice are harmless. I will have to become desensitized by exposure.

I’m super happy to be living with other, adventurous young people. Tonight, the girls suggested we all go for a walk to find wine. We wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for the Tanzanian guy coming with us, and even so I wasn’t entirely sure if it was a good idea. I certainly never would have even considered it if I were on my own. The road was muddy, rutted, and lit only by the moon. At times, I would look behind us to see a dark form following. That freaked me out at first, but people left us alone and soon we were in town, where there was more light. The “grocery store” was a trip! Tiny “aisles” crammed full of all sorts of random things. For example, plastic sachets of alcohol, clothing in Ziploc bags labeled “boys,” flip flops, and stacks of what look like used (or at least very old) paper pads and art supplies. On the wine shelf, alongside African wines were a few bottles of “Altar Wine.” We decided to also get a couple beers as well, and scanned the selection via the crates of empty, battered Guinness and Kronenburg bottles. The woman went into the back of the store and returned with full bottles, obviously recycled several times. A large group of children escorted us most of the way home, turning cartwheels and saying, “See this! See this!” At one point, one of them walked up to me and made motions like he was painting his face, while they said, “Butter!” “Butter on your face?” I asked. “Yes!” “Why?” I asked, but they had lost interest already. I wondered if this was some reference to my pale complexion…

The girls arranged for someone to show us around Kampala (the capital city) tomorrow. This makes me super happy, as I know that if I were here alone, I would spend seven weeks within the one-mile radius surrounding my home and work. I don’t create my own adventures; I let others arrange them for me. So I consider myself extremely lucky to be living with people who like to arrange adventures.

The internet in the guesthouse is still broken, and as it’s now the weekend, I’m sure it won’t be fixed before Monday. However, I was happy to discover today that the office I’m working in is outside of the institute’s proxy network, so I can access Facebook, gmail chat, the remote desktop, and anything else I want to! I can’t go in on the weekend, so can’t chat with the fam, and I’ll have to find some non-internety way to entertain myself for the next two days (how does one do that? The TV is all in Swahili!)

My gecko friend is back tonight, though happily, he’s back on the outer side of the screen. I think I could become quite fond of him, as long as he stays out there. And now it’s 1am, so I must skedaddle off to bed.

Uganda Day 1

When I arrived in Uganda, it was pouring rain. It was a refreshing break to the sweltering heat of London (hotter than Bangkok on Tuesday!) I was kindly picked up from the airport and deposited at the guest house with no idea where to go or what to do from there. I was also informed that I have to pay rent (my supervisor didn’t bother to mention that before I got here). I asked the housekeeper to show me the way to the research institution (a 5-10 walk away), but when I got there and faced the security guard at the front gate, I wasn’t sure what to say or who to ask for. We finally figured something out and I was shown to my supervisor (she’d told me she wouldn’t be here). She informed me that she would give me a bunch of uncrunched data to stew over for the next two weeks while she’s out of the country, starting tomorrow. So yeah, I’m on my own for my first two weeks. But there is a lot of data to process, so I should have my hands full, and there are other people who can answer my questions about it.

I’m living in a four-bedroom guesthouse and each bedroom has it’s own toilet and shower, which is very nice. The housekeeper was kind to give me a larger, sunnier room since I’m staying so long. There is another girl from my school here, whom I’ve never met before today, but she seems super nice. There’s also a girl from Cambridge and a guy from Tanzania, and everyone is very nice. The girls have been here for a week already, so know a couple of the ins and outs (which are not at all easy to figure out!)

Despite having a pretty good idea of what most of Africa is like, I had for some reason expected Entebbe to be fairly upscale. Don’t ask where I got that impression. It is false. Many of the locals live in or work out of shacks (possibly both in the same shack?) A major industry around here appears to be taxiing people around on the backs of motor bikes (boda boda). I have not tried this yet and do not currently have any intention to do so. There are white people here, at least in the institution, so I know I’m not a complete novelty, but people still stare (perhaps it is my level of whiteness, which borders on glow-in-the-dark). As I was walking to the institute, I could hear little footsteps behind me, running to catch up. They slowed to a walk and followed me about a pace behind. I turned and the little boy said, “OwareYOU!” To which I said, “Hello, how are you?” and he responded, “Fine.” English is the official language of Uganda and most people with rudimentary education speak it, but I’m not sure exactly how much English the children know.

My supervisor had informed me that the internet was both quick and reliable, but so far it doesn’t seem to be either (I’m writing this in Word because I have no internet access in the guesthouse.) Apparently, rain is enough to disrupt the connection in the guesthouse. I also discovered that the institution I’m working and living at blocks Facebook and Gmail chat, my main ways of communicating with friends and family, respectively. Also, perhaps more importantly, I can’t seem to access the remote desktop system our school provides for us to be able to use certain software programs. This could be bad if I end up needing any of those programs for my project (though I don’t think I will.)

Anyway, I’m lucky I have any internet access at all. And this place is way cool. There are tons of cool bird sounds and when I was walking to the institute earlier, I saw monkeys jumping from tree to tree. Monkeys! In a residential area! Despite the culture shock, I think I could get used to this. Unless I get malaria, food poisoning, my room becomes infested with any sort of pest, or a tick burrows into my skin. Then I’ll be on the next plane out. What can I say? I’m a wuss.

Missed flight

So yeah, I’m an idiot and I missed my flight. Well, I missed baggage check-in for my flight, to be more exact, by 20 minutes. Panicked, I ran to the ticket counter to see what could be done, but as soon as I got there, the woman disappeared for an hour to work the boarding gate. When she returned, she put me on the list for stand-by for tonight’s flight, saying I just needed to pay £75 changing fee today. She said the baggage check-in would open at 3:30pm and her window would open at 4.

So I headed back to London and spent the night in Holly’s room (I moved out of my room yesterday). We got back to the airport today at 2pm, hoping that we could be first in line for baggage check-in. We were and check-in opened early at 3, but the check-in lady said I had to pay the fee first, at the ticket window which didn’t open until 4. So I camped out in front of the ticket window for an hour, with a line forming behind me, but it didn’t open until 4:30. Knowing that stand-by was first come, first served, I was worried that there would be people on the list before me. I paid my fee, then headed back to check-in to get my bags tagged. They checked me in as stand-by and tagged my bags and told me to come back at 6:50, but just as I was about to walk away to wait, a woman came up and told them to book me on the flight. I even got to choose a window seat! Happy day!

In the end, it was probably slightly good that I spent an extra day in London, because I discovered this morning that my residence hall had direct-debited a full month’s rent from my bank account even though I moved out yesterday. Since I was still in London, I was able to go yell at them and demand my £815 back. Morons.