Mzungu Memoirs

Archive for May, 2012

Graduation 2012

The Donahue household was buzzing with excitement at the end of last week.  Caleb graduated from Kindergarten.  We are now the parents of a very proud first grader.  Of course, he still has two more weeks of school before he is free for the summer and can truly revel in his “future first grader” excitement.

Last week was full of preparations for the big day.  Caleb and his classmates spent a lot of time practicing for their performance part of the ceremony.  Their graduation ceremony was held during the school’s normal Friday chapel time.  Typically held for an hour, chapel entailed more time than needed for 18 kindergarteners to walk across the stage to receive their “diplomas”.  Apparently, they had a particularly long practice time on Thursday trying to get the last details right.

Finally, the big day came.  Caleb could hardly contain his excitement Friday morning as he got ready for school.  Since the graduation ceremony was at 9:00, I decided to stay at school with Caleb when we dropped him off at 8:00 while Robert ran to the office to drop off his computer.  It was a good that I stayed, since I ended up helping with graduation robes and mortarboards.

It didn’t take very long to get the kids robed and capped, but it did provide time for parents to snap pictures of the various groups of friends gathering together.  It seemed very foretelling of events to come in about 12 years.  And it was so cute to watch the kids.  They were so full of excitement!  They could hardly stand still when their teacher called them to line up for the ceremony.  Of course, we are talking about kindergarteners here.

The ceremony was enjoyable for both parents and students.  Since it was during chapel time, all the elementary school students were in attendance.  It started out with the Ugandan National Anthem.  We only sang the first verse despite three verses being displayed on the overhead projection.  Caleb informed us that the second verse is only sung with the President is attendance and the third verse is only sung when the President dies.  I’m not sure how accurate his information is, but it sounded like a decent explanation to me.  The National Anthem was followed by the kids singing “In my Life, Lord” and a prayer led by one of the graduates.

The kids then did a presentation of the “ABCs of the Bible.”  This was a collection of 26 verses, each starting with a letter of the alphabet from A to Z.  The kids have been learning these all year long, and it was fun to hear them all together.  Rather than doing them together as a whole class, though, the teacher had different children or groups of children perform each verse.  Caleb had a “solo” and a “duet” with another little girl of which he was very proud.  He can also recite all 26 verses for you if you ask.

After the ABCs, the kids performed a couple of songs:  “Skip to my Lou” and “Rejoice in the Lord”.  The second song even had some instrumental accompaniment played by the kids.  It was so cute.   Caleb said he was a “tambourine”, although he wasn’t actually holding one.  I assume they probably didn’t have enough to go around.

The songs were followed by admonitions by three first graders and the presentation of the diplomas.  It was very official.  When each child’s name was called, they walked across the stage to receive their diploma and have their mortarboard tassel moved to the opposite side. One little boy, the son of the teacher, had a serious case of stage fright and required a good bit of coaxing to finally cross the stage to receive his diploma.

The ceremony was concluded with closing remarks from the teacher who was obviously very proud of her students and a beautiful prayer lead by the school registrar.  Apparently, it is a high honor bestowed on a teacher or faculty member to be asked to conduct the closing prayer of chapel time, and it was a beautiful blessing for the children.

Once the rest of the students were dismissed, the graduates and their parents gathered for a little reception.  The cake and cookies only held the kids attention for a little while though, and it wasn’t long before they all ventured off to play on the “big kids” playground, one of the “admonitions” of the first graders.  By 10:30, the festivities were complete and it was time to head home.  Because the graduation ceremony was in the morning, the kids were given the choice of taking a half day or staying for the entire school day.  It sounded like many of the kids were staying, presumably because their parents work, and I wish I could have convinced Caleb to as well but he wouldn’t have any of it.

Caleb’s graduation day was concluded with a dinner at a restaurant of his choice.  He chose to go to his favorite “chicken” place, which is actually a steak place where he orders chicken.  Robert and I easily agreed, as it is one of our favorite places as well.  We were a little surprised that he didn’t choose a pizza place or a place with a trampoline.  We were joined by Caleb’s adopted aunts and uncle here in Uganda.  It was a good surrogate family for a momentous occasion to honor a very special little boy.  All in all, it was a very good graduation and I hope the prelude to a few more.

Happy Graduation, Caleb!

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Oli Otya?

Having lived in Uganda for over a year, one would think that we have learned some of the native tongue.  That is a lot more difficult than you might think with over 33 local languages spoken throughout Uganda.  Most belong to the Bantu language group, while others are Nilotic and Cushitic.  Although not their choice language, many Ugandans also speak some KiSwahili brought from Kenya’s coast by Arab slave traders.  They would prefer to speak their tribal language or even English over KiSwahili.  We have heard the saying,

Swahili was born in Tanzania, grew up in Kenya, died in Uganda and was buried in the Congo.

