The GoGlobal Blog

Month: October 2013

At the Heart of Culture

At the Heart of Culture

I am a firm believer in the link between language and culture. The daily vernacular can show as much, if not more, about a people’s beliefs, customs and perceptions as art or music.

“An lar” means “the center”

Americans are lucky; we share our language with several other countries while retaining our unique dialect. That patented American accent is the quickest way to find a kindred soul while abroad. While Ireland is in a similar position, the country has been working for the last 100 years to revive its native language, Gaelic.

And now, time for a history lesson with the man we all love to hate: King Henry VIII.

In 1541, the Irish Parliament passed a statute that declared good ol’ Henry the King of Ireland. The Irish nobility had given their allegiance to the King in order to maintain their titles, power and land. But, alas, allegiances are mostly just words, and as the newly Protestant England worked to impose laws upon the predominately Catholic Ireland, the English overlords ran into some trouble. So England tightened its grip. Eventually, the native Irish lords were stripped of their power, and Irish culture, language and law laid by the wayside. More Scottish, English and Welsh settlers moved to Ireland as English culture, language and law was enforced.

The next 200+ years saw English rise as the accepted language. Using Gaelic was looked down upon and even punishable at times. The late 1800’s, however, saw a push for the use of Gaelic as a cornerstone of Irish culture.  As Ireland gained more independence from Britain, the language found more of a foothold.

Another shot of Cork

Today, Irish students are all required to take Gaelic in some form. And I, being the cultural thrill seeker I am, am taking an intro class in modern Irish.

It’s different. Incredibly different. My safety net of Latin root words is gone. The words, so easily formed on an Irish tongue, sound strangled and clipped when I try to say them. And yet, I’m happy to learn. Its through language that we find the heart of a culture. I don’t expect to use it in everyday life, if at all, but it helps me decode my surroundings.

It’s something that many have fought for the right to speak. So even if I butcher it, I’ll give it my best go.


Paella and Bulls: So Spanish

Paella and Bulls: So Spanish

After living in Madrid for three weeks I already feel like a Spaniard! When I am not talking I feel like I blend in perfectly…..then I start talking. It could be spanish or english but some how this awkward “Texas/Chicago want to be spanish” accent of mine just gives me away. Alas, I am having the time of my life here in Madrid.

I know everyone just wishes that our lives could be perfect and that we would never go a day without missing something or someone and studying abroad only magnifies the want for a perfect semester. However, all of a sudden, all the feelings hit you and all you want to do is go home! Ya, that happened to me. Not only did I miss my cousin’s wedding, a baby being born in my family, but only one of the most important days in a sorority woman’s life: BID DAY! Everyone says “but you’re in Spain/Europe/Madrid; don’t think about it” but I’m here and you all are there and sometimes that just stinks! Anyways this feeling lasted about two weeks and then I moved on, lingering only makes it worse and I AM in Europe! Life can’t get much better than this right now; except for maybe the rain. I failed to do some important research when choosing which semester to study abroad in. Did y’all know that fall is Europe’s raining season? Ya, neither did I. So that first day it just felt like: “hello rain it’s nice to meet you, we don’t get a lot of you in Texas!”

Adventures in Spain and Europe just keeping coming. A few weekends ago I traveled to a National Park in Spain: Parque Natural de las Hoces del Río Duratón. This national park is located in Castilla y León in Spain, just about 2 hours outside of the city of Madrid. For three hours myself and the other students in my program kayaked in the Duratón River. It was one of the most beautiful Fridays! I enjoyed listening to the history of the park, the things we saw, and of course the endless singing of show tunes from Pocahontas. I mean, who wouldn’t sing “just around the river bend” as you paddle just around a river bend? It was really a lot of fun/ work out extraordinaire. At the end of the day we enjoyed some amazing Paella made with seafood and chicken. Paella is one of the traditional dishes of Spain! A definite favorite of mine!  Check out the photos below!

