Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Wedding

As mentioned in my last blog, Sunday before we took Andi to the airport we attended our driver Caesar’s wedding. I got to wear my first dress – or “man-dress” if you will – which is called a Kanju (Kon-Jew). I don’t have a full length picture but I’m hoping Andi does and I’ll link to it if she posts (and sure enough here it is). Andi’s dress wasn’t exactly what she was expecting – she thought she looked more like a gipsy – but it still looked very nice. Unfortunately we had to leave early to get to the airport so we didn’t get to stay for the whole wedding, but we got to see enough – and we were given enough information – that I got a general idea of what was going on.

The wedding itself was very interesting and quite a bit different than a traditional church type wedding. One thing we all noticed was how much laughing there was. The ceremony – which is called an “introduction” because it’s the first time the groom meets the bride’s parents – is very elaborate and festive. It involves many different parts where members of the bride’s family are played on to stage by loud music. As the members dance out on to stage, which is surrounded by guest on three sides, two men talk back and forth throughout. I had no idea what was being said but due to the tone, and all the laughter coming from the non-muzungu guest, it was clear that everything was very lighthearted and fun.

There are many other details – like the dowry system (yes sometime after we left a cow changed hands) and the groom hiding among the guest so the bride has to go find him – that I couldn’t begin to understand, so I won’t try to explain them. All and all – and this may upset some readers – it was just more fun than our weddings. I have to mention that they, typically, also have a faith based wedding following this ceremony and it’s probably just as boring as ours. But at least they have the introduction and I’m told once the bride and groom leave the after party can go to the next day… I’m just saying.

Another Week in Uganda

Well, I was supposed to go back to Kansas City last Sunday (July 25) but I decided to stick around in Uganda for another week (and no I haven’t been working on my tan). I figured since it takes so long to get over here I might as well stay, because it’s takes just as long going the other way. While I’m here I’ll get to attend the next Peace Journalism seminar in Kampala, which is today and tomorrow. On August 1 I’ll head to Amsterdam – where I’ll be for five days, hopefully with a detour to Paris for a day or two – and on August 6 I’ll head home. I’ve yet to work out all the details – like where I’m going to stay and how I’m going to pay for this (I might actually have to get a job when I get home) – but I’m guessing it will all work out.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Today We Are WHAT? … Leaving Gulu.

We’re wrapping up the five day seminar here in Gulu and getting ready to head back to Kampala. I’m almost tempted to pray we don’t get a flat tire or have any car troubles, but I’ll leave the praying to the mob of missionaries who’ve descended on the Church Hill hotel in the last few days. For my part I’ll just hope for the best and expect the wheels to fall off our SUV in the middle of nowhere.

On Sunday we are WHAT? … Headed back to the states. Before we leave however Andi, Steve, and I have been invited to our driver Caesar’s wedding. It’s not just any wedding though, it’s a traditional Bugandan wedding and we all have to go shopping for some tribal garb. Pictures will follow but from what I understand Steve and I will be wearing something that could generally be described as a “man dress.” Based on the descriptions I’ve heard so far it’s basically a decretive knee length shirt, so it shouldn’t be too awkward – or so I hope. Andi on the other hand will be wearing one of the traditional dresses with the big bows in front, like the ones in the picture.

And now I guess I should explain the WHAT? … Why I keep putting “WHAT?” in the in the middle of statements, and transforming them into rhetorical questions for no good reason. You’ll be happy to know that this is not a practice I plan to continue, I’ve been doing it because many of the Ugandans here in the Gulu area do it and I find it rather strange. At first I thought it was kind of amusing when Andi pointed it out to me but now it’s starting to wear on me. It only stands out when someone does it in the middle of every other sentence, which can drag a conversation out. And you have to imagine someone talking this way to really get the full effect. I don’t think reading it really does this phenomenon any justice. I recommend you give it a shot next time you go to the WHAT? … The bar or something.

Monday, July 19, 2010

My Flickr

You can check out photos from my adventure on my flickr.

