Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Liberation day, Ssemwanga and Mulago

Greetings from Uganda. It is Tuesday, the 26th of January. Its Liberation day here in Uganda. It used to be called national resistance movement (NRM) day and memorialized the day that the current president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni came out from the bush where he was amassing forces and over-thru Obote (the guy who had taken over from Idi Amin). Obote was not much better than Amin, although his killing of citizens was done a bit more covertly. Museveni was a socialist and had visions of collectivizing uganda and transforming society into one that was fair and equal. Sadly, it did not take long for him to adopt the title of "his excellency" and he has long since abandoned his socialist whims and has become a very, very wealthy man at the hands of foreign aid and internal corruption. he has now been in power for 24 years and has most likely fixed previous elections and will most positively win the next election in 2011. There is currently no successor, and even if there was one, he would not be allowed to win. Uganda has had a recent discovery of a fair amount of oil and rumor has it that Museveni would never leave office when he is set to inherit another bundle of cash from the sale of oil. But I digress....the day was renamed liberation day in honor of Mr. Museveni (he renamed it) and the upshot is that we got a day off of work to celebrate. The country's official celebration was in a town a few hours east of here that is a political weak spot for the president, so we missed the marching soldiers and artillery that most likely accompanies the day. Instead, we spent a good portion of it at the public hospital, Mulago, with the kid we have quasi-adopted in an attempt to get him a surgery that will close the hole in his skull.

The story goes as such:

