Monthly Archives: July 2011


Today Kathryn, Aryn and I got up, ate breakfast, and walked the 20-minute walk into town to the market. It was so colorful that it made me want to buy some paper and colored pencils, sit under a tree and draw. I didn’t today, but maybe at some point on my trip I’ll have enough free time to do that. We mostly walked around and browsed people’s goods…a lot of fruits and vegetables and clothing. The market is a very lively place, and it is full of small stands made of large sticks with fabric draped over the top to provide shade. There are men and women sitting in them, many with sleeping babies wrapped in cloth. I wanted to take a million pictures, but something about the people made me resist. They seem so natural there, doing what they do almost every day to make a living. It felt wrong to ask to take their pictures, because although the market was beautiful and interesting to me, to them they are doing nothing spectacular that deserves being captured in a photograph. They are just finding a way to get by. So I kept my camera in my purse and just admired them on my own instead.

After an hour or so of walking we got hungry and found a small restaurant. The service at restaurants in Uganda is very different from the service in the United States. In Uganda the waitstaff have no sense of urgency whatsoever when serving you. They are not always smiling and polite (except in the hotels) and they don’t hesitate to tell you that half of the items on the menu aren’t available, nor do they apologize for it. It was surprising at first that you had to ask for everything, including silverware, a menu, and a glass of water, but I’m used to it now. The service is also exceptionally slow and we’ve learned to reserve at least 2 hours of our time for a small lunch. With all of this in mind, we sat down to eat and ordered some traditional African food- cassava (a root vegetable similar to potatoes that is usually boiled) with g-nut sauce (a brown paste that is made from peanut-like ground nuts), chipatti (a soft African flatbread), mashed bananas, rice, and goat stew. We tried to order boyo, which is a green similar to spinach that is often wilted and fried in oil, but they didn’t have it at the time. They were also out of Stoney, a brand of extra strong ginger ale that is popular throughout Africa. I’m hoping to buy some and bring them home with me to share!

Here are some photos of our meal:

Goat stew – Dad, be proud!!!

After our lunch, we continued to walk for a little while before heading back to the hotel. Did I mention that we moved from the guesthouse we were staying at into a hotel?! We decided to make the switch because although the guesthouse was beautiful, it was too far out of town and we lacked privacy. The hotel was definitely a good choice and I have my own room with a nice view. Take a look.

And this is the view from my balcony.

Anyways, on our walk home from the market I saw something that struck me and I took that opportunity to snap a picture.

This is a photo of a nursery school in Lira. It looked like I would have expected a nursery school in Uganda to look like at first, but then I noticed that there was something lining the top of the wall surrounding it. I looked closer and realized that it was colored pieces of broken glass. The concept continues to confuse me and is more than a little disturbing so it seemed worth posting. Every day something surprises me here, whether they are good surprises or bad ones, but each of them is adding to my knowledge and understanding of the culture. I’m trying to take it all in, and am glad that I have two more weeks to process and absorb all that I’m experiencing.

One last note- My internet at the hotel is fabulous…good enough for Skype! My Skype name is just Sarah Schwie, so if you’re family or a friend feel free to add me.

That’s all for now, time for another episode of Grey’s Anatomy and a good night’s sleep.

Today I was thinking a lot about what it is like to live in Uganda compared to what it is like in the US. It seemed funny what the biggest changes and hardest adjustments were for me…here are some examples.

Things that are especially different here:

1) I brush my teeth with bottled water.

2) The only coffee that people drink is instant coffee – which is surprisingly good.

3) All of the girls greet you with a handshake and curtsy.

4) I shower in cold water with a bucket of HOT (just short of boiling) water at my feet for a bucket bath.

5) People take pills to gain weight.

6) Every bed is covered by a mosquito net.

7) The bugs are twice the size as they are in the US.

8 ) “Bathroom” does not mean toilet, it means a place to “wash” and “toilet” does not mean toilet, it means a hole in the ground.

9) The soap operas are much worse…yes that’s possible.

Things that are the same here:

1) They listen to American music – some bad rap, a lot of Rihanna, and the occasional Shania Twain.

I’m sure there are more similarities, but the differences are more interesting. I know that I’ve even noticed things about me that are different since coming to Uganda…

1) I REALLY enjoy my time alone.

2) I anunciate every single sound when I speak.

3) I worship Purell and sanitizing towels (yes, mom, you were right).

