Rwanda and Southwestern Uganda (+ photos)

11 01 2010

The story of three Ugandans, two Brits, one Aussie, one Kiwi, one Canadian and an American’s trek to Rwanda and Southwestern Uganda. Click here to see photos.

Over the Christmas holiday, I embarked on a bus trip with eight strangers to visit Kigali, Rwanda and southwestern Uganda.  The trip began with a long trek west across the country. For those of you who have ever been to Valley Fair – imagine riding the old, rickety, white roller coaster for five days and you’ll understand what our trip was like.  Infrastructure in the developing world leaves much to be desired.  There are massive pot holes in all the roads, crazy drivers, no real traffic laws and the kind of bumps that make you physically brace yourself as you fly through the air.  Combine this with an incredibly early morning departure time for the bus trip and I began the trek wondering what I may have gotten myself into.  Luckily, the worry diminished quickly as it turned out to be a wonderful experience.

We arrived in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda in the early evening.  Immediately, we noticed how different Rwanda is from Uganda.  In Rwanda, the streets were paved, clean, safe and quiet.  Kigali felt more like a European city than any other place I’ve seen during my African journey thus far.  When I started talking about going to Rwanda, people said told me that it was developing at a quicker rate than Uganda.  This was hard to reconcile with the only other knowledge I had of Rwanda – that of the genocide only 15 years ago.  Yet, it is true.  Rwanda seems to be light years ahead of Uganda.  In many ways Kigali seemed to be a lot easier place to live than Kampala and almost left me wishing I had chosen to volunteer there as opposed to the grittiness of Kampala.

We were given a tour of the Kigali by a young guy named Tim.  Tim’s parents fled Rwanda after the massacre in the 1960’s.  Tim lived in Uganda until he was 6.   His parents chose to move back to Rwanda in August 1994, right after the genocide, as a sign of solidarity with their home country.

During our tour, we saw the real Hotel Rwanda (which is being renovated so we couldn’t go in) and stopped at two museums dedicated to the genocide: one a memorial by the Belgian government to 10 U.N. peacekeepers killed at the beginning of the genocide and the other the main museum called the Kigali Memorial center.   We were not allowed to take pictures inside at the official genocide museum so the pictures in the linked album are mostly from the Belgian tribute.

I highly recommend a visit to the Kigali Memorial Center – it is a well-done international museum which has three main exhibits: about the genocide in Rwanda; about other genocides in the world; and about the children of the Rwandan genocide.  The site also is home to 14 mass graves where 250,000 victims’ remains have been buried.  They are attempting to make a wall with the names of the victims, however so far they have only been able to identify about 2,000.  The genocide museum was understandably heavy.  It was so hard to understand how such a thing could have happened in our lifetimes, in such a beautiful city of hills by such normal looking people.

Rwanda has come a long way in short period of time – largely because of the guidance of a heavy handed government.  Rwanda is a democracy led by Paul Kagame, the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), whose victory over the incumbent government in July 1994 effectively ended the Rwandan genocide.  Elections are held every seven years and presidents are limited to two terms in office (though we’ll see if that actually holds true).  Kagame is up for election in 2010 and everyone expects him to win handily.  The country has benefited from an influx of foreign aid, largely due to guilt from the international community who clearly did not do enough to prevent the genocide.

The way Tim describes it, Kagame and his government are like a parent being strict with their child.  They are doing it out of love and in the best interest of the child so therefore the strict treatment is sometimes warranted.  For example, one Saturday per month, all Rwandans are required to clean the streets.  This is enforced by neighborhood watch and there are financial penalties for non-participation.  I can certainly understand the need for structure and order after the chaos of the genocide and I by no means want to diminish Rwanda’s accomplishments in coming through that tragedy.  Still, there is a part of me that remains skeptical that this approach is sustainable long-term.  Eventually, the desire for free will, will prove a challenge for the almost dictator-style of democracy currently in place.

Also, as much as Rwanda has tried to put the genocide behind them (they’ve changed the country’s flag, it is illegal to ask if someone is a Hutu or a Tutsi now, etc.), there still seems to be a hauntedness to the city and its inhabitants.  Tim said that during the genocide, nothing was functioning – no stores were open, there was no school, nothing.  People were either hiding to avoid being killed or looking to kill someone.  It is only in the past four to five years that the roads have been built.  Now, while businesses have been opened and Kigali feels like a “normal” city, I still think the scars are a bit too fresh for everything to be as OK as they are trying to portray it to be.