From Gulu

We arrived in Gulu last night around 8:30 after a 6hr drive – which was only two hours over schedule – from Kampala. Luckily during the drive we only had one little set back. Sometime around 5 or 6pm, as I was drifting in and out of consciousness, a frighteningly loud bang got my heart racing and my eyes wide open. Our rear left side tire disintegrated throwing a large chunk of rubber off. It only took about 20 or 30 minutes to swap out the spare and get back on the road. On a whole the trip was rather reasonable. The roads were in relatively good shape and there was only a little construction. However our drive from Queen Elizabeth National Park to Kampala on Saturday was an 11 hour calamity.

We started Saturday off on a bad note when our chimp tracking expedition in the Kyambura (Chyam-bora) gorge turned up no chimps – and the local definition of Kyambura is: to look and not find. After our failed tracking attempt we got on the road to Kampala around 11am. Within a few minutes we pulled over so Andi, who decided to play in the dirt during our time in the gorge, could step out of the car and washer her hands off. While we were sitting there a passerby pointed out that our rear right tire was low. I opened the door and stuck my head out and I could hear the tire leaking. Unfortunately the spare was already on the car because Tabu (Steve’s driver) got a flat on the way to Fort portal. So the spare was the leaking tire and the other one was worthless.

We were told there was a gas station about a kilometer away. After about a kilometer our driver Tabu asked a guy on the road how much further it was, he said about two more kilometers. After stopping and asking about a half dozen times we finally reached a little road side boda-boda repair shop, about six kilometers later. After about 45mins – during which time Andi was the object of affection for the local boda-boda drivers, one even wrote his phone number in the dust on her window - they patched the leaky spare and we got back on the road.

Within 20 kilometers we were at a larger tire place and the tire was leaking again. This happened two more times before were back on the road with a new(ish) tire and a usable spare. But once the tire issue was sorted the road wasn’t any more hospitable. Beside the damned speed bumps – which are either so big you could get air hitting them too fast, or so small and close together they could shake a car apart – the dust on the road was like driving in a blizzard; except you can’t taste a blizzard.

All this nonsense ended up turning a six hour drive into an eleven hour one. So the six hours to Gulu was a breeze comparatively. But everything here takes just a little bit longer – or a lot bit longer – than it should. This is, after all, Africa.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day Two in Fort Portal

After concluding our second day of the Peace Journalism seminar here in Fort Portal, I’m now comfortably back in my hotel room milling over the day’s events. On second thought maybe “comfortably” is the wrong word to use. My mind is still spinning trying to process the events of this rather long and extremely odd day. And one of the situations I found myself in was enough to make me wish I was back in the SUV fling down the dark road to Kampala from Entebbe.

Earlier this afternoon Andi and I each accompanied a different group of local journalist, as they hit the streets of Fort Portal looking for an election story to cover in a peace oriented way. I liked my group immediately – not least because they insisted I be part of their group, so I knew they had good taste –one person look the lead, made a suggestion, and everyone got on board and actively contributed in deciding what to report and how. So after some discussion, and lunch, we headed out to talk to one member of the current government, one member of the major opposition party, and one citizen about whether they thought peace was possible during the upcoming election cycle.

First we went to the opposition’s local offices because it was closer, but everyone was still out to lunch so no luck there. Next we headed to the current government’s offices – which were conveniently located on the other side of town – and after a 20 minute walk we arrived first at the local police official’s office. The man we talked to, from what I understand, was basically the local police chief.

Talking to the police anywhere in any setting is enough to make me uncomfortable, but the five journalist I was with just walked up to a police chief’s office door unannounced, knocked and we all filled in. No appointment, no warning, we just showed up. I remember thinking the police at home wouldn’t even let five journalists walk into the building unannounced.

Just the thought of what we were doing was enough to put me on edge, but the scene inside this office was like something out of a movie. First let me say that, at six ft tall, I was easily the tallest person in our group by five inches. From what I’d seen up to this point most men here are between five and six feet tall – with two notable exception: Tabu (Steve’s driver – who I’ll be writing about later) and Caesar (our driver for the Fort Portal trip) who are both over six feet. I mention this because the police chief was another exception, as was the Mayor who we talked to after the chief (and that story will require whole other post; you’ll understand when you read it). But now let me paint you the picture of what I walked into in this office.

