Sunday, May 23, 2010

Back in the USSA


Jeff and I arrived safely back to the US via business class on Delta (family passes- yooh, yooh!) We arrived exhausted and in culture shock, but we are adjusting. Jeff got malaria after getting to the US, but we treated it with wonderful African meds and he is recovered. We made it back in time for me to go to the baptism of the son of my life-long friend. This was really nice because I missed her wedding and the entire pregnancy and birth of her first child, so I was glad I could be there for the baptism. Jeff made it back to NY in time for his coming home party/joint birthday party with his nephew Kyle/Kyle’s graduation party/Kyle’s going away party. Quite the event! Jeff is hanging out in NY now and I am in Ohio. I’ll be getting ready to go back to IL and start teaching a summer course in early June.


So that is the end of an incredible experience. There were good and bad parts, but overall, it couldn’t be better. The beauty of the forest, the crazy animals that always kept us entertained, the wonderful people, and our intense and rewarding work. And the opportunity to experience it all together. I can’t describe how much I will miss it.


Kisses,

Krista




Flying to the UK…

Our last night in Uganda, we stayed at the Jane Goodall Institute, which was great! We were the only people there and I was storing my samples in their freezer, so it was convenient to be in the same place as the samples for a quick get-away in the morning. The room we were in had a view of Lake Victoria, so that was really nice. Actually, just to add to all the great things anyone can say about Jane Goodall, I will say that the institute there in Entebbe is a great resource for researchers. So friendly and cozy and convenient!

Our airport taxi was over an hour late to pick us up, so we were freaking out! When he came, his trunk was full of stuff so we had to figure out where to put our luggage and he was full of excuses. Actually, our last car ride in Uganda was full of yelling. Him trying to make excuses for being so bad and Jeff and I yelling “can you please stop talking?!?! Drive, we are late, just drive!!!” It was a mess. For sure, Jeff and I will not miss dealing with drivers or public transportation in Uganda. Public transportation in Uganda really requires you separate your mind from what is actually happening to you at the moment. The vehicles always seem just barely in control of the driver. It is a mess. We also decided, we won’t miss all the bugbites. But everything else, we’ll miss. Anyway, we called the guy who runs the airport taxi service and he said we didn’t have to pay since the driver was so bad. Good customer service, I have to say. Though he said he was going to call and talk to the driver and I asked him to wait 20 mins or so. I didn’t want to be in the car with this crazy man when he got that phone call. But the boss called immediately after I hung up. So the driver started yelling over the phone and flailing his arms so hard and so angrily that I was worried he would either lose control of the car or accidently hit me in the face on one of his backswings. Geez!

We had all sorts of hijinks once we got the airport, as to be expected, but finally got checked in and past the visa check-point, and to the gate just in time. Apparently we weren’t “just in time” because the flight was then delayed waiting for other people who had not yet made it to the gate. Also, as the plane was taxi-ing out onto the runway, a very bratty little girl (this was the worst behaved Ugandan child I had ever seen) was screaming and crying. Her Mom was totally coddling her and coaxing on the crying because of a complete lack of discipline. So then the Mom unbuckled her and put her on her lap!!!!! Two flight attendants immediately rushed up and said, “Ma’am, we are about to take off, she has to be in the seat. Any child over 2 years old has to be buckled in on their own.” And she freaked out. She was like “This is not my first time flying, don’t talk to me like that, stop being rude to me…” (Jeff would like me to note here that this is literally seconds before we take off. That moment that plane pauses on the runway before gunning the engines.) The female flight attendant walked away and the male flight attendant said “Ma’am, we are going to have to call the captain, if you don’t put her in her seat.” And the woman buckled her in and then the man started to walk away, she said “don’t treat me like I’m rubbish”. The man immediately came back and said (in a pissed off/firm voice), “Ma’am, my only concern is for the safety of your daughter and other passengers on this flight, I’m not being rude to you, she needs to be buckled in.” A woman sitting in the next row back tried to intervene and the flight attendant held up his hand to her very firmly and said “don’t touch me” (because she had been grabbing his arm). He walked away and the woman was still complaining under her breath, but the little girl shut up, sat in her seat, and was well-behaved. Literally, all she needed was some discipline. I mean, get it together lady. And then, when we were coming in for our landing, the little girl was screaming at the top of her lungs and her mother was, again, not disciplining her, just petting her head, etc. And the little girl stood up on her seat – as we were coming in for our landing!!!! Then the mom put her on her lap, again. At this point, I leaned up and said “You need to buckle her in!” And the woman smiled and was like “I know, she won’t stay down”. Finally, she strong-armed her into the seat and strapped her in. What a crazy woman! If this kid had been standing in her seat when we hit the ground, she would have been so badly injured. Geez, don’t fly with your kids if you can’t keep them under control! Jeff would also like me to point out that this kid just wanted attention. He went into an indepth analysis of when she cried and why, which I won’t write out here, but his assessment is that her crying had nothing to do with fear of flying and just a need for attention because she was a brat.

Anyway, British Airways was wonderful, as usual. The movie choices were great, the food was great, they were so helpful. We totally forgot to make sure that we had veggie meals, but they have us stored in their system as veggies, so they showed up, as expected. It was great! Unfortunately, they had mushrooms. This has come up before because of my mushroom allergy and they always seem to find some other meal for me (I think they have different veggie options for the different classes, so they just give me a different veggie meal). This time, all the meals had mushrooms, so instead, they took two of their pickle, veggie, and cheese sandwiches that were set aside for the crew and toasted them up for me. They were so delicious and I continue to be amazed at how accommodating BA is!

