Friday, July 20, 2012

Travel Terror Part 2, The fun keeps on coming.

Time for part two of my travel tales… I know I said in the last entry that things had gotten too lengthy to continue, so I would break the storyline into two… but a little part of me thinks I was just too embarrassed to speak about one travel story in particular. Because if my life was represented in a line graph of embarrassing moments, this story would certainly be one of the higher peaks. Now, because joining peace corps has taught me the value of delayed gratification… I’ll save that truffle for the end of this blog entry and start you off with a simple quip of a story.

Bothersome Bride Price

A few trips ago I was taking the bus from the capital city to my site, a journey whose time has ranged from 5 ½ to 13 hours, and in America would take 3. I know. UN. AC. CEPT. ABLE. Do better Uganda. I nice Ugandan guy sits next to me, nods politely and we begin our journey  to the Southwest. Typically the buses play on blast whatever fuzzy radio station the antennae duct taped to the roof is picking up. And since most music here is composed of a beginners bass beat on repeat and some men shouting rapidly in a language I don’t understand in a terrible impression of Busta Rhymes… my diagnosis is: intolerable. My mother who repeatedly had to shout during my upbringing for me to turn down my dribbling excuse of music can tell you, if I say the music is hard to listen to… it’s prettttty bad.  My point? I travel with earbuds in my ears and listen to music from the first to last kilometer of the journey.  Maybe due to this my peripheral vision vision was heightened? Because the first four hours of the journey I got to watch the man next to me psych himself up to speak to me about 20 times.  ::Turn to talk to me, raise an arm to poke me on the shoulder, think again and put arm down::  In return I would think in my head “good boy.” But dammit to hell if he finally didn’t find the courage on the 21st time and I finally felt the poke on my shoulder. 

::Poke Poke::
Me as I pull my earbud out: Yes?
Sir: “It’s just that…in my whole life…never have I sat next to a Mzungu on a bus, even one who is so beautiful”
Me as I’m thinking oh great here we go: Thank you, but my name is not Mzungu, I don’t call you African, do I?.

Thinking maybe he will take a social cue, I quickly slip the earbud back into my ear. One year in this country and still I can be so ignorant. 

::Poke Poke::
Me as I pull my earbud out: Yes?
Sir: “Where you come from, do you have bride price? I want to know yours”
Me: [sigh] “No, In America we do not have bride price. In theory, if you love someone you treat them with respect and kindness and if you both agree, someday you can get married.”
Sir [pausing, creasing his eyebrows and thinking very critically]: “…But then what keeps women from leaving the marriage?”
Me: “Again, in theory, Love”
Sir: “So would you ever date an African”
Me: I would date whomever I felt I could love. But dating an African presents troubles because I’m not going to be in Africa forever.
Sir [clearly skipping the whole LOVE part]: “Because my friend at work started dating a white woman and now they have a child and his life is much better and he has money now”
Me: “That is good for your friend” [slipping the earbud back in]
::Poke Poke::
Me as I pull my earbud out: Yes?
Sir: I want to give you my number and you come visit me soon
Me knowing he’s seen me text on my phone already during the bus ride: “Sorry I don’t have a phone” [Futilely slipping the earbud in once again]

I’m going to stop with the dialogue here, but the poking went on until I got off the bus an hour later. I’d put my earbuds back in, he’d poke and try to find a new way to phrase “You woman, me man, I want you” It’s rather obnoxious. This isn’t the first time this happened, and it damend sure won’t be the last. There seems to exist this mentality in Africa of “The savior white-person.” Regardless of any single outlying factor, no matter what, the white man (or woman) will prove better than anything else you are going to encounter in your life.  And I know my explanation of the marriage system in America was very simplified and I could have added, figuratively, a million “excepts, unless, but sometimes etc…” But I already altered the broken English the man was speaking for your viewing pleasure, so don’t be an ass and over analyze. a.k.a. Don’t be the kid who raises his hand in class and corrects the spelling of something the teacher just wrote on the board. NOBODY likes that kid. And if you didn’t have a kid like that in your class, FUNFACT: it was you, asshole. 

