Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Queen[s] and I

-| Ye Olde Rules |-

Way back when [the exact date of this period is unknown, depending on who you ask.  It's safe to say that this period ended about 50 or so years ago], women in Uganda were forced to follow rules, some of which are listed below:
  1. When you greet a man, you bow and/or curtsy.
  2. Do not wear trousers or short skirts.
  3. Do not climb trees.
  4. Do not ride bicycles.
  5. Do not sit on chairs.
  6. Do not eat chicken.
  7. Do not say 'no' to a man; not only will you be forced to say 'yes,' you will get boxed [punched].
The exact reasons these rules [undoubtedly written and enforced by men] exist are still unknown.  Modern Ugandan women do not abide by these rules; most are comfortable making that apparent.  For those who aren't or still wish to respect their elders, these women quickly jump down from trees, slip on a knee-length dress, hide their bicycles behind a nearby chair, and spit out chicken before doing man's bidding.

Introducing two hilariously exceptional women who fall under the former category.

-| Bridget |-

"My mom thinks they will lead me to steal and do drugs and hurt people.  That they will give me bad morals," she said, "She doesn't want me hanging out with the guys at Breakdance Project Uganda."

We walked down the street after the session, she walking casually, and I trying to wring the sweat from my shirt without looking like I suffered from hyperhidrosis.  I had asked the basics: When did you start breakdancing? [one year ago], Why did you start? [saw a performance, thought it was awesome, had to join] Why did you stop? [school], and What did your parents think?

"She doesn't think breakdancing is for girls.  When she saw all these boys throwing their legs up in the air and spreading them, she said that girls shouldn't be doing that."

Attempting to put two and two together, I asked what made her mom change her mind.

"She hasn't.  She thinks I'm reading now, studying for school.  Which I still need to do, so I'll see you later."

-| Nancy |-

"The boys on this street fear me," she said.  

The dancers and musicians didn't show up at Luo Talent Centre, so we had stayed behind to add more Acholi phrases to my repertoire.  She said that I could walk her home [it being on the way back to town], and the conversation had turned to what rules women used to follow.

[Perhaps it had to do with the fact that she had taught me ee Acholi mon pee-kee yeh-nee goo beh-ree kom, or "Women are not allowed to sit in chairs in Acholi."  Nancy thought I could use this as an ice breaker in conversations with Northern Ugandans, and that deemed it necessary.]

Wondering exactly with whom I was walking, I asked why.  Was it because she wore pants, or climbed trees,  or rode bicycles, or sat on chairs, or at chicken?

"No," she said blankly, "It's because when boys box me, I box back."

-| Note to Self |-

Regardless of the oppression they may appear to suffer, it is probably well advised to never say no to or mess with a Ugandan woman.  She's most likely to find a way around it, and you're most likely to get hurt.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Now Listen Here

Setting:  Caritas, Uganda, about 200 meters from the CTC.  At eleven o'clock a.m., the day is surprisingly cloudy and windy.  Our Hero has returned from a trip to Lacor, and has decided to take up Beatrice [local shopkeeper] on her offer for Acholi lessons.

Note:  All Acholi words are written phonetically.  Feel free to learn as well.