Towards the beginning of our time here, we met a little boy named Ssemwanga. last year he was hit by a boda boda and sustained a head injury. he had a hematoma that was evacuated and after 2 surgeries he eventually left the hospital. He was lucky in that he appears not to have sustained any lasting brain damage. The surgeons, for whatever reason, decided not to fix his skull and he now has a good size (4 in x 1 in) defect or hole in his skull where his brain is sitting totally unprotected. His head was left that way and when mom inquired she was told that the surgery to repair it would cost 2.5 million Ugandan shillings ($1200) and never went back to the hospital after that. enter Guy and Rusha, rich mzungus, lucky boy.
First, we bought him a helmet to protect his brain now that a critical part of his skull is missing. Its a kids skateboard helmet and he probably never wears it, but we gave the mom many lectures and about half the time we see her, he has it on. Then, I went with her to Mulago hospital in december to meet the neurosurgeon and discuss our options. We were to meet at 7 am at our clinic and she and I were going to go to the hospital together because the clinic is only one half-day/week and you just show up and wait and hope that they will see you before the morning ends.Innocently, I was there at 7. She showed up around 8:30. African time, ladies and gents, even when your child's life is in the balance and some mzungu is offering to help you. The first clinic day was a bit of a failure as the mom had the day of the week wrong and there was no neurosurgery clinic. we did, however, march to the ward and to the chagrin of the nurses, who said that the doc was gone and sent us away, we caught him in the hall and I accosted him with my american doctorness (in a very polite, ugandan manner, of course.) He told us to return in January to his clinic when we would talk about the details of the surgery (mostly i think he wanted us to go away and not come back, but i will give him the benefit of the doubt). at this visit he quoted a price closer to $250, which we though manageable. I was feeling optimistic.
we went back to the clinic a few weeks ago. mom again showed up late to meet me, but she showed and the kid had his helmet as well as a raging fever. turned out he had malaria and a very high burden of parasites and ended up needing IV therapy for 2 days. but not before we went back to Mulago to conference with our friend the neurosurgeon.
what an experience: waiting in a ridiculously crowded area and then being moved to another area to wait again. we were lucky that we even made the first cut--mostly because we had been there to see the doc in December and had gotten a piece of paper stating that he would see us on that day. There was a chart, incomplete, but they could at least find evidence that they performed an initial surgery on the kid. I was actually surprised about that because most people here wander from medical provider to medical provider with these flimsy little pieces of paper with chicken scratch and are lucky if they have any history of illness or physical exam written down but sometimes have the names of the medicines prescribed. If the patient does not have that sheet of paper, docs do whatever they want. I don't even want to start about the inappropriateness of the care so many people are getting or the fact that most of the medical providers are not even trained.
the docs did not show up until almost noon and the clinic is supposedly over at 1 pm. they were
in a "meeting" I was told. I was the only one to get frustrated, it seemed, and i bugged nurses and then an intern when I saw one. what I am told is that most of the doctors at Mulago spend the morning in their private clinics, come to Mulago for a few hours in order to legitimize the measly income they make from the government, and then go back to their clinics in the afternoon. People in the waiting room are so desperate: puking in the waiting room, kids peeing on the floor. there was one bathroom and it was out of order. kids with huge heads from Hydrocephalus (cerebral spinal fluid that does not circulate and builds up pressure in the brain) or Proptosis (eye bulging out). People so weak they cannot sit up on the benches; and it was a shared space with the plastic surgery clinic and casting clinic so there were screams from the kids getting their bones set without anesthesia and very bizarre physical manifestations waiting to see the plastic surgeon. Surreal.
We finally saw the doc and he outlined the fees. He tacked on an operating theater fee that I am sure does not normally exist because when I went to get the invoice, the accounts guy had to go downstairs and ask the doc how much it was supposed to be. I was given a bullshit answer that
it was a new policy since July and it could be waived if I write a letter to the director of the hospital, blah blah blah. the doc also gave me a grocery list of all the supplies we will need to buy: cement for the skull, medicine to prevent seizures after brain surgery, hydrogen peroxide, anticoagulant. the kid needed another head C.T. scan to be done as well. all told it will probably be about $350, way more than this mother could EVER afford (she was able to raise 9000 shillings which is $4.50 from her family.)
So, diligently, we did a bunch of visits to local pharmacies and priced meds. I am sure we got a mzungu price on most things, but the longer we are here, the better we are at bargaining. We sent the mom to get an invoice for the head CT and gave her the money to do it. we got the pre-operative labs (with some minor hiccups)and tada! Today, we showed up, as instructed, to the ward for admission. The mom of the kid has supposed typhoid and had to stop on the walk over to vomit several times. She is taking antibiotics. The kid is terrified every time we set foot in that hospital building because he remembers his previous stay. Of course, the neurosurgeon was nowhere to be seen and no one knew we were coming and we were told that surgeries only happen on Tuesdays and Thursdays and there is probably no hope for getting surgery this week. But, the mom got a bed with her kid in an open neurosurgery ward with about 60 beds split evenly between adults and children, all amazingly silent. The hospital provides you with a bed, a mattress and even a sheet. you bring all the rest: clothes, food for your stay, meds and supplies. they provide water but if you want to boil it, there are people who come and you can pay them to boil it on their charcoal stoves outside. As you enter the hospital, women are doing their laundry on the lawn and the hallways are full of family members sleeping on straw mats with little boxes of their food and belongings beside them. Every face in the room looked up at us and wondered why that child hasmzungu angels accompanying him and they do not and I wanted to stay and know the stories and run out of the room and forget all at the same time.
I got the surgeons phone number from the nurses and will become a daily, pleasantly annoying reminder to him that he needs to do this surgery. We have not payed the operating room fee and were told today that the policy for fees has been "scrapped" since i was last there. We may end up greasing this guy's pocket just to get this surgery done....but we'll see how things play out. we are preparing ourselves for the likely case that nothing will be done at all this week and the kid will go home and we will do this again next week, and perhaps the following week, and the following... I have heard that cases that actually pay money (private patients) and of course any emergency take precedence over other cases. People can sit waiting for surgery for weeks or even months in some cases. hopefully we can help this kiddo and all our hard work and time (and money) are not for nothing.
again, a bit of a sad story, but a reality for life here and an honest portrayal of what is going on for us at the moment.

In other news we ran in the first annual Buganda road race this past weekend and were featured on the Kampala TV and radio stations for it. there were about 2000 participants and only about 6 mzungus. it was an event to celebrate the Bugandan kingdom and there was a lot of pride around it. I was the second lady overall with a fairly mediocre time, but that's okay. I won a prize of 100,000 shillings!!! ($50--but sounds like so much more in shillings, right?) and got a medal. Guy ran his first 10K race ever in blazing heat and did great. The race was slated to start at 7 am and actually started at 8...pretty good for african time. The course was fair and relatively well-policed and traffic was definitely curbed for the event. The pre-race warm ups were some of the best we have ever seen with many push ups (some one armed), hops, jumps, lunges and various other stretching going on. Lots of leggings, very short shorts, interesting shoewear (aqua socks, wrestling shoes), some traditional bugandan outfits and a festive atmosphere to match. We didn't bring a camera but met a girl who promised to send photos and if we can get a hold of the TV or radio station tapes, we will have some great memories. we have been given bugandan names by our friends at work and use them all the time here and people get a kick out of them. We used them during the interviews, and although we missed seeing them because we have no TV, apparently the radio djs were ripping on us wondering how we already have bugandan names after only being here for 2 months! it was an awesome ugandan experience and we were famous for a few hours. Our colleagues at work were very proud and impressed and I am pretty sure that Guy made some breakthroughs in trying to contact people about his project at work because they had seen him on TV that morning.