I want to backtrack a little to the bride price, because you probably got a good laugh out of it, and someday I will too. Bride price is a really atrocious thing. It traps women into their marriage because it usually comes in the form of farm animals or food, in a nicer family maybe a home or mode of transportation. But if you ever want to get out of your marriage, you have to payback your bride price, which in this country tends to be literally impossible. In positive news, Uganda is progressing and has recently passed a law outlawing bride price. Obviously this won’t stop them from happening, but it will stop a woman from having to pay it back if she gets the courts involved.  How often will a woman be able to get the justice system on her side?... we will see. But it’s a step for Uganda. 

I guess when it comes down to it… Love is a Luxury. So just maybe, if you’ve found someone to love and who loves you back you need to always let the petty shit slide because it could be worse… you could be praying to God to meet a white person in a taxi someday or be trapped by your bride price. 

Okay, my tolerance for writing seems to have run out. But, never wanting to deny the good people an entertaining read. I’ll post what I’ve got so far. As always, have fun laughing at my life choices. =)

Travel Tales of Terror, Part 1

Today was supposed to be the first club meeting of a Life Skills club I’ve been trying to start for a while now… but seeing as I’m sitting alone in a classroom typing on my laptop… I think you fine folk can guess my turn-out rate. Hint: Bagel. Hint about the Hint: Think of the shape of a Bagel. Big fat, “O”.  Even though I met with the Nursing school’s Principal, head teacher, warden, and student body president to make sure this club I’ve affectionately called “Power Hour ”  ;) is planned through the proper chains, no one ever thought to mention that’s there’s a guest priest this week and they’ve moved the typically Wednesday mass to Tuesday, exactly on top of my first meeting. Hooooray. 

Thank God I didn’t spend most of today planning my first meeting, and worrying about whether or not it will go okay;  because that would make this moment an extra-large downer.  Well that’s Peace Corps… if you aren’t learning patience, you are learning how best to deal with failure.  Don’t let my depressing demeanor deter you. I’m still going to try. My ass will be in this same spot next week trying all over again. And if ANOTHER guest priest arrives and takes precedent, I’m not above fashioning my own catholic collar out of toilet paper and disguising my “Power Hour” as a sermon.  I’m pretty sure I have a black button up shirt somewhere…. Mwahaha.  Wait, do they even let females do that yet?  Dang.  Once again my plans are foiled by my ovaries. Curse you reproductive organs!

While I’m ranting,  I thought this might be an opportune moment to mention a few little jewels in my treasure trove of travel stories.  (Hrm… I’ve got a lot of alliteration going on today, let’s see how often I can keep it up…). Fair warning… In my previous blogs I’ve divulged disgusting stories concerning all sorts of bodily fluids. If you expect today’s entry to be any different, then you are a flighty fool.  Do not take this warning lightly like the ones you see before a movie, this is more the “no pregnant women on the roller coaster” warning. Shit is going to get real.

*Preface* These next three short stories all happened while I was traveling, if you need a refresher on the hell-hole that is traveling here, go back and read the post around Christmas. Also on all three of these trips I was on a bus, which at least meant I had my own seat.  There is another volunteer here named Griffin, she is the one with terrible luck on mutates (if that words confuses you, read that other blog, you stubborn mule) Mutatus are the mini vans that they pack to twice their limit. You literally have someone half in your lap on one side, and then someone’s arm pit caressing you on your other side. And if the gods have been kind enough to bestow you a side seat with someone only on one side, then undoubtedly you have some random loose screw/bar/pole/chicken digging into you.  In these glorious predicaments, Griffin has had a child puke on her, throw up on her, a man piss into a bottle then slowly pour it out the window (whhhhhhy he still wanted the bottle we will never know…) and finally… a woman’s water break on her.  That was a hard stain on her jeans to explain when she reached her destination. Anyways, here’s my travel tales of terror. 

