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1) Today I turned in my LAST essay for my coursework!  From here on out, all I have to think about and read for is my dissertation.  I’m so happy/relieved!

2) Yesterday, I was on Andrew Sullivan’s blog.  While reading, I remembered that I had submitted a “View from My Window” photo from our apartment in Kampala, way back in April.  I had never seen it posted on his blog, and assumed that it didn’t get posted at all (after all, he claims that he gets hundreds of these photos a week).  Then, I noticed the little search bar on the right, which I had never thought to use before.  Sure enough, I typed in “kampala” and… found my photo as the View of the Day for May 26!  So it was published after all.  How exciting!

Throughout the last couple days, I’ve been checking lots of different news sites to monitor how things are going in Kasubi. When I went to bed on Tuesday night, I feared what I would read in the next day’s paper. I suppose the news from Kampala is both bad: some unrest around the tombs, with 3 people killed by security personnel; and good: no reports of widespread violence or rioting.  I have noticed, mostly on the Daily Monitor’s Facebook fan page, and in comments in newspaper articles, a theme of empathy and shared loss expressed by people not just of the Buganda tribe, but by Acholis and other groups from around the country.  This brings me a bit of hope that perhaps trust is growing between ethnic groups in Uganda.

Along with reading the articles, I’ve been trolling the photos and videos, hoping to not see any familiar faces. I continue to hope that many of my neighbors had the chance to avoid the chaos around the tombs. Jon and I plan to call friends from the area tomorrow to check in with them.

People in Uganda (and those watching from elsewhere) continue to wonder about who (if anyone) was behind the fire. A friend shared this Al Jazeera clip with me, and it discusses the steps that various parties are taking to start investigations.  It also highlights a lot of the issues going on in Uganda at the moment, and provides some good context.

Uganda has truly lost an important piece of its cultural heritage.  As best as I can tell, it doesn’t look like it’s lost its (hard-fought and precariously maintained) social cohesion.  I hope that that can continue, and that rebuilding the Tombs provides an opportunity to grow empathy and trust between Ugandan communities.

It is almost 11 on a Tuesday night, and I should be reading, writing, and applying to jobs. Instead, I am extremely distracted. Not by the singing revelers outside my window, welcoming St. Patrick’s Day a couple hours early – although, that is a bit distracting. It’s this news that the Kasubi Tombs, in Kampala, have burned down tonight.

The Kasubi Tombs as they burn. Photo by Joseph Kiggundu, Daily Monitor.

The Kasubi Tombs are more than important cultural and historic structures to me. When we lived in Uganda, they were my neighbors. Our apartment was at the bottom of Kasubi Hill, and we passed the Tombs every day to and from downtown Kampala. We took numerous visitors to see the tombs to learn more about the Buganda tribe, its history and culture. I always loved passing the guards of the Tombs; dressed in the traditional saffron-colored robe and leaning against the big tree out front, they waited patiently to greet the next set of visitors.

the Kasubi Tombs in October 2008

Nobody knows yet why the Tombs went up in flames. I’ve already seen a couple of theories floating around online. None of the theories involve an accident.

In the last several months, there has been much tension between the ruling party, the NRM, and the Buganda kingdom, relating to a land dispute. Riots in October went on for about two weeks and killed a number of people and damaged property all over Kampala. It is easy to draw a connection between this earlier dispute and tonight’s fire. If this theory proves to be true, it could mean a fresh set of riots and worsening ethnic tensions.

Another theory revolves around more recent news. Just last night, a security guard opened fire on students at a hostel near Makerere University. Two students were killed – both were Kenyan. Today, students protested at Makerere and through the surrounding neighborhoods. Could this be related to the Tombs burning? Or, was the fire just an accident?

Setting aside the question of how this could happen, my mind has been racing thinking of my friends and acquaintances in Kasubi. Were our boda boda-driving friends there to witness this important site being burned to the ground? What is happening in the neighborhood now – any rioting or general panic? How are John and Gladys and Alex and Mabel? What will happen tomorrow?

For the moment, all I can do is send positive thoughts their way. And attempt to dust off the distraction and try to get back to work.

Part of my “job” as a Mitchell Scholar is to write quarterly reflections on my experiences in Ireland.  Our reflections were published last week.  You can read mine, reposted below, and what the other scholars have to say, here.