okay, that is quite long enough and I congratulate you if you made it this far.
I know that the gay bill is Uganda's current international expose and i will refer you to a friend's blog who has had some experience with the issue. He is a lawyer doing legal work in Uganda and a good writer. Check out his blog at: http://avnerabroad.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tanzania part II: The Northern Circuit

***Use the links in the text to find our pictures for each day***

The great white hunters slowly bellied through the deep bush. Their rifles slung high above their shoulders. Their senses heightened by the approaching kill. They unshouldered their rifles, allowing primordial forces to wipe any sense of guilt or remorse from their minds. They brought the scope loosely to their eye, giving time to focus. Once their eyes adjusted to the magnification, their prey lay bare before them: a steaming bowl of cream of asparagus soup, followed by roast beef, or was it pork chops? with a side of rice and salad?

The Tanzanian safari may not be the thing of yester' lore, however, being inside the National Geographic specials of our childhood does bring a sense of awe and makes one feel like a kid again. Names such as the Serengeti, or the Rift Valley, and animals like the black rhino conjure times of watching cheetah chasing wildebeasts and hippo fights for dominance on television.

Today's safari is much more tame than the thing of legend, and animals, despite fighting, killing and procreating on the tube, actually spend the majority of their day eating or sleeping, which is, I guess, what we would all do if we followed the laws of energy conservation. Today's safari is accomplished from the comfort of your own 4X4, well suited for the muddy roads of the Tanzanian plains, well equipped with a pop top, for easy viewing and your personal African guide, who is both a driver, supposed master mechanic, and has knowledge of the local fauna and flora. The recipe reads as follows:

4 part mzungu
1 part African guide
1 part Toyota Landcruiser (and for the schwanks, a Range Rover)
copious amounts of bottled water, butter sandwiches and boiled eggs.

toss in slow moving vehicle for 8-10 hours daily.

sprinkle in elaborate dinners of creamed soups, pork chops and beef wellington, 'cause God knows, that's what every red blooded westerner eats daily.

Now slowly stir occasional animal sighting beyond the grazing gazelle or zebra, an animal who may actually move apart from yawning ( though at times we were excited about the grazers as welll)

and voila! your northern Tanzania safari experience.

....Ok, forgive the clever wit my dear reader. The safari experience, despite what is written above is a once in a life time chance to come face to face with the great beasts of Africa, and to journey into a magical land that time forgot.

Our circuit was 7 days in length, starting in Arusha, Tanzania, and spending approximately 2 days in each of 3 parks, beginning with Tarangire national park. Tarangire is known for elephants, and boy, were there ever elephants. As I am sure all people are, we were so excited at first we stopped at every gazelle and water buck we saw, barely letting our guide advance into the park, we spent exceedingly long times watching these creatures that will soon become as typical as pigeons in St Marcos square. As we drove deeper we got our first glimpses of giraffes, ostriches and my favorite, the warthog. But it wasn't until lunch that we spotted our first elephant, walking slowly by the river below. Tarangire was our favorite park, its massive baobab trees surrounding by acacia bush, open forest allowing good animal viewing and a serenity that spoke of a lost world. We were lucky to be in the park during the wet season, as the grass was neon green and the ponds and water holes were plentiful and deep.
We spent the night outside the park in a tent camp run by local Masaai boys, where we had the camp to ourselves, probably because it was so hard to find: it even took our guide 2 hours of driving through Bomas to find it. The manager was 'fantastic' (his favorite word, done with a Maasai accent) and his crew treated us right, with all the amenities that Westerners could ever desire, as discussed in the first part of this entry. We spent the next day driving deeper into the park, exploring the lowland Selale swamps, and getting our greatest bag of the safari, an upclose and personal visit with a massive leopard. Unfortunately, and in accordance with murphy's famous law, our car decided to die just as we were feet away from this cat. And Rusha, who hadn't peed since her morning coffee had to gingerly exit the car to relieve herself under our careful gaze, as any movement from the leopard could mean that he was feeling threatened by Rusha marking her territory! Finally our car restarted with a little push from another friendly car, and we were off to see magestic elephant herds, lions, and vultures feasting on a dead buck.