After a relaxing Saturday at home getting all that terrible thing called homework done, I prepared myself for an eventful Sunday afternoon at none other than a BULL FIGHT! That’s right everyone I attended a bull fight and yes, the bulls do die at the end. A point I had to gently explain to my friend coming with me. Now I’m usually not the first person to sign up to watch animals die but bull fights are a very traditional spanish activity and as the saying goes, “when in Rome…”

While bull fights are a traditional spanish sport, it is currently under heavy scrutiny and is very controversial. I was told that in the future it could cease to exist all together but I’ll believe it when it happens. We can all speculate about it but the bottom line is that bull fights are a part of spanish culture now and they will forever be a part of Spanish history. I thoroughly enjoyed the candy and nuts I purchased from a street vendor before the fight. As you enter the arena you climb the steps to see concrete benches all around the center. They offered seat cushions for a small fee in my section which made me feel like I stepped back in time. The whole place was gearing up for the fight. Once it started we couldn’t peel our eyes away from the center. Every little motion was captured on film. Then the first bull died. Now as I told you all above, I KNEW this would happen. But without fail my friends and I looked at each other in shock. What had we got ourselves into. Two more bulls came out and I decided I had had just about enough vowed to leave after the next one. I am throughly pleased to have been able to see this young matador in action. Before his one on one with the bull he jumped on the wall and yelled something in spanish out to an elderly man in the audience and then threw him his hat. The old man stood up, blew him a kiss, and remained standing during the entire fight. I think he was the matador’s father. This matador was the most elegant of all the men. It sounds weird but everyone in the arena held their breaths with every close encounter. We all ooohed and ahhed with every swift move. This young man had immense respect for his sport and for this bull he was fighting. In the end the entire arena erupted in cheers and waved white flags for the matador. He is whom I imagine little boys dream about becoming, the way he fought is how I imagine the matadors from ages ago fought. I am so blessed to have been able to experience something so amazing and in its own way beautiful.


Not all who wander are lost. Or perhaps something more cliché.

Not all who wander are lost. Or perhaps something more cliché.

As I’ve mentioned before, the word mzungu is used here in Uganda basically to refer to white people. This term comes from the swahili word wazungu, which means ‘wanderer’ or ‘traveler’. These last few weeks, my study abroad group and I have truly lived up to the title. Through several excursions and trips, we’ve traveled a great deal and gotten to see a lot more of Uganda. This, my dear readers, is the reason why I’ve been so distant. Even though you haven’t heard from me in a while, I know our relationship is strong, and that you’ll stick with me through the tough times. I have to do a lot of work on myself, I know. But I promise to keep in touch more often and listen to all your feeling and frustrations; we’ll make it through this if we just stick together.

Now that we’re done with that strange little tangent, let’s pick up where we left off. Last you heard of me, I was in Gulu having a grand old time. Just as I was feeling completely at home with my family in Gulu, we left for our first major excursion: Kitgum and the rural home-stay. Kitgum is the second largest city in Northern Uganda, which really isn’t saying much in terms of urban development for all you city folk. Despite the lack of skyscrapers and, well let’s just say it: pavement, Kitgum was a great place. We stayed in a hotel called “The Little Palace”, which lived up to its name. This place had stand-up showers, hot water, and FULL SIZED BEDS. We might as well have been at a Fairmont.

We stayed there for a few nights, and talked to a lot of people who worked in Kitgum during the war. One notable speaker was Bishop Ochola, a religious leader who helped to bring about peace talks and minimize the ravaging effects of the conflict. The Bishop preaches about the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation in post-conflict settings, which becomes truly inspiring once you discover he lost a wife and a daughter to rebel groups during the conflict. We attended a few more inspiring meetings with NGOs, another Acholi Chief (King), and communities working to rebuild their lives after years in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. After a few days, we were ready to embark on our rural home-stay

The rural home-stay is a unique part of SIT study abroad trips. For about four days, we live with new families in a rural community. During this period, we do not attend classes and have no contact with our professors or academic coordinators. Given the intensity of the experience, and the fact that we have to carry out research while we’re there, we take on the experience in groups. My home-stay partners were Karen and Tarryn, two girls from my trip.

Every one of the girls on this trip has a unique reason for ending up studying conflict transformation in Uganda, which has made our experiences and discussions amazing. Tarryn’s reason struck me as very interesting from the beginning; she told me she went to her study abroad counselor and said she wanted to live on the dirt floor of a mud hut for a semester. Well Tarryn it wasn’t a semester, but you got what you wanted.

