A Travellerspoint blog

See-through curtains, ancestral spirits and a table at last

sunny 31 °C

Two weeks ago we were sitting shivering in a cold basement in Nairobi wrapped in sweaters and borrowed socks at some of the best training I have ever attended. We had been encouraged to attend an ‘Africa Based Orientation’ and really, it couldn’t have come a day too soon…

We were very grateful to have a superb Kenyan speaker, who had the amazing, and probably rare, skill to critique his own culture, yet remain proudly Kenyan. He was a great resource to ask questions about things that have baffled, frustrated and annoyed us over our time in East Africa.

One of the highlights was the talk about rites of passage (birth, naming, initiation, death, burial), which are present to some extent in all cultures, and can tell you so much about a peoples worldview, priorities and belief systems. So much of our frustrations 2 years ago in Kenya when Amelie was born clicked into place, and I only wish we’d had the cultural ‘heads up’ then!

The week that followed the conference gave plenty of scope to put my newfound knowledge into practice… David was away at an Agricultural conference, leaving me realising that being a single mum in Africa isn’t much fun. I realised how much I rely on Bighair’s cultural sensitivity mixed with diplomacy and assertiveness, which I am pretty hopeless with. I tried to pick up our 4-foot oval dining table which we had ordered, only to discover a massive 6 foot dark wood rectangle which the shopkeeper’s tried to convince me I had ordered. After sawing a few feet off the table and benches, the furniture was delivered to our home by motorbike and for the first time in 10 months we are enjoying eating around a dining table rather than hunched over a coffee table with Amelie running about.
our table arrives!

our table arrives!

Next came the curtain saga, as David was away, I had hoped that I could put up curtains in the bathroom for a sense of privacy, our Congolese tailor friend had used our lining for her clothes she was making to sell and so gave us see-through curtains back, claiming there was not enough lining.
Understanding some of the worldview did not make either situation any less frustrating, but at least helped to understand possible reasons why.

Whilst David was away, Amelie’s sleeping was terrible, so when he returned we decided to get stuck into some strict ‘sleep training’ to regain some precious hours of our own in the evening. The first night was, as to be expected, rough, Amelie howled for what felt like ages. The most distressed of us all was our night watchman. Our language teacher told us that you do not leave a child to cry, especially for a long period of time, as it believed by the Lugbara tribe that unless the child is sick, ancestral spirits are coming out of the wailing child and trying to communicate.

It seems like a tightrope balance with daily decisions about respecting a different worldview but also keeping personal sanity. We are glad to say that we are now all enjoying more sleep, and there are no ancestral spirits disturbing us in the nights.

Another cultural faux pas- sitting amidst Daddy's dirty pants

Another cultural faux pas- sitting amidst Daddy's dirty pants

Posted by africraigs 01:21 Comments (1)

A new year, a new language, more confusion

Why can't everyone speak English?

sunny 30 °C

Learning a new language and culture is like discovering a new world, opening your eyes and mind to completely amazing and strange ideas, some shocking, some fascinating, most unexpected.
Since the beginning of the new year, we have a new teacher, Eunice, who is hoping to make us into fluent Lugbara speakers within a few months… Lugbara is the local tribe in Arua, one of the 10 largest tribes in Uganda (out of a total of 34 ethnicities). The Lugbara are a tribe descended from Nigeria to settle here. Their territory extends around Arua and into the Democratic Republic of Congo, so families have been split by the arbitrary political boundaries drawn by the Europeans in Berlin in 1884.
Disconcertingly, we seem to be a source of great amusement for most of the ex-pats when we tell them we are taking this time to study Lugbara. “Good luck”, they tell us. They then go on to tell you a story of someone who has been attempting the language for many years and haven’t gotten very far. Some compare the language to Chinese, saying it is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. It is quite depressing hearing this, obviously… Additionally, having grown up in Congo and learning Swahili there, having lived in Malawi and Kenya and trying to learn the languages there, while being exposed to various other African languages, it is frustrating to have to start at zero like a baby once again….those languages are nothing like Lugbara!
Most whites don’t even bother to learn Lugbara especially since this tribe is only one of 5 in the close vicinity of one another. For example, the Alur are settled on the outskirts of Arua town. Their language is close to the Luo language which we were learning in Kenya. To make it even worse, there are sub-sections of the Lugbara tribe with variations in the way words are said. Whoopee to learning a difficult language which is only spoken by a few and which is nothing like any other language we have ever heard!
Eunice, in action, confusing us