We landed in Heathrow, went through customs, got our bags, and headed out of the airport. We booked the TravelLodge at the Airport, which we weren’t expecting to be much, but we showed up to an amazing hotel! Big, clean rooms with a modern feel. A nice soft bed, a big red couch, a flatscreen tv up on the wall, free coffee and tea in the room and a great shower with high pressure and hot water. I’m not sure if we would be amazed with any 1st world hotel room at this point, but we were certainly impressed with this. And I was able to store my samples in their freezer overnight, which is why we booked this place. Great! We have been walking around the room in barefeet since we checked in. We got a few appetizers brought up to our room to hold us over until we went out for dinner, but then I fell asleep and slept right through dinner. Apparently, I was tired and even the 2 hour time difference has got me.

So now we are up and ready for our flight back to the US. There was apparently another volcano issue here and flights in Northern UK were canceled yesterday. I guess it has now cleared up, but my fear of flying is worse thinking about flying into a big volcano cloud. So everyone be hoping for a safe flight back to the US and onto Ohio. Thanks!

The travels…


For our last week in Uganda, we wanted to do some additional traveling. We have seen a lot of the country already, but there are some places we didn’t get around to visiting. So I guess we have to come back. One place we had to go was Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve. When we arrived in 2008, we met the station manager who invited us out for a visit. We never found time, though, and we would always see him in town and promise we were going to come. Plus, I’ve known the past 3 researchers to work at the place. And 2 of them have stayed with us at Kibale for a little visit, so it only made sense for us to go visit there. Semiliki has a research site where they are trying to habituate Chimpanzees. They have been working on this for the past 14 years!!!!!!! And I can testify that those chimps are definitely not habituated yet. There seems to be a lot of questions about why they are taking so long to get habituated, but I don’t know. For the primatologists out there, this is a site where chimps dig wells for water in the stream beds. It is kind of famous for that. It was interesting to see the field site and the forest and so on. They don’t have red colobus there, but they have plenty of black and whites and redtails. They also have some different birds, which Alex and Jeff were interested in (oh, Alex came with us for this trip). The forest is just 300 meters or so on either side of the river there. And it is flat, compared to Kibale. Though there is a big escarpment that they sometimes have to climb, which is high and steep. And next to the forest is the savannah, so the chimps go into the savannah sometimes. Very different. And they have all these cool log bridge things set up over the river, which the trail just winds around and crosses over a bunch. It was cool. They are not allowed to have permanent structures at the field site, so they have an open kitchen, eating area with a thatched roof and then lots of thatched roofed platforms that the tents sit on.


We saw one chimp from a distance. I would argue one of the coolest parts of the trip was the drive there. It is actually only 40 kms birds eye view from where we live, but it took nearly 3 hours. We had to get to Fort Portal and then past Fort Portal and drive through the hills. Because we were starting at such a high altitude, we came into the mountains high up and then actually went down as we were driving. The road was a very windy, mountain road with lots of steep drop offs. It was really cool. See the pictures below.


The trip was good, though we had lots of hijinks. First, we used the driver they recommended and he showed up an hour late in a piece of crap car. The car promptly ran out of gas when we were less than ½ km from our house. Literally. We weren’t even out of the park and it stalled and wouldn’t start and the brainiac driver guessed that it was maybe the fuel, since he put in just enough to get to the field station (we calculated this after a very long and painful discussion calculating what he put in). So I’m not sure how he expected to get back to town. Just to top things off, it was storming out, so we couldn’t even get out of his crap car to wait out the issue somewhere. We ended up calling our usual driver who took care of us after that.


Before leaving, we had drinks at the beautiful, expensive lodge there. The lodge owners were getting ready to move on to a new place and Jeff and I contemplated new career paths for a bit, but then we realized we had better things in mind than being lodge managers.


After we left Kibale, we traveled to Tororo in Eastern Uganda to go to Emily’s parent’s wedding. It was an interesting event. First, that part of Uganda is very different from the lush, green, fertile area of Kibale. It makes you really appreciate where we were living. It is so close to Kenya that our phones were registering with the Kenyan airwaves and were “welcoming” us to Kenya.


There were amazing rock structures in this place, but overall, it was very dry and flat. You could see Mt. Elgon in the distance, which was nice. Emily’s parents had a very traditional wedding in the church and then a huge reception of over 1000 people at their house. It was a bit hard to listen to the sermons at certain points. Especially when they were saying things like “now that they have finally had a wedding, the mother can join the mother’s union”. This is a Mom who raised 6 wonderful kids who are all amazingly successful and have pursued higher education. The money that could have went to their wedding years ago went to supporting their children and I think that is great. She seemed like a great mom to me.


Jeff and I were real Africans at Emily’s place. We brought our own mosquito net and set it up over a mattress that was set up on the floor for us. That is right, we slept on a mattress on the floor, but it was in Emily’s nice room and we had our mosquito net to keep us cozy. And it was actually kind of cozy. It was hot there, though, so that made some things a bit uncomfortable. We also picked some food out of the garden for dinner and ate it – see the photos.