The Police Chief

A thick multi layer coat of off white paint made the wrought iron lattice work office “door,” look even heavier than it surly was. It would have been right at home on a jail cell, but its purpose was to lock people out and equipment in. Past the door a yellow and white sheet that was tied off to one side, and it served as the only other barrier between inside and out. Once we were all standing in the office I instantly noticed how small the oversized dark worn wooden desk made the room feel, which had at least a 10 or 12 foot ceiling.

Behind the desk was the second largest object in the room: the police chief. I’m not sure how tall he was because he only partially stood to shake hands, but he looked like a giant compared to the journalist and myself. He was noticeably heavier than anyone else in the room too, as he was almost surely over 200 lbs. At first he seemed very uninterested in us. He sat back in his chair while waving his hand toward two other men, who were already sitting when we got in the room, telling us he was busy and we would have to come back later. Being the last through the door I was at the back of our group and the police chief didn’t notice the “Muzungu” (which is a non-pejorative name for white people here) in his midst.

Once he did see me his demeanor changed instantly. He was suddenly very interested to knowing who all these people standing around in his office were, and what it was we wanted. I would even say he looked excited, happy even. I wasn’t sure if it was a good or bad, and I was still cautious despite his zeal and charm. After the journalist and I all took turns explaining who we were, and that we were part of a peace journalism seminar, the police chief told us he was very happy and he though what we were doing was very good.

After the journalist conducted their interview, which went surprisingly well, we made our exit and I began to feel a lot better. Surely nothing we would do next could be as uncomfortable as that. However, my feeling of relief was dashed when Edward, one of the journalists I was with, told me we were going to the Mayor’s office next.

(I’ll have the story about the Mayor posted later on today. I had to break it up because this was getting too long, but the event’s that follow what I’ve just explained are, hands down, the most bizarre of my life. Update: I've decided, for several reasons, not to post this story until I get back in the states.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bombing in Kampala

I’ve got some other events and happenings I really want to write about. I especially need to go back and write about the pictures posted here, and relate the experience of my first full day in Kampala. Which I’ll do in the next day or two, but first I need to talk about what happened last night.

As many of you know last night (Sunday July 11) during the World Cup game an Ethiopian restaurant was bombed in Kampala. I haven’t had internet access so it’s hard to fact check right now, but from what I’ve heard throughout the day several people (I think around 60 or more) were killed in the attack, many more were injured, and officials aren’t sure who’s responsible. Fortunately our group left Kampala Sunday afternoon to head to the site of the first seminar in Fort Portal, which is several hours West of Kampala. (I’m not sure at the moment how far it is from Kampala to Fort Portal, typically I believe it’s around a 4 hour drive. However our drive took more like 7 or 8 hours but that’s another story).

It was really shocking to wake up to the news this morning. The first report I heard was very brief. Right as I turned the TV on I heard a CNN anchor say something like “Last night’s bombing in Kampala has killed at least 30 people so far, and it is still not clear who is responsible for the attack.” The anchor then seamlessly transitioned into the weather and handed off to a meteorologist.

I really didn’t know what to make of it. I actually remember thinking “is there some other Kampala I don’t know about?” I thought if this happened 8 or so hours ago in a county’s capitol city, during the biggest sporting event in the world, there would be a little more information than that. Right?

So I flipped around through the 4 channels available to me. One of the African stations was showing footage taken at the scene of the attack and at the hospital following it. It was rather odd because the footage was not accompanied by any commentary or information, it was just raw footage of people being treated or slowly moved from one location to another. At one point the camera followed hospital workers as they took a body into the room – which looked like a walk-in refrigerator – where they were keeping the dead. The camera man made a point of focusing on the blood left behind on the floor outside the door.

And none of this made any real impact with me. I simply could not process that this had all taken place in the city I was just in less than 12 hours earlier. I’m still not sure what the proximity is between where I slept the night before – in Professor Youngblood’s apartment – and where the bombing took place, but it is safe to assume that only a few miles separate the two.

Honestly I really still don’t know what to make of this. And as professor Youngblood, Andi, and I finished our breakfast this morning, and headed out to start the first day of the first peace journalism seminar, I think all of us could be forgiven for wondering if we were wasting our time here. Not to mention putting ourselves needlessly in danger in the process.