Another challenge in terms of learning the native language here is that most Ugandans speak English.  English is the official national language and is taught in the schools starting at entry level grades.   Students are encouraged to speak English rather than their “vernacular” or native language.  It is a shame, really, as I feel it is an effective way of killing the local languages.  Even now there are some languages that are spoken by only a few thousand people.  It also creates the mentality that English is the “intellectual” language.  Ugandans prefer speaking English to mzungus to show how “smart” they are.  It makes it very difficult to learn or practice the local language if a mzungu does want to learn.

Luganda is the tribal language spoken here in Kampala.  It is the “first language” of Buganda, the native African tribe that has called the Kampala area their home for centuries.  I’m not really sure if there are other languages of the Buganda tribe, but the tribe’s influence is so extensive that Luganda is spoken throughout Uganda.  Many people in outer areas of Uganda speak Luganda as well as their native language.

Because Luganda is so widely spoken around here (you hear it more than English), I have managed to pick up a few phrases.  I will do my best to provide pronunciation, but I’m not even going to try to indicate stress as I’m not even sure I always get it right.  I often get laughed at using my Luganda, but at least I try sometimes.  Being linguistically challenged, I don’t always feel comfortable using a language I don’t fully comprehend.

Common greeting and response (greetings are reciprical, you almost always use this entire conversation when greeting someone):

Person 1: “Oli otya?” (oh-lee oh-tee-ah): “Hello, how are you?”

Person 2: “Bulungi.  Ate ggwe?” (boo-loon-gee, ah-teh gweh): “Good.  How about you?”

Person 1: “Bulungi” or “Gyendi” (gyen-dee): “fine” or “I am OK”

Other phrases I have learned:

Webale nyo” (weh-bah-leh nyoh): “Thank you very much”

(usually gets shortened to just webale)

Kale” (kah-leh): “You are welcome.”

Ssebo” (seh-boh): “Sir” or “man”

Nyabo” (nyah-boh): “Madam” or “women”

(I often get referred to “madam” which took me a while to get used to as it sounds so formal to me.)

Wangi?”(wahn-gee): “Pardon?”, as in excuse me? or what? or simply a reply when someone is calling for you

Tugende” (tuh-gehn-deh): “Let’s go”

Bunange” (buh-nahn-geh): “oh dear” or “oh my”

And that is about all I’ve learned.  I can’t even count in Lugandan, which in my defense, gets pretty complicated.  I don’t know how to say “good-bye” either, which would be a really cool way to end this blog.  I think my lack of knowledge may be subconscious as I never want to have to say good-bye to this amazing country, but I know I will have to soon.  I guess I’ll just end by saying…

Webale nyo.”

“That is why the city was called Babel, because that is where the LORD confused the people with different languages. In this way he scattered them all over the world.”

– Genesis 11:9

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Buses, Bodas & Goats

We have learned a lot living in Uganda for nearly a year and a half.  I think one of our biggest lessons learned is that size really does matter here, at least in terms of road hierarchy.  Driving our boda-boda around the busy streets of Kampala has definitely hastened our learning curve on this lesson.  Essentially, the largest vehicle on the road gets the right of way, from big semi-trucks and coach buses down to pedestrians.  And let us not forget the goat grazing on the side of the road.  Poor goat.  He is low man on the totem pole.

Similar to most places in the world, the biggest vehicles here are semi-trucks and coach buses.  The trucks here don’t have the nice sleeper cabs like seen in the States.  Even with mostly snub-nosed single cab tractors, you still see big tanker trailers and container trucks driving down the road.  And, there are big coach buses flying down the road carrying passengers everywhere.  We rode a coach bus to Mbale between Christmas and New Years (Holiday Adventure).   And I do mean they fly.  You really want to stay out of their way if you see one coming down the road.  They don’t exactly stop on a dime.  Robert saw one on its’ side coming back from one of his trips to Lira.

Next in the roadway pecking order are the lorry trucks.  Without a fifth wheel, these smaller transport trucks don’t seem to have as much road status.  Lorry trucks come in all shapes and sizes.  Some have enclosed container type beds, while others have an open bed with short sides.  Some of the open bed trucks have a framework which I assume was meant for a canvas top, but any sign of the canvas has long since disappeared.  You often seen these driving down the road stuffed with people as a mode of mass transit.  We haven’t dared to try this mode of transportation.