At the wedding, everyone was amazed at how well the Mzungus took care of Emily’s baby, Pani. Pani wasn’t used to any of the other people at the wedding, for the most part, so we held her for most of the time. At one point, she really wanted to sleep, but couldn’t because of all the noise. We went over to the side where it was quiet and Jeff held her and swayed with her while I sang to her. I ad-libbed and jeff laughed at my lyrics. It was actually a very precious moment.


Dancing went late into the night, but Jeff and I couldn’t participate. Everytime we walked towards the dance floor, we drew a huge crowd of people just standing and staring at us. The people in this area were not used to Mzungus at all. At one point, Jeff and I went out on the dance floor to dance and it was like the sea parted to let us by and then closed in around us. No one was dancing, they were all just staring at us. The song we liked immediately ended and we were itching to get off the dance floor, so we started to walk off. A woman then stood up and started dancing with me. It was sweet of her and we sat by her for a little bit, but the staring was too much. Emily came over to us and tried to yell at everyone to stop staring and then she gave up and said she couldn’t even sit by us because of all the attention we were drawing. Fortunately, we found a box of wine and a dark corner and hung out there for a little bit.


The next day was Pani’s baptism. We went to the church for the ceremony, which was nice and interesting. See the photos.


(I missed an awesome opportunity at a photo during the wedding, even better American commentary than this one. When we left the church, there was a girl (homeless?) asleep on the side of the church with a pair of brightly colored Obama flip flops laying very neatly right next to where she was sleeping. I wanted the picture so bad, but didn’t want to invade her privacy.)


Because we were being Africans on this trip, we caught a ride back to town on the truck that was taking back all the soda crates. I guess we should have been more African because we sat in the cab with the driver instead of in the back with the bottles and we ended up getting a citation for having too many people in the cabin. Who knew you couldn’t have 3 people in a truck cab. Anyway, we then loaded into a crowded mutatu for our ride back to Jinja. Along the way, we got stopped by a very sketchy police officer who was not in uniform and made Jeff hand him our passports out the window. It was a terrifying situation, but it ended up working out fine. I think people in that area just aren’t used to seeing whites, I guess. Jinja was a nice place to just hang out, catch up on sleep, and catch up on emailing. We attempted one outing to a restaurant overlooking the water, but came back when we realized they were out of most of their food. Otherwise, we just tried to finalize things in Uganda.


This was the trip of a lifetime. And I think that the two of us being together added to our experience not just because we were together, but because we brought different things to the experience – me with monkeys and forest stuff and jeff with school and children stuff. It was such a great experience!



All the goodbyes…

Leaving Kibale was very hard! Jeff and I realized shortly before going that we had lived together in our house there longer than we had lived together anywhere else. We loved our house and the forest and the community. It was so comfy and so beautiful and so friendly. So it was very hard to leave. And all we can do is think about how soon and how we are going to get back there.


I think we may have also had an impact on the people we were living around because many of them seemed very sad to see us go and our last few weeks were an ensemble of “goodbye” events. The first was a going away party for Jeff at Kasiisi Primary School where he did most of his volunteer work and where he implemented the One Laptop Per Child Program through the Kasiisi Project. We will put up some pictures. The event began with the whole school gathering for a goodbye ceremony for Jeff. The choir sang a lot of songs and did a lot of dances that were really great. They ended with a super sad song about how they were all crying at Jeff’s departure. And people were literally crying. After the concert ended, we were escorted back to the library where the teachers had set up a private party of their own for Jeff. We could only take a few steps at a time as Jeff was busy saying bye to all the kids – some of whom were crying uncontrollably. It was really sad to see. Even before the concert started, we bumped into one of the lead girls in the choir and a very smart student who Jeff had taught that just covered her eyes and ran away from us. When I went to check on her, she again turned from me and wiped her eyes and said she was just so “annoyed” that we were leaving (that is Ugandan for upset).


The teachers decorated the library with tons of streamers, fresh flowers, and decorations. They bought soda and food (even meat), which the cook made for the party. It was quite the event. They set up a generator and a stereo system and had music playing. And many people gave speeches about how much they appreciated Jeff and would miss him. They talked about the trips he took them on to see chimps, monkeys, the savannah, and other parts of the National Parks in Uganda. They talked about all the help he had been communicating with the US. They talked about how essential he was for keeping the computer classes going and working. They talked about sooo many things that he did for them. It was really touching. They talked about what a hard worker he was and how he had such great foresight and would be fixing things or planning things before they even realized they needed it done. They said that sometimes he would look so tired after rushing around to do things for them and they knew he was working too hard, but they appreciated it. They said that he was so friendly, so full of energy, so full of joy, and that his love was endless. One teacher even said he was like Jesus and the computers and knowledge he was leaving behind were like the Holy Spirit. They told him that Kasiisi was his second home and that he was welcome back anytime and that they were all praying for his quick return. They were very sweet! We ate lots of good food and did lots of socializing and then it was time to dance. This is one of the things I will miss the most about Uganda and I actually got teary eyed watching Jeff dance with these colleagues of his that he had grown so close to. You know, many volunteers come in and out of the area. And I think Ugandans are accepting to all of them. But Jeff stayed. He stayed for a long time, which is different than other volunteers. And he is going to keep helping the project. His work doesn’t end now that we are going – he is totally invested. I think that really touches the teachers. And when he arrived, they weren’t sure what to make of him. He wasn’t one of them. But slowly by slowly, they all became friends and colleagues and they accepted him completely. That is really huge. I think it shows the good nature and openness of both the community and Jeff.








