Three weeks ago today I was wandering around the East Village, doing last-minute errands, eating bagels in parks, enjoying overpriced Mexican food with Kevin and Christine with COLD beer—the last time that happened, I was in the capital city of Kampala…mmm nothing like a warm half-liter of liquid bread-style beer at the end of a hot sticky day in the field. You know what though? I’m being serious; that shit is delicious.
My only complaint is that all of this activity and fresh country mountain air and clean living and whatnot has, quite nonsensically, really disturbed my quality of sleep. Everyone else is all “oh gosh I’m sleeping like a baby log,” but I haven’t woken up feeling really rested since…FOREVER. I really dislike sleeping without David. Last night was exceptionally ridiculous. I woke up at some unholy hour (4 maybe? Couldn’t find my little clock) to what sounded like someone slapping our doors every 20-30 minutes for, like, TWO HOURS. My first five minutes awake, I just knew I was at my parents’ house; something to do with being in a twin bed and its position in the room that felt just like my old bedroom in Cockeysville. Evidence, such as my hot pink mosquito net (classy!), suggested otherwise, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling. Took me forever to get back to sleep, between the spooky knocking, which eventually I decided was Congolese rebels seeking refuge (thanks to rumors of a firefight between them and the Wildlife Authority rangers in a remote part of park), a periodic hissing sound, which was clearly one of the many species of poisonous snakes in the nearby forest, and an urgent need to pee (too much watermelon at dinner, and I don’t even like it that much) that could not be satisfied amidst all of the guerillas and cobras and whatnot. Did I mention that Joel keeps talking about safari ants chasing past researchers out of their house and old stories of treacherous swaths of the little beasts eating backpackers and all of their belongings in their sleep so that nothing was left…Ok, so with taking Lariam (main side effect: vivid dreams) and all the horrors peopling my spatial imagination, yes the persistent fatigue makes perfect sense.
The other big excitement this week has been rowdy baboons, left and right, in and out of people’s pantries and kitchens (which are housed in little stone huts behind the duplexes where we sleep and work)—a few days ago, one tried to get into the metal lockbox in our neighbors’ kitchen and bent the top into a valley shape when he couldn’t figure out the latch. Earlier that afternoon, another one had been chased by a village mutt around the clearing at camp into the woods, where it sounded like the poor dog got whooped by the baboon’s buddies. Yesterday, while we were having lunch at park headquarters on the edge of a crater lake (which are gorgeous but home to swimming cobras and I didn’t bring my swimsuit anyway), there were a few running around, gazing around on lookout duty, organizing to make off with avocadoes out of a tree—when bam, the huge branch came crashing down and they ran off without any fruit. Abe and Joel chased one out of their living room yesterday (they leave the front and back doors open for the breeze)—it made off with a yet-unidentified object. They are just bold, as Tanisha would say.
By far the best day of the week was Wednesday. I woke up feeling pooped and not particularly excited about the long day we had planned on the eastern side of the park—group interviews with elders about the land use history in the area, reading to children and a big hoo-ha at one of the four libraries that Joel and Freerk and Gosia (two long-term researchers) opened through their non-profit, Foundation for Children’s Education in Uganda (www.booksopentheworld.org, go there to check it out and HELP OUT). Turned out to be awesome. We picked up Peace, the field assistant from that side of the park; we work with him in addition to Erimosi, badass field assistant of the year, because most people over there speak Rukiga rather than Rutooro—it’s so weird to be somewhere where, unlike Tanzania, people identify very much in tribal rather than national terms, although that’s the norm for much of Sub-Saharan Africa—but then I also picture a busy, multi-ethnic city when I think of S-S Africa, which is atypical as well. Anyway, we headed over to the home of this old lady—must have been 70 or so—whose property is bounded by the park, less than 50 meters from her little house. She was totally pumped to see us—Joel has interviewed her before—and the first 10 minutes we were there she greeted and amply blessed each one of us. I couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying—I know almost no Rutooro or Rukiga—but it all sounded very warm and sweet. I sat down next to her, holding hands—she kept examining my fingers and fingernails and making remarks to her various descendants, which was a little weird. Then Abe and Joel started interviewing her, until her 50ish-year-old son butted in and started taking over with answering questions, which was obnoxiously patriarchal, although he was very nice as well. At the end of the interview, she leapt up and asked to have her picture taken—Joel and Abe have a longstanding policy of taking family portraits at the end of household interviews and bringing back the prints at the end of the summer, which takes a few days. Definitely my favorite visit so far, after the family we interviewed last week, where the older man took out a homemade lap guitar and sang the most beautiful song about the first Rutooro man to take an airplane ride—seriously gorgeous, Devandra would be jealous, and I can’t wait until I get my hands on an internet connection fast enough to upload the video.