After our time in Kigali, we started the journey back to Kampala however this time we did it in shorter stints.  We spent New Year’s Eve at Lake Bunyonyi – a gorgeous lake in the mountains along the Rwanda-Uganda border.  We spent a luxurious day lounging at a high point view of Lake Bunyonyi which you’ll see in the photos with the trampoline.

We then took a sunset cruise on Lake Bunyonyi and got some gorgeous pictures.  2010 was welcomed in on a dock with champagne, chocolate, a bunch of random internationals and African music in the background – definitely one of the best NYE ever.

The next morning, we got up bright and early and headed to Lake Mburo.  At Lake Mburo, we did a game drive and boat safari.  We saw zebras, gazelles, eagles, hippos, crocs, warthogs, water buffalo and a ton of birds.  There are a few good animal shots in this album so if that’s your thing, check ‘em out.

Last stop on our trip was the sign at the Equator in Uganda – we made it more fun than it actually is as you’ll see from our photos (it is literally just a sign on the side of the road).

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AGHA Media Release – More about my NGO’s work

8 01 2010

Below is the text of the first media release we are sending out since I’ve been here.  I’ve worked on a communications plan for AGHA that includes a proactive media relations strategy, media monitoring, expert positioning and op-eds/letters-to-the editor.  The systems seem to be working but there is only so much you can control.  Buying both major papers each day is expensive.  Sometimes we get both, other times just one which makes media monitoring a challenge.  Also, internet problems are a regular part of life so getting electronic copies of stories and emailing daily media clips is a challenge.  There is no clipping service for TV and radio so the focus right now is just to capture what is being written in the two major newspapers.  As part of the proactive media strategy, we determined a message calendar for the year and are trying to send at least one release out a month.  As you’ll see January’s release is a more general message with the hook of New Year’s resolutions.  Keep in mind Ugandan English and grammar is different.  Still, I thought sharing this release may be helpful in learning more about the NGO’s work.

Rwanda pictures and stories are coming – hopefully over the weekend!

In the meantime, check this out and let me know what you think and if you have other interesting media ideas…

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

OUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION:
IMPROVE HEALTH CARE AND FIGHT CORRUPTION IN UGANDA
Need for transparency in health care funding and better resources for health care workers top the list


Kampala, UGANDA
– As the New Year arrives and resolutions are on the mind, AGHA believes Uganda needs to set its own resolutions to improve health care in our country.  “Health care continues to be hindered by inadequate financing, corruption, a shortage of healthcare workers, drug stock outs, corruption and mismanagement in the distribution of funds for health care, said Sandra Kiapi, Executive Director of AGHA. “These are serious problems that need to be addressed in order to improve health care for Ugandans and to be able to make a difference in the treatment of important health issues such as HIV/AIDS.”

AGHA is asking Uganda to focus on the following New Year’s resolutions:

  • Meet Uganda’s promise as a signatory to the Abuja declaration to allocate 15% of the national budget to the health sector.

In 2001, all African states gathered in Abuja, Nigeria and agreed to allocate 15% of their national budgets to the health sector. Uganda has not yet made an effort to meet its promise. The effect of this unmet promise has made the health sector suffer and contributes to crippling problems such as the chronic drug stock outs and brain drain of health care workers.

  • Commit to transparency and accountability in health care funding.

The rampant mismanagement of critical funds for health care allocated by the Global Fund has longstanding repercussions. Corruption is not only affecting the quality of care available for Ugandans but also is making it difficult for our country to secure health care funding from the international community. AGHA has developed a tool to monitor government promises and realities on health care spending by gathering data in the following areas: planning and financial accountability; timeliness in release of funds; CSO meaningful participation; access to information and general management.  AGHA needs cooperation from Government and local districts to gather this data and needs CSOs to act upon the results.

  • Address issues related to resources for health care workers; help recruit and retain quality people to fill vacant posts throughout the country, especially in rural areas.

The Annual Health Sector Performance Report for FY 2008/2009 revealed that 56% of approved health care positions were filled; however, only 15% of districts had filled the minimum agreed positions, which reflects the inequitable distribution of health workers, particularly in the rural, hard-to-reach areas.  As the majority of Ugandans live in the rural regions of the country, these areas must be prioritized.  While AGHA commends the Government on its development of a Motivation and Retention Strategy that addresses the issue of health infrastructure, there needs to be a stronger commitment to finance and implement this plan. Uganda will never achieve basic health care services without quality health care workers to provide those services.

  • Reduce stigmatization and discrimination of patients with HIV/AIDS.

Stigmatization of certain illnesses in Uganda like HIV/AIDS is a significant barrier in the realization of human rights, particularly the right to health.  More training is needed to educate both health workers and the public about the reality of risks involved in treating patients with HIV/AIDS.  This sensitization will help save lives as more people will feel comfortable being tested and seeking care once they have received a positive notification of having HIV/AIDS.

“By adopting these New Year’s resolutions for health care in Uganda and making real progress, we will improve health care services for all Ugandans,” said Kiapi.  “What better thing to focus on for the new year than improvement in this crucial area.”

ABOUT AGHA UGANDA

The Action Group for Health, Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (AGHA) is an indigenous Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) founded in July 2003 to mobilize health professionals and health consumers to address issues of human rights as they relate to health, with a specific focus on HIV/AIDS. AGHA brings together doctors, nurses and other professionals with NGOs interested in promoting human rights in the health sector to create local and national networks dedicated to health advocacy.

AGHA has four primary programs:

Health rights leadership campaign: training health workers to be human rights advocates; health workforce campaign: improving the education, quality and working conditions of the health workforce; anti-stigma and discrimination: training healthcare workers to prevent and combat stigmatization and discrimination in healthcare settings; and health financing campaign: coordinating the effort to increase Uganda’s national healthcare budget while at the same time advocating for transparency in how health care funds are being spent.

AGHA is an active member of several coalitions operating in Uganda including the Human Rights Network (HURINET), Health Workforce Advocacy Forum (HWAF), Voice for Health Rights coalition (VHR) and International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organization (IFHHRO).  AGHA currently operates in eleven districts in Uganda: Rakai, Tororo, Mbarara, Soroti, Kitgum, Lyantonde, Bushenyi, Mukono, Pallisa, Tororo and Kampala where the secretariat is based.

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Being Jewish in Uganda: Story of Abayudaya Jews (with photos)

6 01 2010

I’m in Uganda volunteering as part of the American Jewish World Service.  They are the organization that interviewed me and matched me with a local NGO.  As many of you know, proselytizing is not a part of Judaism. Other than the fact that I’m Jewish and that social justice is an important part of Judaism, there is no other religious aspect to my stay here.  Still, just because I’m in a different country doesn’t mean you change who you are.  If anything, when traveling I’ve noticed a greater draw to the comfortable whether it is finding other Americans or other Jews, even if they are very different from what I know, there is a security in some sort of shared experience.

When I first was thinking about going to Africa, by chance my synagogue had a weekend scheduled with the first black ordained rabbi from Sub-Saharan Africa, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu.  My synagogue’s rabbi spent a year of rabbinical school in Israel studying with Rabbi Gershom. As luck would have it, Rabbi Gershom is the chief rabbi of Uganda.  Once I decided to come to Uganda I was determined to learn more about the Abayudaya Jews.

Over Christmas I traveled to their village in the Eastern part of Uganda along the border with Kenya and spent four days learning about Ugandan Judaism.  The story of the Abayudaya is that in the early 1900s a Christian missionary was in town trying to convert the local people.  Upon reading both the old and new testament, one of the leaders in the village decided the Old Testament was really true and that there was no need for the New Testament.  He heard that Jews were the only ones who followed just the Old Testament and decided to become Jewish.  He began by circumcising himself and the sons in his family.  Now over 100 years later there is a strong tribe of over 1,000 Jews living in Uganda.  There is some controversy in the Jewish community, particularly from very religious Jews, about whether or not the Abayudaya are really Jewish.  Speaking from my experience only, I have to say my impression is that they are more religious and engage in practices truer to the fundamentals of Jewish religion than the majority of American Jews I know, myself included.

Not surprisingly, because of the lack of focus on proselytizing, there are not a lot of black Jews in the world.  To experience Shabbat, the Sabbath, with a tribe of black Jews in Africa was incredible.  The religious services were quite similar to what I am used to though many of the prayers were sung in a mix of African beats and Jewish traditional tunes.  I bought a cd and will share when I’m home for anyone who is interested. After Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday night services),  I was invited to the rabbi’s house for Shabbat dinner.  Shabbat dinner consisted of a traditional African meal: rice, matoke (mashed plantains), meat and gnut sauce.  The rabbi’s 13 year old daughter Dafna is a very impressive young woman.  She not only made a challah over an open fire for Shabbat dinner but also helps lead religious services.  Here is a picture of Dafna with the gift I gave them from my home – snow from MN (many thanks to my boss, Kathy Tunheim for giving this unique gift to me so that I could bring a small piece of home with me to Africa!).

After dinner I retreated to the guest house.  At the guest house I met other Jewish visitors there for Shabbat – a Swedish rabbi, his daughter who is working for the UN in Kenya, the Swedish rabbi’s granddaughter and a retired freelance writer from Canada.  Apparently, the Abayudaya have visitors virtually every weekend.  The draw is understandable.  There is an innate curiosity in seeing what it means to be Jewish in Uganda.

The Abayudaya own a few acres of land where the rabbi and various other members of the community live.  There is an elementary, middle and high school.  A bet knesset (synagogue), a health care center, a few stores, a soccer field where all the village children come to play, a girl’s dormitory and many more.  The community is up in the mountains with gorgeous views.  The Abayudaya are Jewish and yet still very African.  Most speak English and a bit of the local language.  Some speak Hebrew.  The roads are not paved and are incredibly bumpy.  Laundry is done by hand and dinners are cooked outside over an open flame. They asked if I wanted to stay and watch the schita (kosher slaughtering) of a goat – an opportunity I nicely passed on as I had to head back to the city.  Click here for a link to photos with some of the people I met and buildings where the Abudaya Jews live.

While I was there, I had an opportunity to talk one-on-one with many members of the community – Isaac -the manager of the guest house (who always greeted me with a big smile and the peppiest Lilah Tov and Boker Tov – Good night and Good morning in Hebrew – I’ve ever heard), Tziporah – the rabbi’s lovely wife, Igaal – the rabbi’s 16 year old son who has a knack for making music videos on his imac (a jarring site to see an imac in an African village), Avraham – the rabbi’s sister’s son’s wife’s brother (J) who is studying civil engineering in Kampala, Noah – an aspiring rabbi studying at the Yeshivah, Naomi-a Jewish woman who works on the land.  The people I met here were some of the most friendly and curious people I’ve met in Uganda.

My positive feelings for the community may also have been bolstered by the professions of love I received while there.  In retrospect it makes sense.  When there are only 1000 Jews in the country (and I thought the Twin Cities were tough), once you eliminate one of the genders and narrow it down to people in your age range, many people are left still “searching” for the one.  When a Jewish girl in her 20’s arrives, it is sure to draw some interest 🙂 While I kid a bit, insights like this are things that you can never read in a guidebook and you don’t think of necessarily until you talk to the local people and hear their stories.

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience there and sincerely hope I am able to make a return visit soon!





I’m back in Kampala, safe and sound from my travels (+ photos from Sipi Falls hike)

5 01 2010

I had a wonderful time on all my travels and couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas and New Year’s!  There is so much to share it is hard to know where to begin.

I will post more detailed updates on the specifics of each trip separately so get ready for a heavy blogging week!

Until then, enjoy photos from my hiking trip to Sipi Falls, in the foothills of Mount Elgon along the Kenyan border.  I went with Ugandan friends Diana and Hellen and met a new friend Patrick, our guide on the trip. It was not an easy hike but so beautiful and fun to spend the day outside with friends.

Enjoy!

Click here to view pictures from Sipi Falls hike.





My crazy holiday plans

22 12 2009

In my master plan to avoid Christmas in whatever way possible, I thought Uganda at Christmas time would be a nice escape. Unfortunately, not so much. Uganda is a very Christian country and essentially shuts down for the two to four weeks around Christmas. Many Ugandans travel home to their villages for the holiday. Many ex-pats use this time to either travel home (a surprising number do this) or to go on long in-continent adventures. My roommates have fled for a beach getaway in Tanzania and Zanzibar so it has been quite quiet and lonely around here as of late.

My original idea was to use this time to travel to South Africa. While I haven’t given up on a trip to South Africa during my stay here, it just was not possible to pull together in such a short time frame. Still, I have managed to arrange other Christmas/New Year’s plans which I’m quite excited about and because they are so sort of off the wall I thought it may make a nice blog post.

Christmas Eve I will be spending with a couple (a guy from Texas and an Irish woman) — two of the four white ex-pats I spin with. I know, crazy to have found spinning in Uganda but somehow I lucked out. Three quarters of the bikes don’t work and electricity often goes out killing the music in the middle of class but minus the nasty sunburn I got this past weekend, it is fun and a good workout.

Then on Christmas Day I’m going to travel to the bus station and board a bus to Mbale. Mbale is in Eastern Uganda, near the Kenya border. Here I will be spending Shabbat with the lone tribe of Ugandan Jews. I met the rabbi in the states, we became Facebook friends and the rest is history. On Sunday, I’m meeting up with a Ugandan I’ve met and we are traveling about an hour away to visit Sipi Falls and Mount Elgon – a waterfall and extinct volcano. While some may think I’m brave for going to Africa, my true courage will come in going to a volcano. For whatever reason, I seem to have determined that volcanoes are the natural disaster I most fear so this adventure is will be a true test of my strength!

On Monday I will take a bus back to Kampala. Traveling anywhere in this country is a challenge. You don’t buy tickets in advance and the buses and shared taxis don’t operate on a set schedule or at least I have yet to be able to find one. Instead, they leave when they are full. There is no air conditioning, your seat mate may be a chicken and the roads are their own version of a bumpy roller coaster ride. This is all hearsay at this point but it definitely sounds like it could be all true and quite the adventure. I guess it is Uganda’s version of its own snowstorm to make holiday travel as unpleasant as possible (sorry to all those who are affected by the snow!)

Ridiculously early on Tuesday I will be meeting up with a bus of other internationals for a five day trip to Rwanda. I have yet to meet the organizer of the trip but as it happens in Kampala – he knows three of my friends so therefore I think he is legit. He is a Ugandan who went to the UK for education and returned to Uganda to run his father’s bus company. He apparently knows every ex-pat in Uganda and fancies hanging out with us as much as possible.

We will spend all day traveling and will arrive in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda in the early evening. The next morning we will explore the city. I’ve heard there is an impressive genocide museum there which I’m planning to check out. Rwanda is known to be safe now – that is as safe as East Africa – and is actually developing at a quicker rate than Uganda. Fear is part of everyday life here – something I’ll definitely have to post on in the future. We will travel to Lake Kivu for lunch and sunset and return to Kigali for the evening. On New Year’s Eve we will leave Kigali early and spend the day mountain biking and hiking. We’ll bring in the new year with a party at Lake Bunyonyi. New Year’s Day we will wake up early and head to Lake Mburo for a boat trip and safari. January 2nd we will make the drive back to Kampala with a stop at the sign marking the equator in Uganda. All of the hyperlinks should work so feel free to click above to learn more about any of those places.

I never in my wildest imagination thought a near Kenya Christmas experience with Ugandan Jews (who will serve the Chinese food and what movie are we going to be able to watch?) and New Year’s festivities in Rwanda (do they have a ball drop with Dick Clark as the host too?) would be part of my story but it just proves life itself is an adventure.

To all those celebrating the season, happy holidays! (screw what Garrison Keillor says – I still will always choose the more inclusive Christmas/New Year’s greeting :))





Sustainability

17 12 2009

In the U.S., sustainability has become a buzz-word synonymous with “green” or “environmentally-friendly.” In the world of people focused on development, sustainability is a buzzword hailed by international aids organizations as the answer that will help countries develop and at the same time is loathed by on-the-ground aids workers who struggle with how to really create and foster sustainable change. Rightly so, organizations have realized that you can place the world’s best volunteer on the ground and they can do a bang up job for however long they’re there but ultimately if you’re not teaching, mentoring and creating a sustainable aspect of your work, the work means little in the big picture. With that in mind, many organizations put a priority on sustainable contributions. As volunteers, we are told not to just write a press release but to engage in capacity building and help our organizations create and own a media strategy. I have met doctors who are told that while serving patients directly would be nice and is certainly needed, their skills would be better utilized by analyzing the structure and helping create a guidebook and/or policies for certain practices. On the surface it makes sense. Yet, when it comes to practicing what we preach, it becomes much more difficult. After all, as westerners we are used to instant gratification. I’ve found myself wanting to come in and during the short time I’m here, write and place an op-ed in the NY Times that raises the profile of the NGO I’m working with and raises them a ton of money. Lofty goal – maybe? But worth taking a shot – why not? Except even if that did happen, it would be a drop in the bucket and realistically may not actually help the people we’re trying to help on a day-to-day basis. How can you expect a country and its people to “develop” and achieve “success” like the rest of the world, when here simple, basic infrastructure needs (water, electricity, road repair) are not being met? It is incredibly difficult to manage the cultural differences and often I have to pull myself back from thinking the western way is the “better” way. Is it? I don’t really know. So often, I feel frustrated at the inefficiencies I see here and think if only more people knew about this or there was more money or more corporate types cared enough to come and mentor – things would change. And yet, I now know firsthand that creating change isn’t easy. Creating sustainable, lasting change is bigger than one person or one act and often feels like an impossible task. So, while I love that I’m here and I love that I’m volunteering, it is still hard sometimes to feel like any of this is really making the difference I have idolized in my mind all these years.





Q: What do bowling, an Irish pub and a wedding have in common? A: All were part of my week 2 experiences! (More photos too!)

15 12 2009

Click here to check out more recent photos from my trip.

This week has been filled with more only-in-Uganda type of adventures. While in many ways life is way slower here, it still feels like there is something happening every second. I’m struggling to find a balance between wanting to do and see everything to soak it all in and managing to just be and adjust to living here too. I’ll write more details about living here in a separate post but for now thought I’d share a few interesting activities from the past week. As far as I know, Uganda has one bowling alley, called “Alleygators.” For the most part, it looked like what you think a bowling alley/arcade would look like, with just a few differences…We bowled barefoot as there are no shoes to borrow. There is electronic scoring, complete with cheesy congratulatory graphics when you get a strike or a spare. Sometimes the lane even knocks downs pins for you 🙂  The lights over the pins went out a few times and something fell from the ceiling into the lane but other than that, just like home! I have the feeling bowling attracts more of the ex-pat crowd than locals but nonetheless it was a good time.

Speaking of ex-pats, there is an Irish pub in Kampala called Bubbles O’Leary’s that has become somewhat of an institution for any foreigner visitor in Uganda. Every other Thursday night is quiz night – an event that had been mentioned to me repeatedly since I arrived. It is just like a quiz night you would find in any other pub with 10 rounds of questions and drink offs for teams who tie. The winning team has to write the questions for the next quiz night. The most interesting thing about it is that because the participants come from different countries and are so varied in their backgrounds, the questions they come up with and breadth of knowledge in the place is astounding. Only here would someone actually think to ask (and people actually be able to answer), what is the name of a river that starts in Angola and ends abruptly in the Kalahari. (Way to go to my roommates who came up with the answer: Okavango River)

Wedding!

The ex-pat adventures are fun and have made a huge difference in my ability to adjust but I have to say, one of my favorite experiences so far has been a totally authentic local Ugandan event. This weekend, I went to an introduction ceremony for a Ugandan wedding. Weddings here consist of a traditional ceremony (like what I attended) followed by a church ceremony at a different date and time. The introduction ceremony is where families of the bride and groom are formally introduced, gifts are exchanged, etc. To be honest, there is a lot that I still don’t understand about what all was happening so don’t quote any of this as hard facts. I went to the wedding with my landlord, Fred and his wife Juliet. They are a young couple who are both pharmacists. I had mentioned to Fred that I had heard about Ugandan weddings and he invited me to join them at his classmate Liz’s wedding. This is not uncommon as weddings here are huge (there were about 400 people) and anyone who is family, friend or knows family or friends of the bride and groom are invited. The ceremony is long! It started at 1pm and ended after 11pm and included sitting in the same spot to eat, watch performances and listen to lots and lots of speeches (there were African dance performances but no guest dancing – bummer). This was a traditional wedding and the dress code for the event was Gomesi, a specific style of dress worn for formal occasions in Uganda. Different tribes have different styles of dresses but again I’m still learning who wears what and when. I borrowed a Gomesi from one of my new friends, Roselyn and included a few shots from the wedding in the linked album above. I also had to borrow a separate garment which goes under the dress and is meant to give you a bigger hips and butt, a sign of beauty here (not going to lie, what American woman wouldn’t enjoy being told they need to look bigger!). The variety of colors, patterns and fabrics of the dresses worn to the wedding was stunning. The bride wore different outfits and chose red and gold as the theme colors for the wedding. The guests sat in lawn chairs under different tents depending on whether you were with the bride or the groom. The bride’s family (and caterers) walked around to guests constantly checking on them and bringing them drinks. The objective is to ensure everyone is comfortable and enjoying themselves so the family personally tends to the guests. Not only was it nice to experience this tradition in a different country but it was also fun to have lots of quality bonding time with Ugandans. Our lives are so different and I love every opportunity to just hang out and talk. It is harder than I thought to find common ground and experiences so the wedding was a a really enlightening experience.