Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wasuze otyanno!

Good morning... (how did you sleep?)

Just practicing the newly-acquired Luganda I am learning in language class. I finally decided that if I'm going to live here, I need to learn how to talk to people who can't speak English. Learning Luganda is not going to solve all my communication problems - after all, there are over 50 languages spoken in Uganda alone! But it will help. And it's fun. And I've already learned an invaluable phrase in my very first class. It is "Tonseera." It means "Don't overcharge me." With that phrase alone, this class will pay for itself..

The holidays are very special at BeadforLife. Before leaving for Colorado on December 10th, I was able to experience the BFL holiday party we hosted for the Beaders and a party for the staff at my place. I'm telling you, no one knows how to party like Ugandans. The Beaders' party was held at Terrace Park Gardens, a venue we use for BeadforLife events like graduations. The most interesting thing about Terrace Park Gardens is an almost-but-not-quite life-sized cement statue of an African man who sports a green terry-cloth towel, presumably for modesty's sake.

That day, the Beaders came dressed to the nines in everything from nightclub wear to business suits to the traditional gomesi, an African dress with pointy sholders worn with a wide sash at the waist. Each group of Beaders had prepared music, dances and skits and the performances ranged from very skillful to hugely entertaining but not so skillful. Lunch was served during the usual Ugandan deluge, and gifts of BeadforLife umbrellas were distributed after the storm. Yes, I know, but that's the way it went.

The staff party was another highpoint of the holiday season. In my effort to be "sensitive" to my co-workers' varied financial situations, I suggested we have a white elephant exchange, gifts of things just found around the house. I was very careful to stress that the gifts be small things that we no longer needed. I noticed that my colleagues were having trouble grasping the concept. It wasn't until I heard one staff person say to another, "I don't think there's anything in my house I do not need," that I realized how uniquely American it is to have large amounts of useless crappola sitting around our homes, piled in closets, heaped in garages. I have an entire storage unit filled with things I can live without... It was a quick culture check and one I very much appreciated. In any case, we decided to proceed with the idea and see what happened. What happened was a wonderful party in which each person was delighted with their gift and with each others' gifts. Each time a present was opened, there was a loud chorus of laughing and clapping. If someone claimed the gift of someone else, a general uproar ensued with much hooting and carrying on. I have attended many of these parties in my day, but this was by far the most enthusiastic. There are a few pictures attached to give you the general idea.

Though I had almost a month in the U.S., I was sick the first two weeks and did not get to see all the people I wanted to see or talk with some very special friends I miss. But, I got to spend time with my family members (every one of them!) and it was a blast. It made me realize, again, how much they mean to me and it helped me get re-energized for my return. Thank you to each.

And what a return! When I got home from the Entebbe airport, I was greeted at the apartment with decorations of shredded toilet paper streamers (courtesy of Moses)dozens of welcome home signs, homemade pizzas (by buddy William) and lovely friends to welcome me back. It truly made the transition from one home to another much easier.

One last update. My Ugandan friends and co-workers joined me and a few other Americans to watch and celebrate the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States. Here is the part of his speech that moved all of us most deeply:

"To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work along side you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow, to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed and we must change with it."