The next morning we awoke and set off for Ngorongoro national park. NNP sits high above the eastern flank of the Rift Valley, a geographical formation that starts in the mountains of Lebanon, makes a deep incision through Israel to form the Red Sea at its bottom and reemerges on land to create the volcanoes of Tanzania, the plains of the Serengeti and Kenya and the rivers and lakes which feed the Nile. It is quite a steep drive to the top, but affords amazing views and rugged landscape. We spent a few hours at the top hiking down to the town of Mto Wa Mbu (Mosquito village). On the way we were taught of the local flora, the geography of the region, and even (oops) came upon some guys making bathtub gin in the river. We had several river crossing which Jessica enjoyed, finally to emerge below the rift.

Back in the safari vehicle (only a few hours of walking every few days for you, dear mzungu) reclimbed to the top of the rift, climbing higher to enter the NNP, and finally to stand on the rim of the collaped volcanic caldera which forms Ngorongoro crater. A beautiful site below with green sides of the massive crater forming the walls of a fertile plain of swamps, lakes, grasses and forests, and a plethora of geographically imprisoned animals in close proximity.

We spent the night at the Rhino lodge, a bunker like accomadation on the crater rim, eating plentifully of the local cuisine of beef or pork and cream of vegetable soup. The next morning we headed downwards into the crater through steep switchbacks. The fame of the crater comes from its steep walls, which act to concentrate the animals at the crater floor, trapping them for your viewing pleasure. The downside is that it attracts many other great white hunters, concentrating them beyond our liking. It was fairly impossible to spot an animal without soon being joined by 15 of your closest friends in their safari vehicle. It does not help that the drivers communicate with each other by CB, letting each other know where there may be a unique site, thereby overcrowding what would otherwise be classic wilderness scenes. In Ngorongoro we got our first look at bufalos, rhinos, thomposon gazelles, hippos, and hyenas. We also saw our first full-fledged lion, who was, as expected, sort of sitting around, doing..what lions do, which is sit around. We spent a second night at the bunker, waking up in the morning to bufalos grazing outside our back balcony. The next morning, after Jeff beat all the guides in push-ups (and people here in East Africa think that if you have made 60 you are OLD!), we drove off towards Olduvai gorge and the famed Serengeti.

Driving westward, apart from coming upon a car accident where the passengers suffered a broken hand and broken teeth (we stopped to lend a hand--some real doctoring), the trip was slow and bumpy. The road passes west down the back side of the crater and through the corridor which connects Ngorongoro conservation area to the Serengeti which allows relatively free movement between the parks and contributes to migration patterns and supplies fresh DNA to the herd. On our way we made an interesting stopover at Olduvai gorge, or as we learned, actually Oldupai gorge, a Maasai word that was mispronounced by the Germans.

Olduvai gorge is the site of one of the greatest paleontological discoveries in recent times, where Mary Leaky and her husband discovered the skull of Australopithecus boisei, our ancestor, and one of the greatest pieces of our evolutionary past. At the time of discovery, it was the oldest discovery of ancient man, only to be outdone by a chick named Lucy some years later. We got an interesting lecture on the subject and hiked into the gorge to get a look at the exact site of discovery.
After another harty boxed lunch of butter sandwiches and boiled egg, we continued to the south-eastern entrance of the Serengeti (which means endless plains in Maasai). After the usual half hour of logistics at the gate, we entered the park, driving 80 km to its core. We began to see massive herds of wildebeasts and zebra, participants in the famed migration that the Serengeti is known for, which happened to be happening around the easterm edge of the park. We camped for the night at a beautiful mobile safari camp, complete with safari tents, kerosene lanterns and bush showers. We could buy a bottle of wine and enjoy the sights and sounds that one can only get by spending the night in the midst of this famed park.