The matatus, or bus taxis, tend to rank next.  These Toyota vans can carry about 16 passengers when fully loaded.  I don’t think Toyota has actually rated these vehicles for 16 passengers, but that is what gets stuffed in them here.  More if you’re in Kenya.  Matutus rank slightly higher than larger passenger vehicles simply because they are typically operated by annoyingly aggressive drivers that think they own the road.  They are a very affordable way to get into town which we have used on occasion.

Next in line are the passenger vehicles.  But, there even seems to be a sub hierarchy within the passenger vehicles.  The bigger, cleaner, newer, nicer your vehicle looks, the more right of way you have.  Of course, if you have tinted windows, official flags and a police escort, you have the ultimate right of way.  Police with flashing lights are generally given more right of way, but not always.  Sometimes, you can’t tell who are the police and who just have fun lights on their car.

Finally, we find our rung on the road hierarchy ladder.  Boda-Bodas rank just a little higher than bicycles, mostly because we are heavier and actually have a motor.  If arriving at an intersection at the same time as other vehicles, we usually let the others go first.  However, we do have one advantage over all the other modes of transportation.  When traffic is at a standstill, we can always just zip along the shoulder or down the center line past all the parked cars.  Robert has even been known to hop on the sidewalk (it is done here, although I don’t know how legal it is).  We rate the difficulty of downtown traffic by how many sidewalks Robert had to hop to get around.

Of course, there are all sorts of people walking along the sides of the road as well.  Walking is probably the primary mode of transportation here as it doesn’t cost anything.  Most Ugandans do not own a car and many cannot afford the fare to hire a boda-boda (not quite $3 from our neighborhood to downtown) or ride a matutu (not quite 50 cents).  And you see people walking everywhere, not just in the neighborhoods.  I am always amazed at the number of people I see walking along the road even out in the countryside on major road trips.  And I find that I walk a lot more here to do my errands.

Remember the goat I mentioned in the first paragraph?  He does have one saving grace.  People try to avoid hitting a goat because they have to pay the owner for their loss.  I can’t remember the going rate for a goat these days, but it is quite a bit of money and more than people want to spend on something they wouldn’t even be able to eat.  So drivers tend to be pretty careful about avoiding goats.

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The Beat of the Drum

Africans seem to be born with a natural ability, or at least desire, to drum.

Conrad, our little neighbor and Caleb’s friend, is a great example.  When play with Caleb grows dull, he loves to beat on a little drum displayed in our living room.  What I see as a display piece, Conrad sees as the blend of a toy and a musical instrument.  While he lacks the skill of his elders, he does seem to have potential.

Our guard Ali, on the other hand, has skill.  I tried to ask where he learned to drum; it is apparently just something every boy learns to do, especially if they live in a village rather than a big city.  We were blessed to hear Ali’s prowess last week when he was testing out the drums our neighbor, Florence, had bought for her school.  He even gave Caleb an impromptu drumming lesson, although I’m not sure Caleb was really all that interested.  He would rather learn to play the guitar, but I’ll leave that story for another blog.  I think Caleb was drumming with Ali simply to appease me and my desire to capture some cute pictures.

As I mentioned, Florence bought the drums for her school and plans for Ali to teach the kids how to use them.  Mostly, I think it will be a matter of learning by example, but it is an easy way for Florence to introduce a “music program” into her school.  She said that drums are the cheapest way to start out and they are fairly easy to maintain.  She explained that many schools at least have drums until they can afford to buy more instruments like a xylophone and other traditional instruments.  Her comment reminded me of a time I was walking past a school in our neighborhood and heard a drum beating and kids chanting.  At the time, I didn’t realize how common an occurrence it was.

Drums seem to permeate every part of life here.  We have one at the eMi office that we use for our Friday morning worship times.  We take turns leading worship, and anyone can use the drum but I particularly like when our Uganda staff lead worship using only their voices and the drum.  Semei, our office administrator, seems to know how to get a beat going to help us lift our praises that much higher.

I have really come to love the drums here and the way the Africans beat on them.  I think one of the things I’m going to miss when we leave this wonderful land is the random drum beats you hear ringing through the air.  Well, maybe not all of them.  I don’t think I’ll miss the ones at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary!
Praise God in his fortress, the sky!
Praise God in his mighty acts!
Praise God as suits his incredible greatness!
Praise God with the blast of the ram’s horn!
Praise God with lute and lyre!
Praise God with drum and dance!
Praise God with strings and pipe!
Praise God with loud cymbals!
Praise God with clashing cymbals!
Let every living thing praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

Psalm 150

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