Eunice, in action, confusing us


Eunice is a good teacher, though, having patience with us as we sit on the veranda trying to repeat what on earth she has just said. As a Lugbara, she is also good at turning up late, demonstrating how a Lugbara should act. As Lilian, another Lugbara who works for us says, “Lugbaras is not following time, ha!” and laughs out loud. So, anyway, she is almost an hour late today, but since we live in Africa, you never know what may have happened. It could be a relative has just died and she has to go to the funeral.
Despite the issue of time-keeping, which especially bothers Emma, Eunice has been effective at moving us on in the language. Emma and I already feel more confident using some simple phrases and greetings. For example, I was particularly proud when I asked for 10 eggs the other day in the local wooden duka close to our home. “Ife mani augbe mundri”. The word for egg 'augbe' is spoken as though you are swallowing an egg...

One of the problems of learning Lugbara is that the same words can mean completely different things. So, for instance, the word for sauce, “tibi”, is the same word for ‘beard’, just with a different tone. Emma wonders if this has anything to do with someone’s long beard dragging in their gravy once upon a time. There are other examples, though the best so far is the word ‘ago’, which if intonated differently, can either mean ‘husband’ or ‘pumpkin’. A phrase like ‘my beautiful fiancée’ can also come across as ‘my beautiful warthog’, so any wannabe suitors need to be pretty careful in this town…

Emma also uses a lot of imagination when it comes to remembering the Lugbara phrases or words. So, for instance, the word for peanuts is ‘funo’ (foon-oh). Emma thinks of little peanuts bouncing around and having a lot of fun. It can be a bit of a tentative or weird link at times. She is constantly whispering to me how I can remember a word. Awupi (A-whoopee) is the word for Aunt on your dad’s side. Obviously, this conjures up thoughts of playing a trick with my Auntie Barbara with a whoopee cushion…’Fetaa’ (feta) means gift and so it is remembered by thinking of giving someone a gift of cheese. I often wish I had had Emma as a study partner for my IGCSE or IB exams in Holland as I would not have spent so many lost hours staring blankly at walls trying to cram boring information into my struggling mind.

Alongside Emma's visual mind, we are also discovering that Lugbara is quite a visual language. The word for ‘fingers’, for example, is ‘hand-children’. This also works for ‘toes’ (foot children). The word for door translates directly as ‘house-mouth’. The floor is the ‘house-stomach’. Today, we learnt that veranda is the ‘joeti’ or ‘house buttocks’!! You can’t make this stuff up, eh? It’s great!

Onomatopoeia is often used as well in the language. 'Kulukulu' (koo-loo-koo-loo) is the name for a turkey and on hearing the sound a turkey makes the other day when passing a homestead, I really thought it described it well. Barking is ‘agbo-agbo’, crying is 'owu- owu' (oh-woo) and laughing is 'ogu- ogu' (oh-goo). I can’t remember any of these sound words properly and instead guess by making any noise that I think would fit. It unfortunately doesn’t work. One of our favourite onomatopoeiatic words is the word for butterfly ‘alapapa’, just like the sound of little wings beating!

Language can also be an intimate doorway into the culture. We couldn’t believe t, when Eunice explained the word for ‘girl’ is made up of 2 words in Lugbara, ‘za’ meaning ‘meat’ and ‘mva’ meaning ‘child’! 'Meat-child!' Girls have been seen as great little earners in a family by providing a dowry of up to 20 head of cattle and 15 goats and extras like bows and arrows and hoes.