Before I get into this story it’s important to differentiate that while “gonja” is a nickname for marijuana in America, here it’s a nickname for grilled banana. You can see how that could be important.  Usually your bus will stop a few times on the way to your destinations at a quick pit stop. There are two types of stops. One is a food stop. These can be nice if you are a person with thirst or hunger. People standing on the side of the road ruuuuun and quickly surround your vehicle thrusting all sorts of goodies into your window. Water bottles, sodas, packets of biscuits (like hard shortbread cookies),  fruits (bananas, passion fruit, oranges, apples), vegetables (grilled sweet potato, corn),  cooked pieces of meat shoved onto a sharpened stick (aka, street meat), and other varying treats. The second kind of stop is a bathroom break. Here you call them short-calls, or long-calls for peeing and pooping accordingly. In your head you are probably picturing a little rest stop, maybe even a stand-alone port-o-potty for your worst case scenario. You would be terribly wrong.  Usually the bus will just randomly pull over on the side of the road, and if there are a few bushy shrubs or greenery for you to squat behind, then you best thank your lucky stars. The bus pulls over, and about half the people will file off. In some unspoken rule the men will file off a few feet in one direction and the women in the other.  You can’t go far because if you aren’t in the buses’ plain sight, and everyone else is on the bus, they will leave yo’ ass in the grass.  But on the opposite side if  you are in plain sight, because a  full white buttock is something almost every Ugandan has never seen, and will probably never see again… all eyes are on you. Talk about shy bladder problems.

Peace Corps tries to recommend that you wear a skirt for this exact reason. But the taxis are so crowded, everyone is sitting on your skirt, so when you go to stand, the whole vehicle gets that full moon view you were trying to avoid in the first place (I’ve had my skirt accidentally pulled down 3 times). Also I have torn half my skirts in these busted up vehicles due to random nails sticking out in the most inopportune places.  Seriously, this country is a natural lost-and-found for random rusty nails sticking out of nonsensical places. It’s not AIDS that will get me here… it’s tetanus. (But really it’s Malaria… I’ tried leaving the killed mosquitoes on the walls to send a message to their bitchy sisters ((Only females carry malaria))… but those fuckers don’t learn annnnnd I’m fairly certain I’m irresistibly delicious) So yeah, using the bathroom while traveling is a pretty miserable experience. You can squat your best, but you WILL still pee on your feet, so if you don’t want to look down as you literally piss on yourself, you can look one direction and see and entire bus staring holes through the windows at you, or look another direction at your fellow female squatters, all of whom are a thousand times better at this than you, or look the last direction where a small fleet of black penises await to make you blush.  Talk about your lose/lose/lose/lose.  What’s the moral you say? Don’t drink water on travel days. Maybe a few sips every few hours to avoid extreme dehydration. But overwhelmingly, just hold off on the liquids.  Okay that’s enough background for now. Time for you to laugh at my life. 

The Gonja Gentleman.

Three boys walking to school
 It’s about 7am and I’m watching the sun rise up over the hills across from me. I’m waiting for the bus.  It’s quite breathtaking (See picture, for you visual learners)  and I begin to hope for the best in today’s travels.  Oh how quickly I forget that this country giveth, then it taketh… usually more than it gaveth.  I get on a mostly empty bus and find a window seat.  The bus starts in my town and fills up along the way, usually by the half way point in our journey, it’s full. I learned a long time ago to sit by a window, because typically my window is the only open window on the entire bus. So if I don’t grab a window seat… no open windows, and in a world where deodorant is a commonly unobserved practice, bathing water is available only if there was extra drinking water, and everyone puts in more hard labor before sunrise than most of us will complete in a week…. It.Gets.Rank.  At the next stop (but is about 13% full) an older man, in a leather jacket he is clearly proud of, gets on the bus and I see his eyes zero in on me. He says something in the local language very excitedly, and somewhere in his sentence I hear “Mzungu”  Hoooooray. Even if I don’t speak the language fluently… you’d think they’d know I’ve figured out “Mzungu” means me.  Then, with couuuuuntless empty seat this man wedges into the seat next to me. All smiles he greets me with “Hello Mzungu.” Very calm and politely I respond, with my best fake smile “Oreere gye ssebo, kwonka nibanyeta Johnson”, translation; “Good morning Sir, but my name is Johnson” For I have long since switched to telling people my real name. A) I just don’t feel comfortable giving it out to everyone and B) My name trips Africans up every time. Most commonly I hear “Eye-rah” or “Shakira”…. Beats be how they hear Shakira from Khayla.  *On the bright side*, I recently showed all the teachers at my nursing school my passport and the one who is 9 months pregnant saw that my middle name is Nicole. Now she keeps telling she is going to name the baby Nicole. I’m not sure if she is kidding or not… I’ll know soon enough. =)