After the family, we headed over to a group elder interview; nothing much exciting. Lunch was awesome—we had the best mandazi, which are fried dough balls, made by the village chairman, I’ve ever had—I actually burned my fingers on one, which I didn’t know was possible—generally you see them sitting in glass cases for days, weeks… We added strawberry jam, which tastes like a mix between strawberry flavor and generic red flavor, to make jelly donuts! Awesome until the local obnoxious drunk of the day stumbled up and started harassing us, saying, “Muzungu, muzungu, I am here, I am here.” I made the mistake of eye contact, and for the rest of the day whenever we passed through the trading center he was haunting he would lunge and grab at me. Blech. Chairman and another local dude finally chased him with long sticks.
From the lunch spot, Joel and Amy and I hiked half a kilometer to KAFRED, a local conservation/eco-tourism project, for Amy to do her first project interview (!). On the way we talked to a boy who said he was 13 but looked 9 or 10 carrying a big bundle of papyrus reeds—he said, “Give me a pen,” which is standard conversation from local children, but I said no because the one in my back pocket was the only one I had (and because saying “give me a pen” is not the best way to go about getting one)—the very same pen fell into a floor toilet not 20 minutes later. Bah!
3:30 was the appointed time for my read-along at the community library. I started hiking back to town at around 3:15 and as soon as it was in eyeshot—so were a million little kids and all of their mothers and all of the deadbeat dudes hanging around. Allen, the librarian, packed us into a little backroom that just got hotter and hotter—no bigger than 10 by 10 feet, and there were at least 30 kids in there. She handed me four books, mostly about different animals and the sounds they make and colors and such, which I read through about 4 or 5 times apiece. I watched the kids getting sweatier and sweatier until Allen came back to check on us and moved us out onto along the main street. We had a blast. Turns out my rooster and sheep and pig impersonations are top-notch. It was so ridiculous reading through these books about horses and sea lions and ducks—none of which are very abundant in East Africa. It’s awesome that the Foundation has collected all of these books for the kids—but it’d also be nice if there was some appropriateness to the cultural context. Joel and I talked about doing a book-making workshop for the kids so they could write their own stories in their own language, but there is so much else the Foundation is trying to do.
As I read to the kids, all of the adults watched and laughed and had a good time too—except for our dutiful asshole, who yelled insults from across the street. It was exhausting though, and I was glad when Abe, Erimos, Peace, Amy and Joel showed up for the hoo-haw. Allen had arranged for the local art class and a bunch of women to do traditional dances…I can’t do justice to them right now, because I’m running out of time but I have plenty of video that will show up someday. The women’s dance was so moving…they all looked so happy jumping around in rhythm with each other. I don’t know for sure but it seems like a lot of the women around here, as in a lot of Africa, are responsible for holding down the fort—not a whole lot of time for socializing and whatnot. The women who live closer to village trading centers or who run their own market stalls get out more, but the farming women are always home, always doing a million chores. So it was really neat to see them having the chance to celebrate and be together, and remarkable how their faces went back to poker-straight after they had changed out of their matching white t-shirts and traditional cloth skirts. Being trapped in boredom, in a little tiny part of the world that never gets any bigger…
Meant to end on an up note, because it really was a magical day, but time for lunch. I can’t wait for everyone to see the videos!