However, so many of the traditions have been changing here as the pressure of our Western culture pervades and invades. Loin cloths have been out since the 1950s or 60s (Maybe this is a good thing. I can’t see the Craig family sauntering down the road semi-nude in Arua, and it would make an embarrassing family photo). Instead, though, everyone is wearing second-hand Western clothes. Out is the tradition to remove your 6 front teeth using only a hammer and some herbs to encourage healing of your mouth afterwards (I’m also thankful this is not practised anymore), and marking the skin by cuts with a razor in adolescence is now stopped. However, as Eunice explained, the rather exaggerated buttocks size in women is still favoured by the culture, especially if the buttocks also jiggles while walking.

All-in-all, though pretty tiring, it is really interesting learning the language and culture. It definitely does show how very different we Westerners are (especially compared to the recent past) and so will help us understand how to approach people more effectively. We are hoping knowledge of the language can help us build relationships and get alongside people better (until we meet others from the next tribe along who don’t have a clue what we are saying…).
Eunice, Lilian and all of us outside on the 'house-buttocks' in the 'house-mouth'

Eunice, Lilian and all of us outside on the 'house-buttocks' in the 'house-mouth'


Amelie in the jokoni

Amelie in the jokoni

Posted by africraigs 08:57 Archived in Uganda Comments (3)

5 Things I wish we'd known about holidaying in Africa...

27 °C

They say that good things often come in threes...

and this week has brought a new house, a new cat and a new dog… however, it isn’t all good: the lively puppy has fleas and the cat is heavily pregnant & hungry for smelly small fish, and our toddler is yet to learn (and distinguish) appropriate actions to cats and dogs. I now know appreciate the saying ‘fighting like cats and dogs’ after watching the vicious interaction between our new pets.

The last few weeks have felt like a whirlwind, my parents very kindly gifted me with a plane ticket to the UK to briefly visit my beautiful newborn nephew, Isaac. It was a great time to go as the said new house needed lots of renovation prior to moving in, so it was good to be away whilst the house was uninhabitable! It was also very convenient because we had just finished the 6 month YWAM course. On a less practical note, Amelie briefly experienced some of the best parts of a British Christmas- beautiful lights, tasty food, chocolate coins, dark and cosy at 4pm, Christmas music, pretty trees, and most importantly, she renewed her closeness and memories with family. Our trip entailed jumping on and off East Coast trains from Reading to Sheffield to Glasgow and seeing various family members, who were thrilled to see their first grandchild/niece (and maybe mildly pleased to see me too)..

Granny's birthday

Granny's birthday


beautiful new mama

beautiful new mama


music with Uncle Mat

music with Uncle Mat


First Haircut with Oma

First Haircut with Oma

Christmas in the UK is a very different occasion to in Uganda, we look forward to seeing what Tuesday brings here in Arua!

Surreal Christmas in Africa

Surreal Christmas in Africa


giraffe painting

giraffe painting

The day we left for the UK, we watched David run a half marathon to raise money for his late aunt’s hospital ward. A marathon in Africa is a fascinating cultural experience and the elite athletes were incredible… The route was very hilly, so that was David's excuse for doing the race in the same time as his 62 year-old mother runs the half, in 2 hours...
elite runner...

elite runner...

After the run, David went off to Kisumu, west Kenya, to try and track down a trunk of useful resources that we had left in our old house. He didn’t have much success with the trunk, but he enjoyed a whirlwind of catching up with old friends and seeing the REAP (Rural Extension with Africa’s Poor) demonstration farm that he used to help work on two years ago.