We traveled to Amida, about thirty minutes outside of Kitgum on one of the bumpiest roads I’ve seen so far (that’s saying something), to meet Mr. Lam and his family, who would be hosting us for the next few days. Mr. Lam was a man of about 80 years who had an enormous family and a big heart. Also, he was kind of hard of hearing. Here’s a sample conversation:


[Me] Mr. Lam, how many children do you have?


[Mr. Lam] Yes, yes of course.


[Me] No sir, I meant ‘how many kids do you have’?


[Mr. Lam] Oh! Very many!


[Me] How many, just out of curiosity?


[Mr. Lam] Very, very, many!


[Me] Could you maybe provide an estimate, like, you know, a number?


[Mr. Lam] Hmmm, fifteen? maybe seventeen?


[Me] Oh Wow! You must have a lot of grandchildren then!


[Mr. Lam] No, she’s coming later.


[Me] Oh perfect. But I meant that I would be willing to bet you have many grandchildren as well.


[Mr. Lam] Oh yes, some are even having many kids.


[Me] So you have great grandchildren?


[Mr. Lam] No! I have already told you that she will not come until much later.


[Me] I’m so sorry Mr. Lam, sometimes I can’t hear very well.


[Mr. Lam] It is ok.


Anyway, Mr. Lam and his two wives (yeah polygamy is a thing here) were amazing people, and they helped us a lot with our research. It turned out that Mr. Lam was what we in Uganda call “A Head Honcho”. He knew everyone in town and everyone knew him, because he’d been a police officer and was now a politician in the Amida sub-county. His home was great too, we got our own mud hut, which we only had to share with a few frogs, some lizards, and what I truly hope was not a snake. Sadly, the experience came to an end, and we had to say goodbye to all of our new family members.

We went back to Gulu for a few days where we met even more amazing people. One of them was Komakech Patrick, a former LRA rebel who was abducted into their ranks when he was only nine years old. Although he was forced into participating in the conflict like so many others, he rose in the ranks and was even Joseph Kony’s personal body guard at one point. After ten years, he managed to escape and reintegrate into society. He was one of the founding members of Invisible Children, the NGO that made the Kony2012 video; which probably inspired you for twenty minutes and then pissed you off for a semester. I’ve developed a lot of mixed feelings about them since I’ve been here, so if you ever want to talk IC, holla at yo boy. (I promise not to say ‘holla at yo boy’ during the conversation). Anyways, Patrick has had some ups and downs since he returned from the bush, but he was happy to share them all with us and provide us with his unique world view.

It seemed like we’d only been in Gulu for ten minutes when it was time to leave again. This time, we were off to Kampala. Kampala, if you didn’t already know, is Uganda’s capital and largest city. Coming from Gulu, and especially our rural home-stay in Kitgum, the capital felt like a whole different ball game. Kampala has the kind of traffic I’ve only seen in Mexico City, with a disregard for traffic laws that even chilangos would be afraid of. (For all my gringo readers: Chilango refers to the inhabitants of Mexico City. An urban tribe well known for their road rage). Anyways, back to Uganda. Kampala has brand new buildings towering over sprawling slums, boda-bodas speeding by on sidewalks, a never-ending row of bars and restaurants scattered about, and more construction sites than completed structures. Unlike in the North, Uganda’s economic development can be seen in Kampala.

During our stay in Kampala, we visited two of Uganda’s parliaments (tribal and federal), spoke to lawyers, and took amazing classes with Ugandan professors at Makerere University. Makerere is Uganda’s national university. One of the students that I met on campus said the enrollment was close to 70,000. He might have been exaggerating a bit, but this place is enormous. Makerere is also extremely prestigious and has a beautiful campus Wandegeya, one of Kampala’s neighborhoods. Being on a college campus again made me realize how hard going back to school will be in January. As my friend Sarah “Flower Child” Vogel put it: “Our semester is like one giant field trip. I LOVE FIELD TRIPS.”