But if this was a perfectly safe place to be we wouldn’t be here anyway. We may not change the world doing this but we sure won’t make any difference hiding.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Getting There.

After nearly 20 hours of flying and 5 hours of layovers, Andi and I arrived in Entebbe to face the 20 mile drive to Kampala. You may not think 20 miles sounds like much but, as I’ve now learned, in Uganda nothing is as easy as you think it should be. I was thinking something like quick 30 min drive at the most. So when we arrived in Kampala over an hour later I really had trouble processing what I’d just experienced. And it’s been awhile since I’ve been that frightened.

Now I’m not really scared of flying but when things get rough, especially during landings, I get a little uncomfortable. So before our trip began I had only worried about the time I would be spending in the air. Luckily our first flight was the shortest and also the roughest. I was feeling pretty good when we got off the plane in Entebbe. The hard part was over. Or so I thought.

On a good day – with daylight and light traffic – the 20 mile stretch of road from Kampala to Entebbe may take 45 minutes to drive. It was night when we arrived; Friday night. That 20 miles, and the hour it took to cover it, seemed like it would never end. And as I’ve seen over the last few days, with or without daylight, driving in Uganda is not for the faint of heart.

Hectic is a good way to describe it. Everyone here is in a hurry and people pass and turn and weave in and out of traffic without warning. You’ll see lights flash and hear “hooting” (which is what honking is called here) but I could never discern the purpose of such signals. It would seem quite random to anyone used to driving in highly controlled environment – like a demolition derby – where rules are enforced and generally followed. The only traffic enforcement here that I’ve heard of is geared toward parking violations (and keeping Professor Youngblood off the road).

What I’ve just described is the average day time driving scene, and I’ve omitted all mention of the ubiquitous motorcycles and scooters, known in Uganda as “Boda-Boda’s”.

Oh Boda-Boda how I loathe thee.

Cars, vans, SUVs, and even buses will pass and turn and weave in and out and around each other, and yeah it’s a little scary. But all this is happening while dozens of Boda-Boda’s pass and weave in and out and in-between all of the other vehicles. Boda-Boda drivers are also fond of going the wrong direction – even in roundabouts – and weaving their way past cars stopped at red lights, at which time they promptly run said lights.

Again, you need to remember that this is what goes on in the middle of the day. To understand what this night drive was likefor us – what my first experience in Uganda was like – take everything I’ve just described, add hundreds of people walking within a few feet of the road, make the only visible lights from the other cars and boda-boda’s traveling way too fast on poorly maintained roads, imagine riding shotgun in a large SUV traveling at incredible speeds, and you’ll begin to get an idea of this situation.

And the only comfort offered up during this voyage came to me from the back seat, as professor Youngblood said “Aren’t you glad you’re not driving.”

Why I’m in Uganda.

For those of you who don’t know why I’m in Uganda (or even that I’m in Uganda) allow me to explain. From July 8 to the 25 I’ll be here as part of a study abroad program with fellow Park University student Andria (Andi) Enns, and we’ll be taking part in two Peace Journalism Seminars. During the seminars Andi and I will be giving lesson and working with the participants – local journalists – as they produce news stories. We will also be producing blogs, pod casts, video, and written stories separate from the seminars as part of our study abroad requirents.

Park University Professor Steve Youngblood is organizing the seminars, and he’ll be in Uganda for the next 11 months to teach Peace Journalism to local journalist and radio broadcasters. He picked Uganda because of the presidential election taking place at the beginning of next year. The hope is that the practice of peace journalism will help prevent violence during the election cycle.

I won’t go into the details of Peace Journalism here because there is already detailed information at the Peace Journalism website, so you can go look there for more information. But just to give a basic idea here is the definition of Peace Journalism from the website:

Peace Journalism is when editors and reporters make choices that improve the prospects for peace. These choices also promote the positive development of societies recovering from war. These choices – which stories to report and how they are reported, among others – create an atmosphere conducive to peace and supportive of peace initiatives and peacemakers, without compromising the principles of good journalism.

For more information about Peace Journalism, and to keep up with our daily activities, check out the Peace Journalism website, our Facebook page, and Professor Youngblood’s blog.