Then David was reunited in Entebbe (Uganda’s International Airport) with an extra suitcase of goodies from the UK and his pasty (and more porky) girls.
You don’t always imagine airport towns to make great holiday destinations (think Luton, Heathrow, Glasgow Prestwick) but we were pleasantly surprised with our wee break.
soaking up the sun

soaking up the sun


wild monkeys

wild monkeys

We learnt a few things about holidaying in Africa:

1) Botanical Gardens can have cobras… (wild)
2) Despite being places to preserve nature, Botanical Gardens will kill creatures (very glad though, seeming as the cobra was near us)
3) Camels are fierce creatures and love to bite toddlers sitting on their parents’ shoulders
4) White man on his own equals a target for prostitutes to hit on (BigHair was only a 100 metres away from me and Amelie, but that is considered far enough I guess)

grumpy camel

grumpy camel

As our break came to an end, we were delighted to hear that a couple could give us (and our stuff) a lift back up to Arua- saving us lugging all our stuff on the 8 hour hot bus journey…


Crazy Car Thief...

But the 5th thing we learnt about holidaying in Africa is that plans change quickly and we shouldn't get our hopes up…
Their car was broken into and completely wrecked the night before we were due to leave, the cases were chucked out and they obviously started going through the UK goodies case… crazily the thief took curtain wire, but bypassed the lindt truffles and lees tablet… very annoying for our new curtain-less house, but great news for our night time snacks!

Posted by africraigs 07:54 Archived in Uganda Comments (0)

Last Minute . Com

Graduation!

Our certificates!

Our certificates!

I remember a few years ago on a long haul night flight I indulged myself in 3 cheesy chick flicks back -to –back (obviously pre-amelie, there would be no chance anymore…) and after watching 6 hours of beautiful faces, perfect teeth and glossy hair, I subconsciously assumed that the face, or at least hair, in the artificially lit plane bathroom mirror would maybe resemble Jennifer Aniston or some other beauty… I literally jumped back with a fright at the pale, tired face that stared back…

Yesterday we completed, or ‘graduated’, from our 6 month DTS.
Relieved? Yep.
Tired? Yep.
Looking forward to living in a bigger home without Amelie being urinated on by our neighbour’s kid on a daily basis…? definitely yep.

But in some ways the DTS has been like the reality check in the aeroplane mirror, realising that there are many more areas of weakness in me that I wasn’t aware of.
Don’t get me wrong, there has been lots of encouragement in the last 6 months, but also it has been a place of being humbled and having various securities and comforts (and necessities?) stripped away.

Preparing for the graduation ceremony in the last few days was an interesting cross – cultural experience, the eleventh hour seems a popular hour, which adds adrenaline to the occasion, if nothing else. It seems that there are several vital ingredients for a celebration in this culture…

1. meat
2. speeches (the more the merrier)
3. an order of service and an MC (with the impression that there will only be one speech and it will be short and sweet)
4. dancing

Acholi traditional wedding dance

Acholi traditional wedding dance

A few weeks ago we went to Amelie’s friend’s 2nd birthday party. All of the above were demonstrated for the celebration, and the speech was a sermon directed at the bunch of 2 year olds sitting quietly on the mat under the tree (Amelie has still to learn from her African friends how to sit still and quiet for long periods of time)…

birthday cake (no meat in sight)

birthday cake (no meat in sight)

We were probably culturally insensitive for Amelie’s 2nd birthday party last week with none of the above for the celebration (unless musical bumps counts as dancing). I’d go for cake rather than meat any day though.

We, (well, mainly I), continue to make cultural blunders probably on a daily basis. Yesterday was no exception. Our friend Charles, (who is the most careful motorbike driver in town and therefore gets most of our business) dropped me at the small supermarket and was reading the newspaper headlines on display whilst waiting, ‘Which one do you want?’ I ask Charles, thinking it is a token of appreciation that he does not smoke weed and drive. ‘No, it is okay’ he replies looking at the loaf of bread I have picked out. Then it dawns on me, why would someone choose a newspaper when they could buy a loaf of bread for the same amount. ‘Er, would you like bread instead?’ I mumble sheepishly, his face lights up, of course he would.

