Blog: Dispatches from Uganda: A Fried Grasshopper and the Witch Doctor

Cultural learning in Uganda, fried grasshoppers, and poetry corner.

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this website are entirely my own and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

School is winding down. The exams for the first graduating class are over. They were done a bit differently than the previous ones I have seen. The students test in 10 stations. No comments or direction, just a skill they complete in 5 minutes. I hope they did well. The rest of the students take 2-4 days of written tests and then do practicals on patients in the hospital. They really do have difficult exams. Their written exams are probably easier than ours since they are pretty much textbook knowledge and ours center on problem solving and critical thinking. But where our skills were checked off in the hospital by an instructor, they (not having an instructor during their clinical time) have to perform random skills on patients during these practical exams. They also have an oral exam to test for knowledge. These exams are precursors to the state exams so it is good they practice these every year. If they don’t pass they have to repeat the semester.

The other night I tried a fried grasshopper. Yep, I squirmed, squeeled, laughed, grimaced, closed my eyes and stomped my feet; all to the annoyance of my friends who said, “They are fine!” They look like small fish and taste greasy, crunchy, and I don’t really know what else (chicken? LOL). They are not that bad and I was able to have a second one at their insistence. Apparently they are in season right now – a season of grasshoppers? Is that anything like the plague of locusts? I took a pic just before I put it in my mouth so you could have proof. OK, I guess I could have not eaten it, but REALLY! I did!

Cultural Notes:

A man came by the hospital selling “local medicine”. A local said he is like a witch doctor or maybe a tribal medicine man. The medicine comes from the bark of a tree which is crushed and placed into a capsule (due to its bitterness).  The man calls the tree Lukura which is the name in Rutooro, however I could not find any reference on the internet and we don’t know the English name. He says it was introduced to him by a Chinese man. He boasted that it cures over 400 diseases. Ziniah says that many believe in these “witch doctors” but these doctors can give you medicines can cause hallucinations and they can even change you into animals. 

There was a death at the hospital in one of the wards and some students and I were watching how they took care of the body. They wrapped it in a sheet and then rolled it into a papyrus mat and put it into the trunk of a car for transport home for burial. Some people bury in a cemetery if they have money, but many bury at home. Death is dealt with differently depending on the culture, tribe, and religion you belong to and on financial ability.  One of the students that lives near here (I don’t know what religion she is) told me that in her tribe burial usually takes place a day or so after death, followed by a mourning period of 3-7 days during which visitors come to provide support, and then after 40 days they have a huge celebration. If the woman loses a husband then she sleeps on the bed that he had died on (complete with bedding) for 4 days. If the man loses a wife he sleeps on her bed for 3 days. 

I found out how they are given names here. I thought their surnames were family names, but I am wrong. They don’t have the same names as their parents like we do. When they are born they are given a surname according to the feelings of the parents. These are often problems they are experiencing, but may be positive also. For example my lead tutor’s surname (remember their tutors are instructors) is Tiakoru which means “no cows” so the guy who was teaching me said that her family probably didn’t have any cows. His surname is Anguzu which means “very far” because his mother lived very far from his father. Then they choose a Christian or English name that is not related to any family situations. Middle names may be names of relatives or clan names. The surname comes first and then any middle names, then the Christian name.  The lead tutors name is Tiakoru Julie (I don’t know her middle name) and they do not use commas. They are called by their surname or Christian name.

During my latest trip home from Kampala, I sat next to a refugee from the Congo. His wife had been kidnapped at one time and he was fearful for his family so he came here. He told me that he has been in Uganda about 7 months. At first they took him to a camp, but he refused to keep his family there. He makes his living right now by traveling to Hoima and buying rice from the farms, bringing it back to Kampala and selling it. I can’t imagine that he makes a lot, but he has been able to save enough to pay rent for three months for himself, his wife, and 4 children. He was a teacher in Congo, but says he can’t teach in Uganda because his English is not good enough (though I thought it was pretty good). He spoke French and I encouraged him to visit the Ministry of Education or maybe one of the universities to see if he could teach French or maybe tutor some students. I pray his situation improves.

One Small Step at a Time   By Lori Cleveland

Odors of illness and death

Expressions of pain and resignation

Vacant stares as nurses hover

She makes no sound as her tears flow.

There are no sheets or blankets

Bare-chested he struggles to breathe

And curls into himself; cold, alone

Watching with weary eyes.

Families watch through windows

Hope and trust flicker in their gaze

On thin woven mats they make their beds

Their presence lending comfort.

Doctors and nurses fight to save

Full of knowledge they serve

Struggling to provide solutions

In a world starved of resources.

No medicine for the living

No blood for the dying

No food for the weak

No water to quench the thirst.

Foreigners in a strange land

Volunteering time and skills

Learning as much as they teach

Trying to grasp insurmountable problems.

What good can we do 

When life looks so bleak?

Where is God in this place?

Is there hope to be seen?

Someone is singing

A baby is born

Children are laughing

And a prayer can be heard.

Then our smile brings joy

Local language is shared

A touch gives comfort

And our purpose is clear.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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