I was pleasantly surprised by Marcy’s site. It is located about 1.8 miles from the small town of Soroti. The village area is called Madera. She lives within the school compound. The school compound has multiple buildings and has a secure fence running around it. There is a large gate at each of the two entrances that allow vehicles to pass in and out. The school, St. Francis School for the Blind is run by nuns. Her apartment, which is connected to the convent and is home to three Sisters is great, better than any of the places she had lived in NYC. I felt very safe and secure at Marcy’s house.
Across the street is a resort-ish restaurant and accommodation called Eneku Village. Its a really cool place, with a large thatch roofed bar area (capable of holding at least 100 people) and a little pond in the middle of the complex surrounded by large leafed trees. They often show English Premiership football matches at Eneku; Ugandans love “fotbol” (soccer) and most follow Manchester United or Chelsea as these are the teams that are broadcast here. Eneku is a great resource for Marcy, and for me, as when the power went out, which happened several times, Eneku would still be lit up due to a generator. The bar also provided a much needed sanctuary from the daily grind of living in a small village in Africa. It was a way to escape (usually with a beer) and help take a step back from the daily culture shock one experiences. At the beginning of her service, Marcy would escape to Eneku multiple times during the week; now she usually only takes visitors there.
Marcy has a bathroom with running water and a toilet, which is a luxury considering many PCV’s have to use a detached pit latrine (basically a concrete covered hole in the ground you squat over). There is a kitchen, a nice size sitting room with a couch, a large table/desk, an extra bed (mine) with a mosquito net hanging from the ceiling and a coffee table. Marcy’s has a separate bedroom too. Her bed has a T shaped support at each end that holds and spreads the mosquito net over the mattress. Her place has a nice homey feel, decorated with family photos, maps and crafts.
Living there was not as basic as I had thought it would be. In the mornings we would have to boil water for the day, but cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner was as usual as anywhere in the world. The big thing that was different was no refrigeration, so to consume perishables such as milk, we needed to get and finish it that day….in the end its a small adjustment. Marcy was able to use the Sisters’ refrigerator from time to time, so we were able to keep leftovers. Also, cleaning dishes, which I hate, involves using two basins on the kitchen floor; one basin for washing, the other for rinsing. Marcy does not have a kitchen sink so she fills the basins from the bathroom spout or from a jerry-can she keeps in the kitchen.
Food prep was another area that I really needed to adjust too. Marcy explained to me that in Uganada, (and most of Africa I assume) the most important thing to stay healthy is watch and be wary of what you put in your mouth and stomach. All veggies and fruit needed to be washed, and peeled ideally if eaten raw. We would often bleach vegetables if we where going to make a salad.
Meat prep was even more nerve racking. I will explain later in the food entry why. Basically the meat could very possibly be extremely contaminated due to the butchering process at the market, so all the meat in Uganda is either boiled at a high temperature or deep-fried until extremely well done. One night I decided we should buy goat and cook it…Marcy is still confused as to why it took me so long to prepare…
Laundry was another big learning experience for me on my visit. It is washed by hand using 3 basins (shallow plastic circular containers). The process is beautifully water efficient, and I felt guilty at the amount of water we Westerners use with our modern machinery. Basically you fill the three basins with water. Soak the soiled laundry in the first with and handful of detergent (this was the direction on the box…handful! I love it) then scrub using the palm of your hands and folding the material over itself to scrub with. Then ring out and transfer to the second container with clean water. Ring again then transfer to the third container, ring and rinse again. After the first basin become too soiled, dump and fill with fresh water for rinsing; make the second basin, which become soapy at the “wash” part of the cycle, the first container with soap (add more soap if needed). Continue this process of rotation until all laundry is clean. It took me and hour to do one load. I watched the girls that help run the compound (cook and clean) do laundry and it took them about 10 min to do the same amount as I did. Marcy has become pretty quick as well.
Once in a while water is an issue. The convent/school compound runs water from a electric pump. If power is not there for a few days, water from the tank runs out. Marcy, the Sisters and the staff than either go to a borehole (hand pump well) to fill jerry-cans or pay someone to get the water. Marcy has learned to keep extra full jerry-cans in her house to avoid being without water. The amount of water used by each Ugandan a day is something like 3 jerry-cans (about 60L)(16 Gallons). The average American uses about 10 jerry-cans a day(220L)(58 Gallons). Again…we are so wasteful!