It was a small reminder of how little I understand the survival mindset and although we have completed this 6 month training, there is still A LOT to learn…

Safest Boda driver in town...

Safest Boda driver in town...


and God promised we would survive our DTS...

and God promised we would survive our DTS...


Posted by africraigs 01:59 Comments (4)

Running together

sunny 27 °C

As a night person, it is not natural for me to be getting up at 6:15 for a morning run, but in Africa, this is probably the best time be out. The sun isn't too hot and there are less people to stare at you.

I sort-of enjoy running and sort of don't. I like it to keep fit and wake up my sleepy mind. It helps me sort my thoughts out and I have some of my best ideas while running. But it is hard and a little dull, and is more like an endurance test which only really feels good once you are finished. Scientifically, it realeases happy hormones, so it helps deal with my depressive tendancies...

There are some nice runs around the YWAM base. One of them is a loop en-route to the Congo border along a yellow-ochre dirt road. It is quite special to be pounding the road of a remote African village at 6:30 am. It is also very special for anyone who is just emerging from their sleep and seeing a long-haired white man sweating while huffing and puffing. It is common to see people be walking about with a small neem twig in their mouths which acts as a toothbrush. It is antiseptic and antibacterial and is horribly bitter. I am quite an unusual sight and so I am the cause of interesting reactions. One of most common is for people to stop in their tracks and stare. This is annoying. I feel like a freak-show (no comments, please). Even more annoying is when children start calling out "Mundu" over and over again. In time, this chanting becomes like a sing-song. There is no place to hide, everyone knows a Mundu is passing by and so there is a bigger chance for more people to spot me and stare. Since people have noticed me, a lot will greet me. The other day, I ran for an hour and 20 minutes and was greeted over 200 times...! This is a little different to running alongside the seaside in Musselburgh. A more comical reaction is for people to start running alongside me. The other day, an old lady of about 60 started running behind with a big smile while calling out in Lughbara. Quite discouragingly, she was catching up...
Village I run by

Village I run by


Curious kids fascinated by the mundu

Curious kids fascinated by the mundu


In my philisophical moods, I feel that my running can be an example to others who will be inspired. That is why it is encouraging to see others copying me by running alongside me when I am out. I always feel that the best way to be a teacher to others is by being an example, words can just be fluff.

Emma mentioned that I was able to visit my dying Auntie Mo while in the UK, in the last blog. Sadly, it was my last time to see her as she since passed away. Her funeral is on Thursday 15th November. Aunt Mo (on the right) and wee Amelie

Aunt Mo (on the right) and wee Amelie

Aunt Me and I at my sister Lizzie's wedding last year

Aunt Me and I at my sister Lizzie's wedding last year

I wish I could be there to share with the rest of the family. Instead, though, I am running the Kampala half-marathon on the 25th of November in her memory.
Kampala International Marathon
I am investigating ways in which I could raise money for the the Southern General hospital in Glasgow who looked after her for her last weeks. It was the same hospital in which she was born. The running I am doing is helping to train for this.

As I have also mentioned, running is like an endurance test. As I write this blog, we are in the final week of our YWAM DTS course here which has lasted for 6 months. This course has definitely felt like an endurance test, though at times we have wondered whether we would actually persevere... Thank God we have made it through! It has been a tough time for us all as a family!

I have uploaded a few photos showing my time in the UK at the wedding.
Ethiopian airways flight back to Uganda

Ethiopian airways flight back to Uganda


The beautiful St Brelade church in Jersey where Mary and Martin married

The beautiful St Brelade church in Jersey where Mary and Martin married


Mary, Martin and Martin's Aunt

Mary, Martin and Martin's Aunt

Martin and me all dressed and ready for the inevitable

Martin and me all dressed and ready for the inevitable

Posted by africraigs 11:49 Archived in Uganda Comments (2)

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