The next morning we awoke for a sunrise safari. We saw a leopard in a tree, ungraceful hippos, and beautiful lemon fever acacias in the morning light. We returned for a quick breakfast before heading out again for our great photo hunt. We scoured the Kopjes (rock outrcroppings) for lion troops, and spotted some playing cubs and their lazy mothers among the rocks. We tried to go southeast again to search for more of the massive herds that mark the wildebeest migration, but unfortunately the sky opened up and our efforts were prevented by high water in a stream and amazingly muddy and slippery roads which even challenged our Land Cruiser. That evening at camp we discovered that Jeff, Rusha's dad, who was until the day before on antibiotics for an infection, seemed to be getting ill again. It appeared that Jeff's infection was resistant to common antibiotics, and trying to find the one he needed in the middle of the Serengeti, hundreds of miles from the nearest major town, proved to be challenging. Thanks to cell towers, which, I believe are by law every 10 ft. in East Africa, even in the middle of the Serengeti you can get cell service. After several back-and-forths between Haddas, Rusha, and Jeff's doctor, all being coordinated from the bush with a 10 hour time lag, we were able to call a pharmacy in Arusha and had them ready for us when we returned there. Poor Jeff had to spend 36 hours with a very uncomfortable bacterial infection, and we spent our last day in the serengeti watching animals....and looking for cell phone minutes... and possibly looking for the antibiotics in question. We still got to see beautiful lion cubs lazing in the morning sun and by the afternoon, we drove to the serengeti grass airstrip, said an emotional goodbye to our guide, and got into the single engine Cesna that was to take us back to Arusha. We flew back over the beautiful parks we had just visited, and landed with clear views of kilimanjaro's snowy flat top, in Arusha. That night we put Jessica to bed, and we went with a relieved Jeff for some more of that tasty Kahn's bbq.

No Tanzanian safari would be complete without a visit to the police station, where we tried to claim that we had our return tickets to uganda stolen. (In all actuality, Rusha forgot them at home, but the airline wanted a police report.) After several hours lying to drunk tanzanian cops, we left with our police report, which didn't help in the end. The next morning at the airport, despite our names being on the computer, on the copy of the tickets that we had with us, said police report, and pleading, yelling, trying to bribe, and begging, we had to buy a new ticket home.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Longido, Tanzania Part One

Over the Christmas break we flew to Northern Tanzania where we met my parents for a safari in 3 of the national parks: Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. We flew to Arusha and had a few days to explore prior to meeting the parental unit.

Arusha is known for its "touts,": guys who chase you around trying to sell their safari or tourism program/scam, or what have you. In Uganda, people are so friendly and will often stop you on the street just to say hello so we were not prepared for the line of 15 guys walking behind us, all trying to get us to go with their tour operator. We thought the first guy was just being friendly--then he became the self-appointed ring leader and when we asked for some space he tried to push everyone back, only to come right back at us with offers of tours, hotels, etc. Eventually, we had to duck into a restaurant in order to figure out what to do for two days. We decided to visit Longido, a Maasai village 20 km from the Kenyan border, in the region of Kilimanjaro. That night we had an amazing dinner at a carborator and spare parts shop by day/halal bbq joint by night called Khans where we got awesome grilled chicken and beef and tons of unique salads, naan, fries. The place is a local landmark where people stop, get take-out and eat it leaning on the hood of their car, and its moto has become "chicken on the bonnet" (car hood in british english). Very yumm...

The following day we got to Longido after a 2 hour ride in a dala dala (the Tanzanian word for matatu, the minibus taxis). We got a little view of Kilimanjaro through the morning clouds on our way and great views of Mt. Meru, Kili's little brother. We got off the bad road (being VERY slowly repaired by a Chinese company) in Longido, a tiny Maasai village. The Maasai people are Nilotic herders from the North, who have been migrating southward from the Sudan for the last 1000 years. They are cattle people and live in Northern Tanzania and Southern Kenya and are famous for being fierce warriors and militant traditionalists. They are the people you saw in books when you learned about Africa in elementary school who have big holes in their ears with beaded jewelry and piercings and wear red tartan-pattern cloth wrapped around themselves and pretty much subside on milk, meat and cow's blood. Really, people have cell phones, but are otherwise living the same way as they did 100 or even 1000 years ago. They are polygamous, their kids are the family's goat and cattle herders and they average 10-12 kids per wife. The boys are ritually circumcised in their mid-teens, having to go the anesthesia-free ritual without as much as twitching a muscle or blinking, and are then sent off for 7 years to the bush to mature and prove their fierceness. Rumor has it they used to have to kill a lion. During their time away, as they prove their manhood, they let their hair grow long and then it is shaved off ceremoniously upon their return and their heads are dyed red. The women get circumcised too, but they don't have to go off into the bush afterwards. Mostly they become some guy's property (or wife) and start having babies. Longido is the real deal, they have some tourists coming in once in a while, but they have not changed their lives to make it a better show.