4) I am no longer just a white person, I’m a “muno” or “muzungo”.

5) I have gotten used to strangers touching my hair.

6) I am valued at about 10 cows and 15 goats (the children told me that when we were talking about dowries). I’ll take that as a compliment?

Tomorrow is our first free day! It still isn’t entirely free, because we’re having the research committee that has been put together at Lira Integrated School over to our hotel for dinner, but tomorrow is the first day that we can sleep in. I can’t WAIT to get more than 6 hours of sleep! Our plan is to get breakfast at the hotel in the morning and then explore the town’s market in the afternoon.

On top of getting to sleep in, breakfast is always a treat here because of the African tea. African tea is black tea steeped in hot milk and heavily infused with ginger. It’s wonderful and a new favorite that I’m determined to bring back to the US!

I spent most of the day observing classrooms in the primary school today. While I was in one classroom, the headmistress of the school, Beatrice, came in and announced that she had a letter for me. She handed me a piece of notebook paper that was folded into an envelope, and inside was a page-long letter in very neat handwriting. It was from a primary school student, 13 years old, named Mercy Akello. I have never met her in person, but she has seen me standing in front of the students and speaking at assemblies and workshops, and sitting in on her classes.

This is the letter.

I found out some more information about her, like she also lost her brother to AIDS and she has two younger brothers also attending school at Lira Integrated. I was told that her father has struggled to pay the fees for all three of his children, and I know that when families cannot pay fees, the children are sent home from school. I am going to find her in class this week and talk to her more on my own, but my plan is to pay the fee for her upcoming trimester. For them school costs about 290,000 shillings per trimester, which equals about $50, so the cost is $150 for the year for a boarder, including all of her meals. It’s amazing to think that in the US we spend $50 on a pair of shoes, and the same amount of money feeds, clothes, and educates a child for 4 months.

I’m at the point in my trip where everything around me has sunk in and I’m really starting to gain some perspective. It is a lot of information to handle, and spending time with the children has really given me a lot to think about. I’m glad that I have some time to myself tonight to write this, and to wind down.

Luckily for me, I made an impulsive Target run before I left and splurged on 2 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy…I’m really looking forward to some mindless entertainment and a little dose of America.

Yesterday was our first day visiting Lira Integrated School. The welcome was unbelievable. The school has 1600 kids, and they ALL participated in a full day welcoming ceremony for us. They paraded around and saluted us, and they sang to us for hours. The children are all so well behaved, but they seemed like they had been practicing for weeks. The headmistress of the school also made us sit in front of all 1600 students on a stage for an assembly. The assembly was long and was entirely focused on welcoming us, the visitors, thanking god for our presence and on having us speak to them. Honestly, we were all pretty uncomfortable…we felt like the welcome was way too much. The children were directed to present us with bottles of water on their knees and everything. None of us wanted to be treated like royalty, especially after we hadn’t had time to make any positive impact on their school yet! But they definitely have a great respect for guests.

And then there was today. Today was frustrating. We sat in on some secondary school classes and the teaching methods are hopelessly outdated. What was worse though is that we were expected to attend another “assembly”. In Uganda, respecting time does not mean much. In this case, for example, the assembly was supposed to run from 4 to 5, but we didn’t get out until 7. The assembly consisted of teachers and staff standing on a stage with a microphone (with hundreds of students seated on benches below) naming “culprits” who were guilty of “committing” misconduct at school. They were called up to the stage and openly humiliated by the teachers. The teachers would ask the students in the audience over the microphone (until the power went out), “Does everyone know what _________ did?” And the students would shake their heads. Then the staff would explain the crime in detail and warn the others of the consequences. During the 3 hours of that assembly I swear I experienced almost every emotion possible. First I was surprised, then sad, then nervous and uncomfortable, then worried, then angry…and when they talked about beating and whipping him in public I felt sick. I was preparing myself to leave the assembly if that happened, but they announced that it would happen afterward. It was upsetting to say the least. There are cultural differences that I appreciate and those that I could do without witnessing here.

We all went to visit a local street market after leaving the school so we could debrief about our experiences, and we all seemed to be in agreement about some of the practices. Otherwise, the children are wonderful. They are funny, outgoing, smart, and very dedicated for the most part. Tomorrow we’ll do more work with the kids, so I’m looking forward to it! And yes….they do have school on Saturdays.

Time to hit the sheets now; we have an early morning. Goodnight world!

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