So the man laughs at my response (The usual reaction to the surprise of hearing a pale-face speaking the local language) and we settle in for our 9 hour trip. As the bus continues to fill I notice my new seat partner has a rather common habit amongst Ugandans; picking his nose and flicking the results in random directions, which sometimes included mine.  Clarification, “Picking” doesn’t do this act justice. Gouging his brains out sounds more accurate. I mean, I get where it comes from, this country is dusty as shit plus everyone burns their trash. It’s an asthmatic nightmare. But that is why little handkerchiefs are for sale everywhere.  Blow your damn nose into one of those! Wait… maybe that is why Ugandans don’t like the windows open…the dust… hrm….meh, who cares.  The dust is preferable to the smell of B.O.

About 6 hours in, we stop for a short-call. My seatmate gets off the bus and relieves himself, and for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, my scumbag brain never let’s me look away from the trainwreck of everyone peeing right on the side of the road. I often imagine what would happen in America if a tour bus pulled over on I-75 and the passengers were told to pop-a-squat. The hilarity that would ensue… The big message you need to take away from our short-call is clearly… NO ONE washes their hands. And obviously if soap is rare, finding antibacterial hand sanitizer would be like finding Sasquatch…in Africa.  So my new friend returns and I watch his hands like a hawk. But the seats here are so smallll. I’m only 5’4 on a good day and my knees hit the back of the seat in front of me. And even if two small people sit in the seats, their entire sides will be touching each other. I know his hands are going to touch my clothes somewhere, and worse, I know there is nothing I can do.

A few minutes later we stop for a snack break and the usual people surround the bus. A hear a man frantically shouting in rapid succession “GonjaGonjaGonjaGonjaGonja”, as they are one to do.  And my dear seat mate full on leans across me allll up in my grill and personal bubble. (And being Hispanic… I used to think my bubble was pequeno to begin with…. Oooooooh how this country repeatedly proves me wrong) He calls out the window for three pieces of Gonja and pays. All of him is pressing into all of me, and I’m unsure of how much longer I can hold my breath.  Just as the haze from lack of oxygen sets in, he sits up and gives me back my already small space. No “Pardon, sorry, thanks, excuse me…” not to be rude, but because culturally, it’s just not the way.  So to briefly recap; this man has dug more in his nose than all 7 dwarfs accomplished in their cumulative lifetimes, relieved himself  and touched no soap, and now is holding food.  Next, after almost 7 hours next to each other, Mr. Gonja decides it time for a polite gesture.  Because maybe NOW I will want to be best friends. So he wraps his hand around one of the bananas and shoves it in my face, right under my nose and says “You eat?” It took every ounce, of every strength, of every molecule, to not exorcist projectile vomit all over his peace offering.  Reusing my fake smile I politely decline and press as much of me, up against as much of the window as I can muster. 

Thinking his Gonja offer was sufficient, as we pulled into our destination a few hours later, Mr. Gonja Gentleman asked for my phone number so he could call me from time to time and see how I’m doing.  Knowing that many men here don’t take “no” for an answer, I used a trick I learned back in High School, when due to a scheduling conflict… I got stuck in regular English and not honors. Play. Dumb. 

Works every time.

I have at least three more stories to bestow upon you… but at this rate the length of the blog entry will be unreasonable. So I’ll stop and post this much, then continue my stories next time. Boy, do they only get better from here.

Hope you are all enjoying the greatest country in the world, and not taking anything for granted.

Hasta Luego!