‘I got a jigger, but I’d go back again’
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/04/i-got-a-jigger-but-id-go-back-again/
(NOTE: This story was written prior to the March 2020, virus-forced return home by the Hodge family and other Americans in Uganda. In early April, the Hodges were in quarantine in Iowa before returning to Arizona.)
By Alex Tarema
“What are you making for dinner Momma?” Rachel asks her mother, Crystal Hodge, from the living room. The scent that escapes the kitchen reports rice to her nostrils.
Rachel loves Ugandan rice, mostly its aroma. She loves the famed Ugandan rolex (egg roll) too but hates matooke – the highly popular delicacy in the central Uganda area. She likes her groundnuts prepared roasted and salted but does not enjoy their pasted stew.
The 15-year-old lives on the Uganda Christian University main campus in Mukono where her Fulbright father, David Hodge, has been doing academic work since August of 2019. She hit the ground running, starting her school at the prestigious Acorns International School, Kampala, Uganda.
The school is small by her standards but amazing, she says. Unlike Phoenix, Arizona, where she hails, here she can mingle with almost everyone and get to know them better. Her class only has 16 students, and she is the only Caucasian. When she returns to the United States, she will miss her teachers and friends in Uganda.
She hums her school’s anthem all evening.
“I really love music. I love to sing,” she says. “Five other students and I were taken to the studio today to record the school anthem. I sang it so many times that my throat is sore, and I cannot get it out of my head.”
Besides singing in the choir, Rachel auditioned and was accepted to perform in her school’s talent show – an experience she speaks of with a beaming smile. She’s wearing a pair of denim jeans and a checkered top. She occasionally walks around outside their residence called All Nations House while reading, but her favourite spot is a couch in the living room on which she reads herself away.
In order to avoid traffic jams, her driver takes many dusty, bumpy back roads on her hour-long drive to and from school every weekday. This is the most cumbersome part of her day.
“Back home, school is just 10 minutes away, the traffic is never as bad, and the roads are smooth,” she says.
Although temperatures can get up to 47 degrees Celsius (116 Fahrenheit) in Phoenix, she manages to stay cool in the car with air conditioning. Here, the driver drives with the windows lowered, allowing dust, heat, and exhaust fumes into the vehicle – part of her Ugandan experience that, she says, “I don’t like very much.”
The dust notwithstanding, Rachel agrees with a certain Ugandan minister who was recently quoted as saying that the bumpy roads add spice to the Ugandan experience. Rather than agonise, she uses her two hours on the road to finish up her homework that is sometimes twice as much as what she was assigned in the United States.
Rachel loves numbers, basically anything complex. Math is her favorite subject, but she has found physics to be quite insightful as well, particularly the class projects and the research.
Away from school, Rachel is a lover of life and nature. She loves rainy nights, and the sound of raindrops on the tin roof. It’s a refreshing change compared to living in the desert of Arizona where they only receive an average of nine inches of rain per year. She has travelled to northeastern Uganda, attended a traditional wedding in Karamoja tribe sub-region and visited the Kidepo Valley National Park.
“Weddings here are so much different from what you see in the U.S.,” she said. “They dressed me up with beads around my waist and my head and gave me a traditional skirt to wear.”
The beautiful scenery of Kidepo Valley and the sight of giraffes, water buffalo, and zebras was so spectacular that she forgot about the long hours we spent getting to the wedding and the safari.
In Karamoja, Rachel got a jigger in her foot as a souvenir. Thankfully, a neighbor is a nurse and removed it. On a school field trip, Rachel hiked to the Sipi Falls in Eastern Uganda. From her diverse school classmates, Rachel has learned a lot about other religions, their values and perceptions while sharing her Christian faith. To expand her knowledge of Ugandan culture, Rachel and her family also have visited the Buganda King’s palace, the parliament building, and the Uganda National Mosque.
Her most scary experience is when she walked to a restaurant in Mukono town around 5 p.m., but her order arrived after dark. Like any other foreign teenager among Ugandans who do not speak much English, Rachel started to “freak out” as she wasn’t sure she’d remember her way home. But she did.
Admittedly, Rachel misses her American life, her friends and mostly her freedom. Almost all her hobbies were within a ten-minute radius and she didn’t have to worry about being so conspicuous because she blended in with everyone else. In Uganda, her long blonde hair and fair skin attracts attention and makes her feel uncomfortable. After just one walk into Mukono town, she has avoided walking there again.
“There are so many inconveniences like needing to boil water for drinking, no microwave, dishwasher, and regular shower, and the long drive to school that I’ve had to adjust to, but I keep telling myself that it is only for a short period,” she says.
For Rachel, living in Uganda has taught her to be socially perceptive and in the future, she is considering a return trip to help some impoverished villages get access to clean water and support children to attain education through fundraising and charity.
To support Uganda Christian University programs, students, activities and services, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button, or contact UCU Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at firstname.lastname@example.org.