Speaking of the lovely ladies on my trip, Kampala got the best of us. Maybe it was the pollution, maybe it was bad luck, or maybe country kids just can’t hang with the city crowd, but this last week, every one of us fell victim to what I will now refer to as Kampalitis. Kampalitis consists of very many gastrointestinal, nasal, dermatological, and other symptoms that cause you to hate yourself and everyone around you. What I’m trying to say is we all got sick. It had to happen at some point I guess, but as a survivor of the catastrophic Kampalitis, let me tell you: It wasn’t pretty. Luckily enough, we got past it, and are now all in a state of recovery, and far away from Kampala. You win this time, big city; but we’ll be back for more.

Yesterday we traveled to Mbarare, a city in southwestern Uganda. Mbarare is in the region where Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni was born. Not coincidentally, Mbarare is the fastest growing city in the country. We stopped here for two nights on our way to Rwanda, so we could go visit Nakevale Refugee Settlement, which is about two hours outside of the city. We visited it today, which was one of the most rewarding experiences on the trip so far. Nakevale is one of Uganda’s largest refugee camps, housing tens of thousands of exiled citizens from Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and for some reason, literally one dude from France.

When we got to the camp, we split up into groups and each spoke to people of one nationality so we could get a better idea of what life was like in the refugee camps. I spoke to Somalis, who welcomed us wholeheartedly, as most Africans do. In one of the most surreal moments of my life, we walked towards their settlement on dirt roads that wound through makeshift houses and semi-permanent shops. I walked hand in hand with a guy, because that’s just how muslim bros in Africa roll. We were surrounded on all sides by a group of beautiful Somali women wearing different combinations of headscarves, burkas and hijabs, along with men, children and elderly people, all trying to tell us their stories and get our attention. The current situation in Somalia may be one of the biggest geopolitical conundrums in modern history, and hearing these people’s stories was overwhelming.

I could go on and on about today, but I realize how long this post is. If you’ve made it this far, thank you; you must really care about me. Either that or you’re putting off something much more important. GO DO IT.



– I leave for Rwanda tomorrow. More on that soon –

THE PRADO and the little gem they call Lisbon.

THE PRADO and the little gem they call Lisbon.

On Tuesday, I visited the Prado with my good friend Susan. The Prado is Spain’s main Art Museum and is located in Madrid, and houses paintings by Francisco de Goya and Diego Velazquez (which are two of my favorite painters, aside from Gaudi), amongst others.. The museum is free Monday to Thursday from 6-8pm so we were able to enjoy part of the museum while not paying. The Prado is MASSIVE (as to be expected), so it will take multiple trips to get through the whole museum, but I am determined to see”La Meninas” by Velazquez, which is my favorite Spanish painting. The metro stop near the Prado, Banco de Espana, is where the City Hall is located (pictured in this blog), which is so far my favorite building in this glorious city.

Thursday through Sunday night I was in Lisbon, Portugal with three friends. I now consider Lisbon a hidden gem- Not many people consider traveling there, but it was definitely worth the trip. Lisbon reminded me of Madrid due to all the beautiful architecture, plazas, and little cafes. We visited the most intricate monastery I have ever seen, called Jeronimos Monastery (pictured), and ate little custard pies at a famous Pasteleria (Pastry Shop) next to the monastery. On Sunday we visited Sintra, a small city with beautiful castles and churches 45 minutes outside Lisbon by train. We also climbed a mountain for about 2 hours in total to get to a castle known as “The Great Wall of Lisbon” in the pouring rain, which made for an interesting experience. I stayed in a hostel  for the first time, and have to say, it was a positive experience- We received free breakfast, and one night ate in at the hostel for unlimited wine and tapas for a small price, plus it was a nice, clean place to stay for relatively cheap.

Two days until I am off again, this time to Barcelona!

Things I have noticed:

– I need to learn how to sit and enjoy my food. That’s probably what helps Spaniards keep the weight off, so I am willing to try that too!

-Spaniards love American music… I hear the top hits from the US everywhere I go.

-Contrary to common belief, tortillas and margaritas are hard to find.

-Even though I go to school in Chicago and am usually very aware of my surroundings, that does not mean I am off-limits to the potential to get pick-pocketed.

-Portuguese is not very similar to Spanish.

-Night buses are not ideal for a good nights rest, but are cheap and pretty efficient.

-The intricacy of almost all architecture I have seen in Europe is indescribably gorgeous. Sometimes I just stare at a building for twenty minutes to soak in all of the detail.