Apparently in Africa
So here’s the thing. I’m in Uganda right now. This might sound a little strange, but that simple realization hadn’t hit me until I moved into my homestay family’s house last night. This past week has been absolute madness. Supposedly, it was our orientation week, but everything is so new, confusing, and exciting that I can’t really remember anything from our ten million sessions about how to be culturally appropriate among the Acholi people. Here are a few things I do remember: Don’t let anyone see your underwear (whether you’re wearing it or not), never say you’re going to the bathroom (make up an excuse like taking a phone call or checking the tires if you’re in the car), do not smell your food before tasting it (I forgot about this one until I sniffed my g-nut porridge last night and got unrequited laughs from my homestay siblings), and guys can hold hands in public (If you’re thinking “wait, I thought Uganda was super homophobic!”. I know, but apparently it’s not a gay thing, it’s a bro thing.)
For those of you who aren’t up to date with your East African ethnic groups, the Acholi are an ethnic group that is mainly spread over Northern Africa and South Sudan. There has been Acholi migration elsewhere, but Gulu (where I’m apparently living now) is the center of activity in Acholiland. The Acholi also have a language; surprisingly enough, it is called Acholi. We will be taking Acholi classes this semester, and everyone keeps saying we’ll pick it up fast; I’m not so sure. Some of the sounds in the language seem impossible to say. The other day, we were practicing the sound “ng” which is very nasal and kind of sounds like Chewbacca having a bad day, and I thought the people in the next compound over must have thought we had gone mad. That’s right, I said compound. We take classes on a compound, outside, in the shade of giant fruit trees, in Africa, where I am. There’s also a rooster that interrupts our lectures with COCKADOODLEDO every five minutes. We’re trying to find the Acholi word for annoying so we can give our dear friend a name.
My study abroad group is comprised of six girls and myself. At first I was a little unsure of what that would be like, but I’m warming up to it pretty fast. First of all, they all seem like great people so far. This week has been very much like the first week of freshman year, where everyone talks about themselves a lot and tries way too hard to seem cool (Myself very much included). But still, I think it takes a special kind of person to study abroad here in Gulu, and want to learn about subjects that are as difficult as the LRA conflict and Rwandan genocide. (That’s right, I just called myself special. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want). The second reason why I am coming to terms with being the only guy on the trip is the attention it has been getting me. I was at a bar with all the girls the other day and a guy came up to me and said “Hey man! You’re like P Diddy surrounded with all the ladies! Get that dirt off your shoulder, yeah?!”. I think he got his Diddys and his Jay Zs mixed up, but the point got across. Another guy on the street was a bit more forward about it and yelled “Hey mzungu, why so many ladies?” when I responded that I was just very lucky, he asked if I could leave one with him. I said maybe later, which made all the Boda-Boda drivers on the corner laugh, but not the girls on the trip. I apologized partly because I felt bad, and partly because I am outnumbered six to one.
Boda-Bodas by the way, are motorcycle taxis. When people told me about Boda-Bodas before I came here, I pictured Tuk Tuks in Kenya or India, where the motorcycle is adapted to seat two in the back and has some sort of structure; Not up in here. Boda Bodas here are just guys who own motorcycles, and put you on the back where you hang on for dear life. I mean dear life: hospitals in Gulu have entire wards dedicated specifically to Boda accidents. Naturally we are not allowed to get on them, which pretty much limits our transport options to walking. Walking in Gulu is also an adventure. The main streets are paved, and have potholes scattered about. Every other road is a pothole, and has pavement scattered about. It doesn’t help that it’s the rainy season, which makes everything muddy, and that people are completely misinformed about driving, which causes them to drive on the left, and causes me to be not-so-pleasantly surprised when I look the wrong way before crossing a street and then get way too close to an incoming Boda.
Every day is an adventure is here; whether it is eating chicken that looks like pork and tastes like peanuts, or going to the bathroom in a pit-toilet letrine (I’ll post a picture of one once I figure out how to use them), or even just talking to people on the street. Speaking of which, I have never been in a place where people are so nice and willing to talk and help. I think I will start referring to Gulu as the Anti-New York. The other day, we had an assignment which consisted of walking around Gulu and getting information about certain things. Two girls and I asked a man on a bench if he could point us in the direction of the bus park. He proceeded to grab his crutches (which we hadn’t seen) and hobble himself for four blocks just to show us in the right direction. You’ve probably heard of “Minnesota Nice”, right? Well Gulu’s got them beat by a landslide. Your move Minneapolis.
Writing this blog is extremely difficult, because I want to share everything that I’ve seen, but can’t possibly begin. Also, Gulu is right outside the window, and I have a lot to see. My time with you has meant a lot, dear reader, but Uganda is calling. Really, it’s not you, it’s me. In all seriousness, It has only been a week and I’ve already learned, experienced, and seen way more than I would in a regular year. The gist of it is this: Uganda is amazing, I am having a great time, this trip is everything I hoped for and more, and I will be updating this blog soon.