I have a thing for birds. Last year, while living in Uganda, I became obsessed with identifying every weaver, hornbill, and crane that crossed my path. And although the birding is a bit less thrilling here in Ireland, I swoon every time I see a swan gently paddling down the canal that feeds into the River Corrib. So back in September, when Michael (Mitchell scholar), Jon (my husband), and I stumbled across a flock of 40 (yes, 40) swans while on a walk through the Claddagh, I knew that living in Galway would make me very happy indeed.

This year in Galway marks my second year living as an expatriate, and I find myself constantly comparing my life in Kampala to my life here. I’m sure you can imagine the many differences: in Galway, I wash our clothes in a spiffy little machine that resides in the kitchen. In Kampala, laundry was a chore I spent hours doing every week by hand (although, believe it or not, I rather enjoyed it). In Galway, every time the sun shines, I soak it in, because I know it won’t last long. In Kampala, I was constantly seeking out a patch of cool shade. In Galway, the language is English, and I manage to blend in, despite my painfully American accent and fashion sense. In Kampala, I struggled to use my hard-earned Luganda (the local language) correctly and became accustomed to the feeling of being watched. The similarities between my two adopted homes are apparent as well. In both Galway and Kampala, drinking tea is an important social custom, the soccer fans are zealous, and the people are so warm that you are immediately put at ease. Both Kampala and Galway have made their mark on me, and in Galway, I know that the process is still just beginning. Galway, with its twisty cobblestone streets, omnipresent street musicians, and sweet salt air, affords me with somewhat of a fairytale existence. It is easy to while away a day exploring the passageways near my apartment, in the center of the city, window-shopping when the weather is dry and escaping into a café when the rain inevitably begins again. And since Galway is a big tourist city, it’s easy to forget that I’m not actually on vacation; that I’m here to do work.

Work is definitely a big part of my life in Galway. Although at times it is frustrating to have my laid-back vacation bubble popped, I am so grateful that my program is turning out to be exactly what I hoped it would be. The MA in Gender, Globalization and Rights is a part of the Global Women’s Studies program at NUI Galway and is introducing me and my 10 classmates to the intricacies of feminist theory, the Bretton Woods institutions, the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, grassroots development methods, and how they are all connected. In other words: more than I bargained for, but in a good way. I am confident that what I’m learning now will be useful in the near future, and that’s a good feeling.

Although I love Galway, I have used the majority of my weekends to escape to other places in search of adventure. Traveling throughout the island of Ireland has been a main feature of my travel thus far, and I’ve spent time in Belfast, Cork, and Dublin with the Mitchells. In fact, tomorrow I’m taking a day trip to Limerick to learn more about Irish Aid and to pay a visit to Shane. I’ve also had the chance to visit London with friends from home, and Bremen, Germany, with Irish friends, Michael, and Jon. All of the travel has given me an excuse to improve my photography, a hobby I’ve kept up since my Uncle Cliff taught me how to use a darkroom in the fifth grade. Meanwhile, I am watching Jon and myself become more and more Irish as the days go by. Jon is starting to add “like” at the end of his sentences. I prefer “Dja know?” as it is awfully close to the old Minnesotan saying, “Dontcha know?” I’ve stopped complaining about the rain and started drinking tea several times a day. The familiar process of acquiring the idiosyncrasies of a place is beginning to happen to me once again.

I can’t write a about my first couple of months without mentioning my fellow Mitchell Scholars. So many words come to mind when I think of the group: energetic, social, well-read, empathetic, hilarious, loyal, open-minded. I’ve already had so much fun with the group, as well as with people one-on-one, that it’s exciting to think that we have much more in store this year. I feel especially lucky to have Michael in Galway with me, to share the joys of our Mitchell year, and look forward to having Rebekah join us here in January. To my fellow scholars: Here’s to many more weekends where we all sleep on the floor, meals that are cooked communally, days exploring whatever locale we end up in, and nights dancing to a certain Black Eyed Peas song.

I think it’s pretty clear that my life in Galway, and in Ireland more generally, is turning out to be pretty fantastic. Between the traveling, the perfection that is Galway, the Mitchell scholars, and my program, I’ve basically got it all. It is truly humbling to be a member of the Mitchell class of ’10, and I’m so grateful for this incredible opportunity. But the cherry on top has got to be this: a flock of swans lives less than a kilometer from my front door.