Before, I explained that the Eneku Lodge as being a sanctuary of sorts, and I want to explain why. I found the people in Uganda that Marcy would introduce me to, and even most strangers that we talked to, to be extremely friendly, super generous, thoughtful to a T, and wonderfully inquisitive. However, when we were just walking along, Marcy and I (and even when we were with a Ugandan friend) pedestrians, bus loads, individuals, groups, and most of all children would stare piercingly. At first this didn’t bother me, but as the month wore on, it increasingly made me uncomfortable. It always reminded me that I didn’t belong here. For Marcy, after a year and a half, it was a source of annoyance. Children would often walk buy and say Muzungu! Many adults would do the same. That phrase was often followed by “you give me money” (in Ugandan-English asking for things is a command and is not disrespectful, just translation). The best way to describe what it is like to be white in rural Uganda is similar to when one is famous. Anyone thinking that they want to become famous should experience this first hand in Africa…it may effect your decision greatly. I feel I can now relate to some movie stars and pro athletes. Mar and I often talked about how it would feel to have the sensation of everyone looking at you home in the states, and it made me feel ill. People would often come up and shake hands, or when walking into an establishment, we would be greeted verbosely, sometimes over or in front of a Ugandan, which made me even more uncomfortable. Many times, someone that Marcy had gotten a ride from many months passed, would stop and state he had given here a ride…of course Mar didn’t remember, just another awkward moment that I’m sure a celebrity experiences frequently. There is something to be said for ambiguity, which I think in the states becomes at times frustrating, but when experiencing the opposite, it is a welcome comfort when re-entering the west. I know Marcy is looking forward to walking through Manhattan and being lost in a crowd.
Up the street from Eneku and the gate to Marcy’s compound is a very small shack that is a convenience shop. The place is big enough for one person to stand in and has various items that one would need to walk at least 30 minutes in either direction to get. The woman that runs the shops name is Joice. Mar explained to me that Joice was one of the first people in the village to befriend her, and invite Mar into her house. She became a source of local knowledge for Mar and a good friend. Near the end of my visit I gave Joice a jar of “Sunday gravy pasta sauce”, and spaghetti that I made. A little taste of the Italian Ceccarelli flavor for a friend. Something about sharing ethnic food between two people is such a connecting experience, like a smile, it’s something deep and ancient in human existence. Language may be a barrier, but we all must eat, and all enjoy food, its one of the great unifying experiences between peoples. I love tapping into that and enjoyed doing it with many of Marcy’s Ugandan friends.
One thing is for sure it is extremely hot in the Soroti district where Mar is located. It was perpetually 80F (27C) during the days. I was surprised by how dry the heat was. Marcy informed me that, when I was visiting, it was the cooler, rainier season; apparently December is brutal. At night, it was comfortable with a fan. My body had a hard time adjusting, as I had just gotten used to the coldest winter I have ever spent in New Zealand. I realize I miss the warmth, and think that I may be done with winter…forever.
Walking through Soroti town, or any small city/town is an experience on to itself. Many of the grocery stores are owned by Asians (Indians). There is always a hustle bustle on the streets with bicycles, motorcycles (bodas), Matatus (Hiace van taxi) and cars/vans/buses all whizzing by. The street markets are alive with merchants and customers buying everything from bananas and pineapple to fabrics and basins. Groups of men hang out, playing Ludo (game like Parcheesi), drinking (the Ugandan’s say “taking”) beers or laying across their motorbikes. The women seem to always be busy with work. I said to Mar at one point (and this may be inexperience, lack of knowledge, or just stupid ignorance, but my intuition tells me I’m right) that woman are the future of this place. Break the traditional gender rolls here, and woman would take over, and after a while I think East Africa could get back on its feet.
The main markets are amazing places. Smaller versions of Owino Market in Kampala. We could buy fruit, veggies, millet, rice, beans, g-nuts, flour….basically any food is available, along with cooking ware, utensils, meat (not pork though, this needs to be bought on the out skirts of town, selling pork is not allowed in town due to the large number of Muslims), huge banana leaf baskets and all sorts of other miscellaneous items I wish I had pictures of. Unfortunately, this was again an uncomfortable situation to have my camera out.
After shopping Mar would often take me for a cold drink and internet at one of two hotels in Soroti Town. We could get a semi solid internet connection, a cold Stoney Soda (ginger soda)….served in a glass bottle, now my favorite sugar drink in the world (made by Coca Cola, not sure why we can’t get it in the states). We would often get lunch and watch a little CNN or a football match, or at worse a Nigerian soap opera (most of the TV produced out of Africa is made in Nigeria…???)
Part 2 of living in Uganda is coming soon. Thanks for reading!