We hiked Mt Longido with a more modern Maasai guide named Moses and a guard/ranger named Lemengue who spent the hike scaring the buffalo away so that we did not come upon them unexpectedly, chewing snuff and collecting roots from the forest to make medicines. He hiked in sandals made from tires. Our guide did it in black dress shoes. We had running shoes and found it a pretty steep, challenging climb (they don't believe in switch backs). We saw elephant and buffalo dung and even a dead buffalo. We tried for views of Kili from the summit, but it was too cloudy,instead and we saw the plains of Kenya from the top.

The next day we went on a tour of the village with our guide again. We hiked to some caves where the Maasai men go when they are sick. They form a group of about 9-12 and each bring a cow and hang out for 3 months slaughtering and eating cows and drinking traditional medicines, all of which somehow induce diarrhea or vomiting, until they are better (maybe). If you don't get better (and die) then you are left outside, covered in goats blood and cow hide, for the hyenas to eat you. In more modern times the Maasai hire non-Maasai to bury their dead, but they do not handle them themselves.

After the caves we went to a Boma, a traditional family living unit for all the wives and extended family of a Maasai man. They are circular, fenced-in areas with circular huts made from cow dung and logs with thatched roofs. Each wife is responsible for building her own hut and her kids live with her, while the husband lives with the newest wife-although he can visit when he likes. The Boma surrounds a central pen for cows and goats. We got to go inside one of the huts and hang out with some of the wives, who made us chai (tea with milk and sugar) on the fire that is always burning inside the hut...makes for very smoky air all the time as there is no ventilation except for a few tiny holes cut out of the dung walls of the hut to see whether friend or foe may be approaching the Boma. Rusha made friends with some of the ladies and they gave her some clothes and jewelery to wear for a picture. Lots of very cute kids, many women and livestock. It was really cool to be so intimate with these people.

We then spent some time at the weekly cattle market. Cows are a sign of wealth and are not really eaten because they are so valuable. They are traded, used for medicine, dowry, or status, but for food the Maasai eat goat. There is a lot of potential wealth among the Maasai: each cow is worth several hundred dollars, but the Maasai choose to live a simple, material-free life. The goats at market are butchered and smoked on sticks around a fire and each part of the goat is designated for different people according to their age and status.

Our day was cut short by rain but not before we met an Israeli woman who has been living in Southern Kenya for 25 years and has adopted 8 Maasai children and is an expert in African history and culture. She speaks not only fluent Swahili, but fluent Maasai as well and was very interesting to talk with and helped us get a nice lunch at a local cafe. We headed back to Arusha to meet up with the parents and got our first glimpse of wildlife on the way (3 giraffes crossing the road!) through the windows of a way-overstuffed dala dala, whose driver insisted on driving on the wrong side of the road the entire time, despite the fact that it was dark and most people don't use lights.

See the link below for the full picture spread...


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

8th Annual Schmettloaf

We are doing some backtracking with the blog as we were not as good about recording things last month. For those who have been a part of our lives over the past 8 (for Guy) and 4(for Rusha) years, you know about our annual Hanukkah/Schmettloaf party during which Guy makes a ton of his famous meatloaf and we have latkes and mashed potatos and usually a big potluck. Never fear, we held it in 2009 in Kampala. We invited over some of our new friends and ventured into the markets and the Western Shoprite supermarket to buy provisions. We could not find aluminum baking dishes and were not willing to spend the money on pyrex for one occasion, so we cooked the meat loaf in a small metal pot and it did just fine. 2 kg of ground meat and many potatos later we had a feast. Rusha finally learned to use enough oil to make good, greasy latkes. Friends brought wine and beer and we had a ton of delicious tropical fruit that is so readily available here: papaya, mango, pineapple, watermellon, bananas.
We lit candles on an improvised menorrah and had drinks and thought of all of you who have shared schmettloaf parties with us in the past. We missed you all and hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season. We'll see you next year in the States for Number 9!