Fortune blessed us with two wonderful events during our final week in Kampala.

On Thursday we visited Mulago hospital (the main referral hospital in the country) to see the newborn son of my former colleague at the Refugee Law Project, Lyandro Komakech. Lyandro became a good friend during my ten months at the RLP and it was an honor to see him, his beautiful wife, his mother-in-law, and newborn on such a special occasion.

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On Friday we attended the wedding of the brother of another former RLP co-worker, Moses Kabugere. Moses and I got to know each other during field visits to schools around Kampala for refugee education research that I helped out with. The wedding was an extravagant affair at one of Kampala’s nicest hotels. Lauren and I had a blast chatting with Moses’s friends and relatives seated at our table, and listening to the many speeches and live music.

As we prepare to leave Uganda this week and transition back into American life, I am happy that my last memories are of friends experiencing the simple joys universal in human life—birth, marriage, and the gathering together of loved ones.

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Munaku trading center.  Our building is the orange one on the left.

Munaku trading center. Our building is the orange one on the left.

After a month of saying goodbyes to friends who live all over Uganda, it was finally time to say goodbye to our apartment and neighborhood yesterday. Munaku has been our home since August and we have really come to love the little neighborhood where everybody knows our names.

We’d been busy packing, giving away and selling our furniture, and cleaning up the place for the last four days. It was exhausting work. A little before and after action:

before...

before...

...and after.

...and after

Finally, we finished and took a final walk around the neighborhood. We climbed the huge hill nearby that has a great view of the city, went to the local supermarket one last time, and said goodbye to our boda boda driver friends.

While walking away from the trading center for the last time, waving to the guys that always shout my Luganda name for the last time, I think it is no surprise to any of us that I started crying. During the 9 months that we lived in Munaku, I really fell in love with the place. Now I can just look forward to the next visit… I hope it is sooner rather than later.

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Last week, Jon and I got the chance to visit the Maganjo Progressive Women’s Group, a small group of artisans in the Kampala suburb of Maganjo. The group isn’t all women, but women definitely have a central role in the group.  Since 1993, they’ve existed as a network of about 25 active members. Together they make and market their crafts and support each other in a lot of quieter ways as well.  The group members who welcomed us to the homestead of  one of the members seemed as close as family.

Apart from their handicrafts, which run the standard gammut of recycled paper beads, woven mats, and hand loom cloth, the group has a number of little innovations which they use individually and spread to their community.  Jon and I were quite dumbfounded at all the little things this group has invented or adopted to make their lives a little better.  The house we visited seemed to be home to about a million little innovations.

First, there was the solar cooker.  This little contraption dries food using just the heat of the sun.  Inside they had tiny eggplants (which are a bitter, but much loved, food here) that get mashed up into a paste.  I also had the chance to have a little bit of dried cabbage, which they also use as a condiment.  Mmm. 🙂

solar cooker

solar cooker

Next, the refrigerator.  This was a small box with charcoal walls.  There were banana stems on a small shelf inside near the top of the box.  Sitting atop the box was a plastic basin filled with water.  Apparently, to keep the contraption cool, you just pour water into the box from the top.  I have no idea how this has a cooling effect… but it does!

fridge

fridge

To improve sanitation, the group invented a sink using a jerrycan and some wood.  Now when people are done in the bathroom, washing hands is simple and clean.

sink!

sink!

This group did not stop there.  They even came up with their own form of coffee or tea… crushing small seeds from a local plant and then adding hot water and sugar.  They let us try this too… and it was quite delicious!

seeds for tea

seeds for tea

Jon and I left feeling quite energized by the ingenuity of this group.  Not only have they come together to do craft work and market their products, they are constantly innovating and sharing ways of making their lives better.  This kind of “development work” hardly gets any play… local, smart, inexpensive development happening under the radar so that it rarely is seen.  It made me wonder how many other cool, innovative things I’ve passed by in my time here…

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Welcome to our blog! Follow along with us as we travel and experience life as a couple of 20-somethings - with all its ups and downs. We hope to post photos, short videos, stories about our daily life and not-so-daily adventures, and thoughts on what’s going on in the world.

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