Next, we had the Team Krista Football Match! My field assistants noticed some time back that I actually employed enough people to make a football (soccer) team, including subs. So they suggested we make a team and challenge the local village team that has a very good record (Kanyawara). Well, I fired off some of their colleagues and that brought down the size of our team. Plus, two of my employees were women who weren’t going to play, so that also brought down the size of the team. So we gathered some recruits. They were logical recruits, though, really. Of course, we had Jeff (he has to be part of Team Krista). Then there was another Kasiisi Project volunteer working with Jeff who is taking a break before college and came here for a few months. He was apparently a star soccer player in the US, so we naturally added him to the team. We also had the data entry guy from the chimp project, who is a great player. And then, in a scandalous move, the captain of the Kanyawara Team and the brother of one of my field assistants decided to join our team. Their other brother, who is the assistant captain for Kanyawara, stayed with the home team to make it fair. Well, the Kanyawara Team includes some village trouble makers, including some people that I refused to hire for my project and some people that were fired from my project. So some of them were out for blood. In fact, before the game even started, a currently unemployed field assistant came over to tell us that he wouldn’t play because the captain was playing on our team. Other members of the team were excited for a fun game, though, and so the match went on. Akora Charles, one of the most infamous field assistants around the field station, who was fired from two projects within a year (including mine) and was recently banned from the field station all together, decided to be very rough with the players. He actually hit the captain from his own team who was playing with us so hard that they were worried he broke his leg. This is setting the stage. Still, we had an exciting and fun game. Oduchu Michael, who I refused to hire on my project and who lost his scholarship through the Kasiisi Project because of being a bad student, was the ref. He was clearly playing for Kanyawara and everyone knew it. After confirming with my field assistants that it was also normal to harass the refs in Uganda, I went straight into angry fan/coach mode (technically, I was the manager of the team and my oldest field assistant was the coach). I was yelling at the top of my lungs “Open your eyes Oduchu!” and “Your not playing for Kanyawara today!” Needless to say, at half time, we switched refs to one of the field station administrators who was more fair.


The game was ROUGH! Seriously. At one point, someone tripped Jeff and Jeff’s body went flying up into the air and OVER the top of the other person. He landed on his side. He got up and walked right off the field. I’m telling you, I was IMPRESSED. He played for most of the first half with these really hard core guys! And he did well! Anyway, he was finished and his hip later became black, literally black. And the bruise was about the size of a paperback novel. A big rectangle on his hip. It has been about 3 weeks and the bruise is still there. Ouch!


Anyway, Team Krista Won the match! (I forgot to mention, my guys wanted red shirts, so we got bright red shirts with white letters that said Team Krista on the front and each persons name labeling their own shirt on the back. And we got matching shorts. These guys were looking smart.) We were so excited about winning! The guys played so well. There were three star players and we had promised Jeff’s shiny blue soccer ball to the MVP (we first had to explain what that was). Stod was the standout defence guy. Seezi did an awesome job on offense. But without a doubt, the quiet Mutebi Michael came out as the MVP. He was so intense working the ball down the field and scoring one of the three goals. It was great. He and Stod are from the same village, which is about 8 kms from Kanyawara and they play on their village team there, so they were both really thankful to get the ball. It was so classic Uganda. They both stood up in front of the team and other people around and introduced themselves and said thanks and made little speeches. I love the introductions to all the people who already know you and the speeches! I brought lots of water, Gatorade, glucose (that is what they normally have after a game), and buscuits, so we set it out for everyone to share. The Kanyawara team was being a soar loser, so they refused to shake our hands. Good enough, some of the players, like the assistant captain, were being very friendly and came over to shake our hands and share in our snacks. When we were getting ready to leave, our new ref came over to me to say there was a problem. Mutebi Michael was looking really upset and I found out that the goalie of the other team was claiming that Michael seriously injured him and that Michael had to pay for him to go to the hospital. So let me recap the incident. Michael was trying to score a goal and ran into the goal keeper in the process. When he got up, the goal keeper smacked him upside the head and people had to go over and restrain him (the goal keeper). Michael was just playing the game. The other guy was being a creep. Clearly, this guy was just trying to take advantage of me and get money out of me. Both team captains were there and the ref and I said “do we need to give this man money?” “No.” “Michael hit him and he hit Michael, so they are even?” “Yes.” So we thought it was done. We finished our snacks and started to leave. Then Michael came up to me and said he was afraid to leave because people were harassing him and saying they were going to knock him off his boda boda when he tried to leave. Then the “injured” man comes over again. Apparently he couldn’t walk and he was really sick. This begs the question “how did you finish the last 30 mins of the game if you now can’t even stand up?????” We said “listen, you chose to play, everyone is responsible for themselves.” Some of the FAs even had examples of this happening to other people and no one received money. I felt so bad for my guys. We had such a fun day and they were looking so smart in their shirts and then this drama was happening because I was white. So finally, we made a plan for one of my field assistants to take this guy to the clinic and I would pay the clinic directly for any care they gave. He refused. He clearly just wanted the money. We eventually walked away from him and walked to the gate to make sure everyone got home safely before Jeff and I returned home.


At the gate, we were greeted by an angry mob. That is right, an angry mob. The soar losers had decided to riot and refused to let my FAs pass. They were saying it was because of what Michael did to the goalkeeper, but it wasn’t. When we told them we offered to pay, they didn’t care. They just came up with other excuses. After some time arguing and hearing so many threats, like that they were going to beat Michael up if he tried to pass, I told Michael he could stay with us at the field station for the night. I also told him that he could throw it back in those guys’ faces because he would be staying in a fancy place, with electricity, and running water. I mean, that is luxury. Stod, who as I mentioned before is from the same village as Michael, also did not feel safe to pass, so he came back with us too. This is the first time we have ever really felt unsafe at Kibale. And it is just because of a couple of stupid jerks who can’t keep a job and suck at life, to be honest. It was sad. The next day, we were getting all sorts of messages from people saying that they hoped we knew it wasn’t the whole village that felt that way, it was just these few guys who were being bad. That everyone in the community was so upset and wanted us to know they supported us, and things like that. So that was nice.


As it happened, we found a car that was heading out of the field station and we got the field assistants home safely that night. They didn’t even have to stay an hour later. It doesn’t take much to fool a big, stupid mob, as it turns out. So there it is. The match, the victory, the mob.





This wasn't even the worst of it:

Next, we had our going away party at the field station. Alex, our chimp researcher friend who is a Bulgarian that goes to Harvard, and Emily, our Ugandan friend who manages the chimp project, planned a going away party for us at the field station. It was great! They planned for food and bought tons of food and sodas and hired cooks to make a great party for everyone. The field station provided the space and the sound system. Emily had given me a traditional Rotooro dress (the culture of where we live) for my birthday, so I wore that to the party. It was quite a production, as you will see from the pictures. But everyone was thrilled to see me in the dress. They all wanted to know if I would be wearing it in America. I told them probably not, but that I would wear all my other beautiful African-print things that I’ve had made.


The party was great. It was very classically Ugandan. It was supposed to start at 6 pm, so Jeff and I went over about 1.5 hours late and were early. How lame, being early to our own going away party. But once we got there, people started showing up all over the place and it was probably good for us to be there so we could talk to them each a little bit before everything started because we didn’t have time to talk to everyone during the party. There was a head table where we sat with Jerry, the director of the field station. We started with speeches… lots of speeches. Kato, one of the field station administrators was the MC. He had Emily go first. She gave a nice welcome speech and told everyone why she “hates Krista”. It was a great speech. She talked about how I basically kept turning up at Chimp House trying to befriend her and she kept trying to get rid of me thinking that I was going to be yet another researcher who has a short stay and never comes back. But then, as she went through her story, she talked about all the things that happened between us and how she realized I was different, I was so friendly, and how we became great friends. She talked about when I introduced her to Jeff when I came back for my full study and how he was just looking at every ant on the ground seeming totally overwhelmed by the place, but that he is now a pro at knowing which ants bite and which don’t and so on. She had Pani with her as she made her speech and said I was the Number 1 nanny for Pani because I would come down at night to help take care of her before she was able to hire a nanny. It was nice.


So I was the guest of honor, which I protested saying that Jeff and I should both be the guest of honor, too, but that was knocked down. That was actually really nice, to be honest. After so many times of having Jeff getting more respect than me for being a man here, it was kind of nice that they made a point to have me be the guest of honor. That might sound a bit selfish, but it was ok. Plus, it made for great fun as everyone talked about the guest of honor and her husband. They also started calling him the handsomest man at the party. So that was nice. They also eventually just decided we were one and so they would talk about the One, or one half or the other half. People got really into that – calling us One. Kind of cute! They tried to keep the speeches balanced to reflect Jeff, then me, Jeff, then me, and so on. So they had Lydia, the headmistress of Kasiisi Primary School, give a speech, which highlighted Jeff, but also said nice things about me. They had a representative of the researchers give a speech, which was Pawel, and he said lots of nice things. The Uganda Wildlife Authority representative (the Research and Monitoring Warden) gave a speech and said some nice things about how I was one of the few researchers who had taken time to get to know him over his 5 years at Kibale. The previous Director of the field station gave a speech. He is also on the board for Jeff’s project, so he was able to talk about both of us. And the current Director, Jerry, gave a speech about us. These speeches were kind of interesting for me because they talked about how much they appreciated how serious I was and how I didn’t take crap, more or less, from the field assistants. They said that I was doing a service because I was teaching the field assistants how to be good assistants for future projects and how to do good research. They also thanked me for the training I did for inexperienced field assistants. And they thanked me for always being ready to give guest lectures to visiting courses. And they thanked me for donating research materials to the field station. My field assistants gave a speech as a group, presented by my two lead field assistants, Moses and Sabiiti. They also gave me a beautiful basket and two necklaces. It was really sweet. Everyone’s speech talked about how they were hoping we would come back again soon and how we should greet everyone in America (here you go America), and how we should forget all the bad things that happened and think of all the good things. Pretty typical things to say in Ugandan speeches, but I am always a little sad about the last part. Later, Alex gave a speech to introduce Jeff who then was to introduce me as the guest of honor. Alex’s speech talked about how Jeff and I helped to make Kanyawara feel like home to him and even after a recent visit to his home town in Bulgaria, he realized that Uganda was more of a home than Bulgaria because home is about the people who are there. And Jeff and I helped to make Uganda his home. That was really sweet. Then Jeff gave a short speech, especially saying how he really appreciated the field station and the wildlife authority allowing a non-researcher to stay at the field station for such a long time. And then he introduced me. Mostly, I wanted them to know that there are so many things that I appreciated about all of them. I tried to talk about each group of people individually – the field station, the wildlife authority, my cook, my fellow researchers, the project managers, and so on. I told them that they don’t need to ask us to forget the bad because there was no bad. Kibale is our home and we love it. And I said that there are so many things about Uganda that I would love to take back to America with me. Like the amazing beauty of the place. And the completely friendly people. I told them that there was a generosity in Uganda that is not found in America because people give the last of what they have to others, which is hard to find in other places. And how everyone has such a great community spirit and they are so welcoming. I really love that! I talked a lot about my field assistants and how great they were and I got a bit emotional in this part. Tears were definitely in my eyes as I told them that I wouldn’t have been able to do my research without them and that I was so appreciative of all of their hard work and of being a friend to me. And I told them that I knew I was strict, but that I didn’t think it was fair to me or to them that some people were getting away with not doing their work. And they were all working so hard, that I had to get rid of those people who weren’t. And I said that even though everyone was saying how tough I was, I think my field assistants and anyone in Kibale who ever asked me for anything would say that I never turned away a person in need. And I think everyone agreed to that. Even typing this it just makes me reflect on it all. There is such a huge responsibility that comes along with having that many people being dependent on you. My employees, their families, all the people living in the area who were my friends. They all depended on me and I couldn’t let them down and it was so hard sometimes. And I said in my speech that I wasn’t a big professor, I wasn’t getting funding from a University to be there, I didn’t have a job, I wasn’t some rich Mzungu that was there to give out money. It was just me and I worked so hard to raise the money needed to make sure that they all got what they needed. And I think they did. All of my field assistants talked so much about how they would miss me, their families would miss me, and go into details about ways that I helped them. Little things that were totally within my power, even as an underfunded grad student, made a huge difference to some people. So that was nice. Anyway, I’m just rambling because it was an interesting and unforgettable experience and I don’t want it to be over…


We feasted on so much food. There was beef, there was cabbage, there was matooke (starchy banana), rice, irish potatoes, peas, g-nuts (roasted peanuts), and popcorn. I also made punch out of mix sent to us in a care package. There were crates of soda and the canteen was serving up other drinks. Once everyone was completely full, we started dancing. It was very fun. At first, they had Jeff and I open the dance. We danced a bit and then had others join in with us. People were being a bit slow about joining in on the dancing, so they had the Mzees, the old men of the field station, do a dance. The old director and the new director got out on the floor and started dancing to a really funny song (no idea what it was). They were doing some awesome moves and then the station manager, Charles Ddumba, who was dj’ing joined them. Very fun. Slowly, people started dancing until we had a full floor. It was quite a feat dancing with that huge dress on, but I did it. Well, that is until I dropped the wrap on the bathroom floor and had to go home and change. People slowly dwindled down until there were about a dozen of us left dancing until after 2 am. It was very fun. I had made a few cds for the party and there were a few US songs on them, but people jumped right into dancing to them, which was nice. The field assistants just didn’t want the party to end. Every song ended with them asking for one more.









A few days after the party, I had all the field assistants come to the house for their last pay, to go over a few remaining questions, and to get lots of presents from us. I asked everyone to bring a cup and spoon since I knew we would be packing ours. And we served Tea, Coffee, and Snacks. Everyone enjoyed eating all the yummy American snacks that were sent to me for Christmas and showed up 5 months later at the end of April. At one point, they asked what some of the Kashi cookies were that they were eating. I said they were cookies and then everyone was repeating it trying to say it “cooookie”, “cokie”, “cookie”. It was sooo cute! And they asked if I baked them. That made me laugh out loud. You know me and that propaned powered burner can work miracles. I wish I could bake cookies on the stove top!


We then unloaded on them all the things from our house, which they were PUMPED about. Then we went back to the lab where I continued to give them all things. They all got at least one pair of shoes and one pair of boots, which they were pretty pumped about. I just kind of held things up and whoever was the first to raise their hands got it. Stod got a pair of Jeff’s shoes that are kind of these low, stylish, slip-on sneakers that he had bought in Uganda. Stod was so pumped with this stylish gift that he started sprinting around the lab. Jeff had to yell at him to get back to the lab so he could claim more free stuff. We all said our sad, heartfelt goodbyes and they left.


Of course, the goodbyes didn’t end there. Everywhere we went, everything we did, people were saying goodbye to us. It often takes a long time to walk anywhere or do anything in Uganda because there are always so many people to stop and greet and talk to. But suddenly, everything started taking EVEN longer. We couldn’t go anywhere without people stopping us for so long to know our plans, when we were coming back, to ask us to greet America, our families, each person they had known to visit us during our stay here – the sister, Jennifer, the Mom, the Aunt, and Jean, Jose (that is Josie who everyone just calls Jose), Sarah, etc. One person even greeted my Dad with a big question mark sound in her voice. Fair enough. So many people stopped by the house to say bye. And many people brought us lovely gifts, which was so nice. We had estimated how much we could bring back with our baggage allowance, but suddenly, our whole suitcase was full with gifts and we hadn’t yet packed anything. So nice! Some people came to the house everyday that last week to talk to us one last time and say bye yet again. People were even continuing to say bye to us as we packed up the car and were rushing to leave. I can’t complain, though, it made us feel so loved and we wanted to see all those people over and over again, anyway.


Somehow, we still managed to get a few things done in the mist of all of this. We packed up our whole house and lab and gave away every spare thing we had. (We are talking about a whole room full of gifts to give away – we had so many things to give away of our own and then people who visit always leave things to give, and even some people send things to give away.) But everyone loved their gifts. Those who we did continue to see wore their new clothes proudly. That is something I have always enjoyed about Ugandans – when you give them a gift, they like to show it off to you by wearing it. Even things as simple as socks, I have had people point to them and say, “do you remember these?” My response is always “not really, but I’m assuming I gave them to you since you are showing me.”


Saying bye to all sorts of people on our village walk and baby showing off the dress that my mom snuck away from Baba to give away in Uganda. I hope they both think it was worth it because it looks so cute!


Jeff and I also went out into the forest to say goodbye to it. This was crucial for me. The forest was a huge part of my life while in Uganda and I am going to miss it terribly. Jeff didn’t spend all that much time going out in the forest, but he loved it anyway and loved living in it. We took a long walk and went up and down into the valleys where there were “babbling brooks,” as Jeff likes to call them. We walked over the rocky stream at several different spots and had several different nice outlooks over the valley to take in the view. We saw lots of huge trees that were beautiful. And we said our goodbyes. It was sad. On the walk back home, we came across a group of vets and some of the field assistants for another project here who had darted a redtail and were taking measurements, samples, and collaring it. It was crazy to see the redtail laid out on a tarp in the middle of a trail. Plus, it was a bit worrisome to see all these people with face masks on in the place that we were about to walk past. But then we noticed the person writing down the data didn’t have a facemask. And no one had goggles or gowns. What can I say, we get a bit relaxed when doing this work in the forest. I’m not saying it is the best idea, but it is so different from in a lab, huh?


On our last morning in Kibale, we tried to make it so that we wouldn’t be seeing many people, but we still had many visitors stop by to see us off. My cook, Abwooli, and her best friend and the KEP cook, Alice Akiiki, hung out in the kitchen helping us to finalize things and taking out the piles of goods that we were leaving for Abwooli. Akiiki was saying her goodbyes to me and started to cry, then Abwooli started to cry, then I started to cry. There was so much to do that morning and I had just been rushing around for the past week and it was continuing that morning. And it was probably good because the only down time I had, when I was hanging out in the kitchen talking to Akiiki and Abwooli, I ended up sobbing. I think that would have been me the whole time, if there wasn’t so much to get done and worry about. Jeff also had his moments and it was just so sad to think about leaving. It still is! Pulling away from the field station for the last time, Jeff lowered his head and cried.


But finally, we were packed in the car and off. We drove past the waving field assistants, the waving school kids, past the gate that says “tell others that Kibale is wonderful!”, past the big sloping meadows full of cows, past the fields of veggies, and the swamp. We drove through the tea and onto Kampala. It was so sad. Western-Uganda is a BEAUTIFUL place. The animals are amazing! The people are amazing! And Kibale is Wonderful!




King of Toro Birthday

The King of Toro was the youngest king in the world when he was crowned about 15 years ago. He is now at University and just celebrated his 18th birthday. This was a HUGE deal! Tons of bigshots came to the palace in Fort Portal. The King’s palace sits high up on a hill in Fort Portal and when we went to town during the birthday celebration, we saw huge crowds, lights, and tents set up all over. So we had to go up and check it out. It was amazing! It was like a real music festival. There were multiple stages set up. One huge one that had all the most popular Ugandan musicians performing. There were beer tents, vendors selling things, people selling t-shirts, hats, and badges to mark the event. We got a great t-shirt with a picture of the King dressed in his traditional robes posing on his thrown. Nice! There were even promotional tents trying to get people to sign up for mobile phone plans and things like that. And there was one of those cash blowing machines where you go in and try to catch the money. It was crazy!


This was actually during one of our last weeks in Uganda, so we were stressed and overworked, so we could only stay for a short time. We listened to some music and then worked our way up to the palace to see what was going on up there. For some reason, the security guards just let us right in. I told Jeff just to look like we knew what we were doing and I flashed a smile at the guard and away we went. I’m sure being Mzungu played a big part in that pass. So we get up to the palace and there are tons of famous people up there. I mean, Presidents from nearby countries were visiting, the Kings and Queens of other Kingdoms were there, and all the big Ugandan politicians. There were news crews filming and so on. There were tons of big black cars with different country flags on them. Unfortunately, we two stupid mzungus had no idea who anyone was. So we make our way into this super exciting area and have no idea what to do or who to look at or who to try to get pictures of. We focused on not looking lost. We hung out for a little bit, talked to one of the film people, and then left. It was exciting, though. The crowds were outrageous.











Rwanda trip…

Next, Jeff and I decided to take a trip to Rwanda. This was partly to renew our very outdated visas and partly so I could meet with a gorilla research group. We were actually in Kigali during the bombings that went off in late March, but were totally clueless to any of this. In fact, I think there was a grenade outside of the Kigali Memorial Center a few hours after we left. My Mom actually called to tell me about the bombings and I said “Oh Mom, those were weeks ago…” It wasn’t until later that I realized she wasn’t crazy and I was! Anyway, to get to Rwanda, we took a car to the border of Rwanda and got out. The border is interesting. For one, you cannot drive across. You have to get out and walk. We weren’t actually taking a car into Rwanda, so this was okay for us, but even on the return trip, we had to get out of the bus and walk across. We walked across and found one very nice passport inspector on the Rwanda side. He was the last nice person we saw for a while, so it is note worthy to comment on him. It started raining and we started walking to find public transport for the 2 hour trip to the capital. The very rude people we ran into who refused to let us share their cover at their little security posts, but insisted on making us fish out our passports (even though we had already finished the boarder crossing), told us the mini busses were about 10 mins up the road. We started walking and getting soak. We approached a group of school-aged girls all coming home from school and we smiled and said hi. It turns out they were not friendly, they were little bitches and they surrounded us and decided to taunt us as we walked. So I decided to be a bitch back. I kept stopping short, which made all of them pile into each other trying to avoid bumping into me. After a few times of this, they dispersed. We then got to the mutatus and no one spoke English (the current official language) or French (the previous official language), so we had a really hard time figuring out where to go. Finally, we ended up in a mutatu that headed for Kigali. Along the way, we met a few nice people who talked to us, but those were few and far between. When the trip started, there had been no English speakers in the car, so I thought I could talk to Jeff (who was sitting in front of me) openly without anyone knowing what I was saying. At one point, the guys next to me were pointing at my ring finger and discussing it in their local language. Already being annoyed by how rude everyone was to us, I held out my hand and said “Yes, I’m married, ok?” A few minutes later, we made a stop and everyone was yelling at us “Mzungu, Mzungu!” We are used to this in Uganda, but it is usually kids who yell this. Yet, these were adults who were being really aggressive towards us from outside the mutatu. This happened everytime we stopped. It was extremely uncomfortable. So at one point, I said, “Ooh, Mzungu, look at the Mzungu, I’m going to stare at the Mzungu.” And the man next to me and the girl next to Jeff laughed. So we realized we were sitting next to English speakers. I spoke to the guy next to me for a bit and Jeff chatted with the girl next to him and then we arrived in Kigali. Somehow, the girl next to Jeff ended up still being with us after we got out of the Mutatu. She said she was helping us find a taxi, then she got in the taxi. She said she was helping us find the hotel, then she was in the hotel. The final straw came when she asked Jeff if he wanted a separate room from me. Oh Jeff, he had no idea what was happening.


So we settled into our room and headed out for dinner. The town is nice, very European. We found a nearby mall that was obviously a mzungu hangout, which we didn’t realize. We found a great little cafĂ© with free internet. It had tons of mzungus and all sorts of yummy food we hadn’t seen in forever, like goat cheese. We ordered lots of things and then ended up being pretty disappointed in it overall. But we still ended up coming back to the place multiple times because of the internet and the comforting foods.


While in Rwanda, we visited the Kigali Memorial Center. It is a museum that documents the 1994 Genocide and other genocides around the world. It was horrifyingly sad. Of course, we all know the sad things that happened and this museum just overwhelmed you with it. At one point, Jeff had to take a break from walking through it because he was so overwhelmed and feeling sick to his stomach. In the museum, the biggest print is the local language there, then French and English. This confused me because I thought they would have the country’s official language first. As we went through the museum, though, it became obvious why they didn’t. So much of what happens goes back to bad ideas from the colonist and this new divide that was created by the Belgians. And the West totally abandoned this little country when it needed them most, so why should they be using their languages? The saddest part of the museum was definitely the “Heroes” section. Jeff and I were both crying. These were people who risked their lives for other people, sometimes saving hundreds of people in the most creative ways. It was so touching. And then reading about the “aid” that came to the rescue, but was really all diverted to the refugees outside the country (aka the murderers who fled the country) was just appalling. Again, it isn’t that this is new news, but having it so in your face had a big impact. Comments about raped women who contracted HIV from being raped not getting any medicine for the past 15 years, but their rapists being given free meds by aid workers in the refugee camps just makes you want to puke. Really sad. This is where it is so important for people to actually think about where their aid money is going and what sort of “aid” they are giving. Just throwing money at a problem and feeling good about yourself does not work.


The other part of the museum had info about other genocides. I thought this part was really good because it highlighted how every continent has had its share of massacres. I feel like sometimes people just blow off the tragedies in Africa as century-long “ethnic” problems and so forth, but that part of the museum showed that all cultures have had their part in genocide. Very sad!


It was actually extremely weird to be in Rwanda. Everywhere you looked, the people were probably either victims of the genocide or perpetrators of the genocide. It was horrifying to think about. And it made me feel bad for being so frustrated at how rude people were acting towards me. I just don’t know how a country comes back from something like that, really. Jeff is commenting here that despite this, they are coming back. It seems like a crazy success story, it doesn’t even make sense. Also, he’s saying how they have a national understanding that they aren’t going to forget what happened, they are going to face it and they are going to face it together. Which is great!


After Kigali, we went to Ruhengari, which is the base town for the mountain gorilla researchers. It was BEAUTIFUL! Sitting at the base of the volcanos, the views were amazing. And the views on the drive to get there and back were also amazing. It was just mountain after mountain, valley after valley. On our ride back to Kigali, we were driving on top of the clouds and the mountains were bursting through at certain points. It was so breathtaking, I just wanted to make sure I got back there at some point. I am posting a few photos, I hope they show just a gimpse of what we saw on our 2 hour ride. Also, there are some photos of kids who we met on our walk around the town and were dying to have pictures taken. These are just a couple of the dozen or so photos they posed for.


After some delays, I had a great meeting with the gorilla research group and we are moving forward on discussions for me to get involved with their research… so good news there.