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Introduction Ceremony

We have had a busy couple of weeks and have neglected blogging. We have some stories to tell and in particular one is about a treat of a weekend a few weeks ago, just before leaving for Tanzania for the Christmas break.

We were invited to an introduction ceremony, a Bugandan tradition in which the girl introduces her new found-love to her father’s family, and asks for her father’s blessing in marriage.

Of course, the day was packed in full Rusha style, starting with a 5K race we ran in the morning at a slum adjacent to where we work that raised money for the local parish (picture a motley crew of about 45 boys and girls, most in bare feet and flip-flops and Rusha and Guy, running through the water-destroyed dirt roads of a dirty slum, much to the enjoyment and bemusement of the locals), to a wedding ceremony of one of the nurses we work with, and ended finally with the introduction ceremony.

We were invited by one of our co-workers, and were told that we would have to dress in traditional bugandan attire, Rusha in a long chigoyi and traditional sash, and I in a Kanzu and suit jacket. We managed to find these in the bustle of the pre-christmas shopping spree down by the old taxi park, the busiest place in town at the busiest time of the year.

Wearing traditional clothes was quite a trip, as we were walking to the ceremony, instead of the usual yells of mzungu! We were greeted with Kabaka!!, a sign that we were going to participate in something old and royal and special. The kabaka is the king of Buganda, the largest tribe in Uganda encompassing the Kampala area. The Kabaka still reigns over the area, and although he is more of a ceremonial figurehead these days, people here take him very seriously. We definitely stood out even more than we usually stand out here.

As we arrived at the ceremony, and told the ushers who we were, we were lead to the front row of the bride’s party, and made to sit in huge comfy lazy boy type chairs. We were the guests of honor! Who would have known? The introduction ceremony is very prescribed as we were soon to understand. Basically, the bride’s family is seated, while the groom’s family is marched in to song and dance. No one is supposed to know who the groom is until he is beckoned forward, however, for this particular ceremony, it was quite easy as the groom was a white guy from Utah. Long story…but it was his first time in Uganda too.

The bride’s and groom’s families hire MCs to speak on their behalf and to run the show, and the next many hours were spent with banter and jokes back and forth between the two, all in Lugandan. During this time, the bride is bringing out her friends and family, so that they can meet the groom’s party and vouch for him. They are dressed in beautiful Chigoyis and Gomezi (another traditional dress with puffy sleeves and a sash) and do a little dance on their way in. The day goes by like this for maybe 6 hours! and finally, after tasting the local banana beer that was made for Tata (dad) by the groom, the dowry begins to roll in, and rolls, and rolls, and rolls. For an hour straight the groom’s party brings in fruit, soap, sugar, salt, flour, clothing, money, meat, cows, chickens, beer, soda, and furniture, laying it our for all to see and for Tata’s approval. When he does, it is all taken up to his house, to be distributed among his family. Then comes the food, and oh so much of the usual posho (maize millet), beans, matoke (plantain pure), meat and everything else that is found on a typical Ugandan dish. (more to come on this, we will have to do a blog entry dedicated solely to the culinary art of Uganda). Of course we got to eat first, as we were among the honored guests, and we even got our names called out during the ceremony and received extra special food in the form of Luombo, which is meat and chicken steamed in banana leaf.

After dinner we adjourned to the host’s house, where close family and friends were continuing their celebration well into the night. We sat around and drank beer and banana beer and talked till well past midnight. I think we were there for close to 12 hours.

This was by far our favorite and most exciting cultural activity in Uganda to date, and even though we understood little of what was said in lugandan, we got the big picture and enjoyed our time immensely. We were off the Tanzania the following Monday for safari and to meet the Pearsons. And that is a whole new tale…..stay tuned.

We will post all the pics from the introduction ceremony and the other pictures from our time in Uganda on picasa web (many are already posted) and welcome you to check this out at any time: