Category Archives: travel

To the Village!

Today I’m off to Masaka for a wedding of two spirit mediums. This is a truly rare event, so it’s really exciting from a research perspective. But if you need other reasons to get excited about leaving Kampala…

But for something much more exciting than Kampala congestion, see Sean Cooke’s other gorgeous photos. The wildlife stuff is particularly good. He’s captured some of the most popular reasons for people to visit Uganda. Enjoy!

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Jjajja Kaweesa Turns 100

The other day I went out to Kawuku with my Ffumbe folks from Ntinda.  Every once in a while we get an opportunity to see those who can come together in this family at a single event.  Last year it was about 100 people, and today is about the same.  At one point, I think about trying to count the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Jjajja Mukyala (Grandma) Rose and Jjajja Omwami (Grandpa) Kaweesa.  Then it occurs to me that at least half of them live elsewhere in the world.

I’ve only ever been to one other 100th birthday party, and that was for my great-grandmother Anna.  It’s always an interesting experience to consider the changes that someone that old has seen in a lifetime that long.  At this point it’s enough just to consider that this family takes such good care of their grandparents.  It’s inspiring.  I’ve included a few of the photos below just for fun.

The Bajjajja at Kawuku: Jjajja Omwami at 100 and Jjajja Omukyala at 88.

The bazuukulu (grandchildren).  Spot the muzungu?

Sister Francis was also celebrating 50 years as a nun!

Some aspiring drummers of the next generation…

A few beers and some roasted chicken on this sunny afternoon really hit the spot.  Jjajja Kaweesa went to sleep early in the comfort of knowing that his next three generations were enjoying the lawn.

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Homecoming (of sorts)

So it’s taken me some time to get back into the swing of things enough to post.  It’s not for lack of something to write about.  On the contrary, the first two weeks have been full.  I’ve been so busy attending rituals and thinking and writing and transcribing…there hasn’t really been much time for blogging.

Maybe it’s appropriate then that now I do have a little time on the day I went to my Ugandan host family’s place near Ntinda.  I had been biding my time until most of the family could be there.  What a happy afternoon!  Mr. Magoba invited me for lunch, but they all knew as well as I did that it was a leisurely affair that would take all afternoon.

Lunch was fantastic as usual.  Local food really is good in Uganda.  Maama Magoba’s food is a whole new level, though.  I eat matooke almost every day here.  Some people would get sick of it, but I really like the stuff.  Today, Maama’s tooke was really a cut above anything I’ve had since I got back here.  That set the tone for the whole visit.

This really was a homecoming for me.  Don’t get me wrong: I love my family in the States.  When people make me feel this at home when I’m this far from home, though, that’s a really special thing.  I realized this morning that I had been eagerly anticipating this for two weeks.

I always bring gifts for my family and friends here.  This time my wife sent me with really nice gifts for the ladies in the family.  Maama got two necklaces, and she absolutely loved them both.

Gloriah’s necklace is going to go well with her newest pink gomesi (local nice dress for women here).  People really like to match things up exactly here.  Needless to say Sister Glo was elated.

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Then there’s Nantongo.  This girl took such great care of me when I was here last year.  She’s the girl who cooks and does much of the laundry in the Magoba household.  We call her Nakinyonyi (Big Bird) because she’s always smiling.  She nicknamed me similarly as Ssekinyonyi (Big Bird, the male version) last year.  After greeting Mr. and Mrs. Magoba properly, she came out of the girls’ room there and shouted,

“Ssekinyonyi!”

How great to see my good friend again!  I don’t think she expected much of anything from me, but she’s part of the family.  Jenn really made a cute necklace for her with little blue stars and some clear beads.  It was like watching a child on Christmas morning.

Settimba and some of the others weren’t there, but I will see them soon.  In the mean time, it was really cool to see Mr. Magoba with his bazuukulu (grandkids).

At age 6, Mugumya is a total Curious George with a priceless gap-toothed grin (akazigo).

Then there’s Vincent (in the yellow), who can really school Uncle Kigozi in soccer.

As we relaxed after lunch and drank some of Maama’s homemade pineapple wine, they invited me to three upcoming family events.  Among these, Jjajja Omwami Kaweesa (Grandpa Kaweesa) turns 100 this month, and we’re going to celebrate with a big family reunion on the 26th.  I’m so excited.  These are the people who initiated my linguistic and cultural education in Uganda.  Now that I’ve been coming here for three years, they are still the people who teach me most about language, culture, and how a family lives together here.

When Jjajja Kaweesa prays, he still thanks God not only for all that he has, but also for all of the blessings that he has yet to receive in his life.  It’s such a hopeful outlook.  Maybe this is how a person lives to be 100 and has the riches of family that he has.  This is how a coffee farmer in Uganda and his wife educate their 11 children, 10 of them through university level, and several through post-graduate studies.  Now that he’s dependent on them, it’s inspiring to see that he still lives in his own home, where his children and grandchildren take care of him.  This, I have the privilege of saying, is my family in Uganda.

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The Road (back) to Uganda

International travel offers some prime opportunities for people watching.  If Garrison Keillor is right about being part of a throng as one of the essential experiences of being at the State Fair, each airport is a new State Fair of humanity.  The sounds of people speaking different languages disorient us, the smells of various things good and bad annoy, delight, and disgust us.  I always love how the Memphis airport smells like a BBQ pit.  It brings the comfort of knowing that there’s a vendor nearby hawking something tasty on a stick or a bun.  Then there’s the guy who stops by a small construction area in DFW International to relieve himself…twenty meters before the restroom ahead of him.  How about the only flight attendant aboard the plane who wears corn rows referring to herself as Ms. Chocolate?  Endless sources of amusement all.

Now I’m in Uganda, where I get watched and cajoled and laughed at by strangers who enjoy watching people as much as I do.  I’m okay with that.  Then they’ll be the ones who get to pretend that their version of humanity doesn’t seem just as ridiculous to someone as mine seems to them.

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Okay, okay, I’ll try harder…

It’s been almost two months since my last post, and that one was recycled.  I wouldn’t have given a second thought to this, but then people approached me at two separate conferences to inform me that they either follow me on Twitter, read this blog, or both.  Thank you, then, to the few faithful readers who abide long absences and the strange stories that punctuate them.  Despite my best efforts, this blog in both of its forms has been primarily a travel blog that keeps family and friends informed of my activities.

C’est la vie!

Alas, I am about to embark upon the final phase of my dissertation field research.  So thanks as well to the American taxpayers, who will underwrite this most recent portion of the project.  So, as usual, I will undertake this portion of field reflections as a less formal form of fieldnote.  I leave in a little less than a month.  Enjoy the ride!

Until then, it’s Christmas photos, hopefully those featuring my dog in various ridiculous costumery…

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New Directions in Research

Okay, so I’ve been teasing along with this for months now, dropping hints about a return trip to Uganda.  At first it was simply hopeful (as in someday), but it’s been more than that for weeks now.  The truth is, two weeks after I got back from the last trip, I received a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad (DDRA) Fellowship.  I haven’t exactly kept this a secret or anything.  It’s just that this is a windfall that I had written off as so unlikely it would never happen.  It’s humbling to know how many more deserving applicants could be out there.

One of those applicants comes from FSU’s beleaguered Anthropology Department.  I claim Anthropology as a kind of disciplinary home away from home on campus, and I have great respect for their students and faculty.  So it is with bittersweet admiration that I congratulate  Bryan Rill.  Bryan works on issues that are very close to home for me, and I can think of no more deserving candidate for this fellowship.  Congratulations, Bryan.  While we’re at it, congrats to your colleagues on three NSF Dissertation Improvement Grants.  Maybe FSU will see fit to reconsider some if the more unfortunate budgetary decisions of the past few years in light of your achievements and those of the distinguished anthropology faculty.  Maybe.

FSU has done well in the past few years with national and international fellowships at the undergraduate level, thanks in no small part to the Office of National Fellowships (ONF).  There are, however, strong graduate students at FSU winning other awards.  Jason Hobratschk in the College of Music and Victoria Penziner in the History Department both snagged Fulbright IIE grants this year.  Kimberly Leahy is among 22 others to do the same since 1985, but it’s interesting to note that a disproportionately large number of those have come since the ONF opened.  BTW, I’ve had the privilege of knowing both Jason and Vicky for a few years, and I know both of their projects will yield fascinating results.

These accomplishments and others across campus in the past few years have started to make FSU look more like a Carnegie Doctoral Research Institution, and it seems the university is starting to take that role seriously.  After a tremendous success rate with the pilot of the ONF,  The Graduate School announced the opening of a new Office for Graduate Fellowships and Awards (OGFA)  this semester.  It’s about time.  ONF was really gracious about helping graduate students with fellowship applications (my own included), but even their staff recognized a major gap between their own undergraduate focus and the faculty-only nature of the Office of Research.  I applaud FSU’s efforts to help more graduate students secure outside funding through the new OGFA.  In fact, its sole staff member has already been very supportive as she administrates these new Fulbright-Hays and NSF awards.  Having watched similar programs help generate thousands of research dollars for students at other institutions, I am confident that the OGFA will be a successful project for FSU.

I offer a few critiques here even as I champion FSU’s recent efforts to make graduate research a priority, and I do so at the risk of soiling the extraordinary sense of gratitude I feel for having been selected as a Fulbright-Hays Fellow.  This is the most honest brand of school spirit: ONF is great, but OGFA is proof that we can do better at the graduate level.  The next step must be to support the academic programs and professors that foster bright students and award-winning ideas! (Ahem: ‘Noles Need Anthropology)

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An Iowa Story

postdated: Aug. 1, 2009

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Above and header: a classic image at Iowa’s Historic Arnold’s Park.

If I have been too quiet, I hope my few faithful readers will think that the reasons are as good as I do.  I’m back from what I now know was a much-needed trip to my birthplace: Iowa.  Jenn and I had planned to go up for a long weekend.  This was for her family, recently bereft of a beloved grandmother and only very recently able to gather for a proper memorial service.  However, it turned into a much more varied and exciting journey than we had originally expected.

The time everyone was able to come turned out to be the weekend after a ten-year reunion that my high school classmates had planned.  Neither of us had been to Harlan for at least the six years we’ve lived in Florida, so we decided to go up early for this shindig and enjoy some of the pleasures of late summer in Iowa.  Ten days later, I am convinced that the lifelong Iowan we came to mourn would have heartily approved.

The entire trip resonated with overtones of formative musical experiences that, for both Jenn and me, made Iowa a great place to grow up.  The town square is home to a relatively new restaurant, paradoxically called the Sandwich Bowl, where we had lunch and a long, soulful conversation with two of my former music teachers, Steve and Dianne Lawson.  Although they are now both retired from public school jobs, Dianne had to leave for an afternoon wedding gig.  We relaxed with Steve in a multi-purpose facility that provides his daily musical playground: he watches DVDs, plays music, teaches lessons, rehearses high school groups and engineers recording sessions.  I enjoyed the privilege of thanking the Lawsons in person for laying the foundation for many and varied other musical studies and experiences.

Later that evening, we met up with my high school classmates for the reunion.  Standard fare here: beers and steaks at a local country club.  It was a good time, but we cut out a bit early to stop by another reception for a friend and former bandmate who had been living in China.  His wife finally got her visa, and it was time to celebrate that victory and their marriage with his family.  It was surreal to see people I hadn’t seen in ten years and think about how I hadn’t been the only one who was half a world away, only to see them again here in our quiet Iowa hometown.  This called for more beverages.  The reunion had migrated to the downtown square, where we found my classmates and proceeded to close the oldest local bar in town.  They probably haven’t had a night like that since RAGBRAI came through town last year.

peteNfriends

Above: cathing up with classmates and friends.  Thanks for taking the pictures, Jenn!

The next day we traveled to Jenn’s parents’ place, where I did what I always do when I show up there: set up the drum set in the basement.  My in-laws played a lot of dance jobs when they were first married.  Jenn grew up playing clarinet and saxophone, accompanied by her father on keys and either her mother or her brother on drums.  It’s a really rare vibe, a place where I always feel privileged to sit in on drums.  Moreover, with two other drummers in the family, there’s always some nice gear sitting around the house.  Knowing that I have been in Uganda and haven’t played any drumset for most of the last year, Steve came home for lunch ready to play a couple of tunes with me.

In the afternoon, we got back in the car to go to Okoboji, where Jenn’s father plays piano during the summer in the Dick Bauman Monday Night Big Band.  Bauman was the founder of a jazz program at a nearby community college and a good friend of the man who first taught me to play drumset, Steve Lawson.  Now this isn’t exactly the Village Vanguard or anything, but the sections are stacked with some of the best band directors in the state, and they are solid players.  There’s a tradition of good jazz in Iowa, and these people have sent some fantastic players on to the best college jazz programs in the country.  It was a privilege to sit in with the band,

The weekend brought other activities.  Jenn’s brother and his wife showed up on Friday, along with their aunt.  We wasted very little time after they arrived before jumping back in the car and heading to the world’s finest steakhouse.  Archie’s Waeside in LeMars, Iowa rivals many of the finest steakhouses in the country according to some, but we in Iowa know that you cannot buy a finer cut of meat, a tastier corn fritter, or a more delicious grasshopper sundae anywhere (a creme de menthe ice cream treat–not to be confused with these).  Wash that down with a selection of regional micro-brews, and you’ve got one tasty Friday night!

Saturday brought more chill time.  Jenn golfed with her folks and her brother.  She amazes me.  She hasn’t golfed but twice in the last eighteen months, and she was still able to par hole six and log several impressive drives.  Meanwhile, I shucked corn and prepared the grill to burn some bratwurst.  Guy Clark sings that there are “only two things money can’t buy: true love and homegrown tomatoes.”  Owing to the generosity of neighbors, I add Iowa sweet corn to that list, and we enjoyed all three with lunch on Saturday.

Jenn’s grandfather joined us for the occasion, and as is their custom, the Smith Family Variety Show followed.  Grandpa Jimmy worked as a saxophonist and singer during World War II and with his own dance band after that.  His repertoire has remained largely unchanged since: Peg o’ My Heart, Left My Heart in San Francisco, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Bill Baily…basically standards.  Seeing his son and grandson accompany him at family events has always been an indescribable joy.

SteveChris

StevePeteJimmy

What a privilege it is when they ask me to sit in on drums or sing a tune! That’s the story of our family gatherings in Iowa.  I think it’s an important story to tell, because it’s also the story of music education working in really interesting ways.  The democratic character of jazz filters organically into every musical event in Jenn’s family.

I’d experienced this atmosphere many times before, but somehow this time “When the Saints Go Marching In” seemed particularly poignant.  The next day, as we all drove to Des Moines to hold a memorial service for Jenn’s maternal grandmother, I looked through the Methodist hymn they had asked me to sing and my sister-in-law looked through the Debussy piece she was to play on flute.  It seemed somehow significant that this family of musicians had chosen to focus on mourning and ask the in-laws to provide appropriate music.  In death, as in life, this family welcomes such a beautiful range of expression, incorporating each unique voice into an ongoing performance that, if our generation and our children have anything to do with it, will never end.

chrisRhodes

Chris picks up an old Rhodes from his pop to outfit his new digs in CO.

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