Monday, March 1, 2010

so this is the life of a muzungu


Ok, it hasn’t been too long, but already I see myself describing my experiences and what’s exciting to me here while most of you reading this are probably curious about what exactly day to day is like for me so this post will be dedicated to that.

10 weeks
8-5 Monday-Friday; 8-1 Saturday; Off Sunday
- Subjects
Language - Each trainee was selected to learn a language based on the region they are going to be in. I will be learning Runyankore/Rukiga (technically two languages, but I’m told they are 98% the same). I think there are six languages our group is being trained in.
Program - There are two programs in my group. Community Health and Economic Development (CHED) and Education (both primary and secondary). I am a CHED volunteer.
Cross Culture - Understanding differences between Ugandan and American culture.
Miscellaneous - Workshops on sanitation, gardening, living with host families, safety, healthcare, etc.

Bathing - Bucket baths… This is pretty much what it sounds like. I get my jerry-can of water, pour it into my bucket, and head outside to my families bathing area. It’s walled in, but yeah, it’s outside. I then poor cups of cold water onto myself to wash and rinse.
Laundry - Everything is hand washed in buckets and line dried. If you are thinking that this doesn’t sound too bad then you have probably never hand washed anything outside of delicates, and you almost certainly had running water to do it with. My words cannot give justice to this absolute nightmare. I will definitely be brining someone onto the payroll for this once I am at site.
Nature Calls - Known locally as long/short calls. You can figure it out. Running water is rare and toilets are even rarer. Instead we use pit latrines. Imagine an outhouse, but instead of a seat there is a 4”X 6” hole in the concrete floor that drops what must be 10 feet (judged based on sound delay…). I am going to try to attach a diagram of this.
Shaving - Get real.

Breakfast - Each trainee eats at homestay. For me, breakfast is tea, chapatti (delicious Ugandan flatbread) or bread, and a banana. I bought peanut butter the other day, and I think a PB and banana chapatti sandwich is something I could live with for quite a while.
Lunch / Dinner - Identical to each other and to every other lunch/dinner everyday of every week. Pick 3-5 of the following starches: sweet potatoes (look and taste nothing like American cousin), Irish (regular) potatoes, matooke (mashed plantain - looks like banana, but is much closer to potatoes in both taste, texture, and nutrition (or lack thereof)), cassava (read: sweet potatoes), posho (cornmeal), spaghetti noodles, and rice. Pick 1-2 of the following vegetables: cabbage, peas, greens. Pick 1 of the following proteins: beans, groundnut (African peanut) sauce, chicken sauce (infrequent) beef (infrequent). Fruit is definitely the highlight here with always fresh options of 1-2 of the following: banana, pineapple, avocado, jackfruit, papaya, watermelon, guava, and mango.

I have met some really great people already, and we get to talk a lot during training, but we don’t have a ton of time to be social outside of class as we tend not to stay out after dark for safety reasons. Usually, we will find something to do for a couple of hours after class. When this doesn’t involve studying it usually does involve hanging out at a bar. No one has really let loose yet as we are all still so new to Africa and to each other. It’s usually just one beer and then back home for dinner. Most experienced volunteers assure me that this is bound to change.

It’s actually been a little colder than I expected, but I would blame that on the rain. When the sun is out, I would say the high is upper 80s. When it’s raining the highs might be low 70s, but it feels much colder because everyone is wet and muddy from the bike ride into training. It’s rained maybe 30-40% of the days we’ve been here, and I think that is going to pick up more as we get more into rainy season.

Life of the Muzungu:
Muzungu is the word in almost all Bantu languages for white person. When any group or individual Muzungu goes anywhere we are quickly singled out for what is hopefully an obvious reason to you. This can be both a blessing and a curse. For safety issues it can be a bit of a concern. Our skin associates us with both new visitors (which we basically are as of now) and money. This basically puts a target on our backs for anyone wishing to make our pockets a bit later, although this hasn’t happened to any PC Uganda trainee or volunteer for some time. Violent crimes are even rarer here. Probably most concerning to the PCT/PCV is that our skin color will never change. Unlike America, Uganda is racially homogeneous and we will never be able to fully integrate into our communities because of this.

In my opinion, the other side of this coin far outweighs any negative aspects. Unlike what happened in other African nations, the British did a decent job during and after colonialism and Muzungus still enjoy a good reputation because of this. Unlike what you might think, Americans are actually one of the most loved people in Uganda. I’m not sure of all of the reasons behind this, but I think that both Peace Corps (pronounced “Peace Corpse” in local tongue) and Barrack Obama have a lot to do with it. Every time I ride my bike or take a walk anywhere in the village children come running out of their houses (pants optional) yelling, “Bye, Muzungu!” or “See you, Muzungu!” in the hope that we might turn our heads and wave at them or even respond with an, “Oli Otya?” (how are you?). I will try to get some video of this sometime so you can see it, but for now it will suffice to say that these kids are pretty much losing their minds at the sight of us. Even the adults are pretty amused by our presence. With maturation comes a great deal of humility that seems to be the standard in Uganda, so they do not put on quite the show that the little ones do, however they are always very eager to talk to us and flex some English skills.


  1. "Shaving - Get real." ha ha ha

  2. that is exactly what i was going to say.

    Be careful with the shaving though dave. You might go from muzungu to Berber Invader in no time.

    I see that allegedly 16% of Uganda is muslim. Are there many muslims in your training area? If so, are they Sunni? Do they seem more conservative or progressive?