Joshua [walking up to Beatrice]:  A-foy-oh, Beatrice.  Do you remember me?
Beatrice [35 year old woman]:  Yes, yes, Joshua!
J:  I've come to learn Acholi, if it's still okay with you.
B [pulling a plastic chair from inside her shop]:  Yes, yes, okay, okay.  Nom ca-beh-roh: Please sit.
J:  I hope you don't mind, some men from the other shops followed...
[Enter seven men, ages ranging from 25 to 60]
B [going inside to get more chairs]:  Oh, no problem.
Joseph Adunga [60 year old man]:  Now, listen here young man.  What is your mission here in Gulu?
J [addressing Beatrice]:  He's asked me this already.  [Looking to Joseph Adunga]:  I'm studying dance, sir.
JA:  Eh?  Now, listen here, young man.  I am black.  You are white.  But in Uganda, the blood [points to his arm] is both red, the same.  The brain [clutching his skull] is the same.  The muscles are the same.  We are all one body, one mind.  In America, the blood is both red, the same.  The brain is the same.  The muscles are the same.  We are all one body, one mind.
Kenneth [40 year old man]:  Don't mind him, he's been drinking.  You want to speak Acholi?
J:  Yes, Kenneth.  I want to speak Acholi so I don't get cheated by the bodas or the market vendors.
B:  What would you like to say?
J:  Anything, really.  Whatever will help to make me seem like [in Father Joe's words] "a child of Uganda."
B:  Okay, okay.  To say, "Welcome," you would say, a-foy-oh bee-yoh-no.
J [slowly writing the words]: a-foy-oh bee-yoh-no.
[The other men laugh]
K:  Yes, yes.  Joshua, where do you live?
J:  Nearby.  Catechists Training Center.
JA:  You're a Catechist?
J:  No, I'm just living there.
K:  Ah, so I am a carpenter, and I build things.  If I don't have the proper tools to build, how can I get them?
JA:  So what is your mission?
J:  Um.  Can't you get tools from a shop?
JA:  Now, listen here, young man.  I am black.  You are white.  But in Uganda, the blood is both red, the same.  The brain is the same.  The muscles are the same.  We are all one body, one mind.  In America, the blood is both red, the same.  The brain is the same.  The muscles are the same.  We are all one body, one mind.
B:  Eh, leave him alone.  Joshua, to say -
K:  - Joshua, my brother - will you allow me to call you that? - to say "my brother," you say oh-meh-rah.
J [writing again]: Oh-meh-rah.  My brother.
[The other men laugh]
JA:  Now, listen here, young man.  Uganda's language is from the British.  I understand what you are saying, you understand what I am saying.  We are all body, one mind.  I am black.  You are white.  But in Uganda -
K:  - Ah, don't listen to him, Joshua.  He's been drinking.
JA:  Now, listen here, young man.  I have so much money [pulling a roll of bills from his shirt pocket], and I can do with it what I please.  Like this [hands one to Beatrice, who rolls her eyes and goes into her shop].
K:  Joshua, do you have a lot of money?  Can I ask you for 1,000 shillings|36 cents for the information you are writing?
J:  Me?  Oh, no, I don't have much money.  I have little, and I have to divide it for my travels...
B [returning with what looks like an IV bag, and hands it to Joseph Adunga]:  Eh, leave him alone.  Joshua, if you want to say - 
JA [ripping open plastic bag with his teeth, and doesn't notice the clear liquid spilling onto his pants]:  - Now, listen here, young man.  Where are you from?
J:  Chicago, sir.  United States.  Um, is that water?
JA:  No.  It is drink [holds up the bag to Joshua].
J [leaning forward, reading the front of the bag]:  Drink Dance?  40% by volume?  Is this... gin? [turns to Beatrice]
B [nods, pulls down the side of her shirt closest to Joshua, and begins breast feeding an infant who has materialized from seemingly nowhere]:  Yes, gin.  Do you take alcohol?
J [suddenly paying attention to something in the horizon]:  Oh.  Yes, I take.
K:  He's been drinking since the morning.  If you want to say "Where do you come from?" you say, In a kee kweh-neh?  And to answer "I come from..." you say, Ahm kee...
J:  So I would say, Ahm kee Chicago?
[The other men laugh]
B [nodding, still with baby on breast]:  Yes, yes!  See?  Acholi is easy.
JA:  Now, listen here, young man.  If you are not a Catechist, what is your purpose?
J [addressing Beatrice's forehead]:  He keeps asking that.  Am I not answering it correctly?
B:  No, he is just drinking too much.
JA:  Now, listen here, young man.  Do you want a drink?  Have a drink.
J:  Oh, no no no no no.  It's not even lunch yet...  And I'm going to dance this afternoon.
JA:  Eh?  Dance?  Why is a Catechist learning to dance?  What is your purpose?
K:  Eh, sorry, brother.  He drinks too much.  So if I want 1,000 shillings -
B [jerking, dislodging the baby]:  - Eh!  Leave him alone!
JA:  Now, listen here, young man.  I don't know your mission, and I don't care.  I just care about your money.  Don't let any of these strangers walk you home.  There are many people who drink here, young persons who drink and steal.  Don't trust them.  You heed my word, and you will make it through Uganda.  If you refuse my word, the windows to your room will be broken, and all of your money and belongings will be stolen.  I must leave now [walks to the bar, dropping behind his empty gin bag].
B [addressing Joshua]:  Don't listen to him.  He's trying to scare you.
K:  My brother, can I have 1,000 shillings?
J [leaning over, putting the notebook and pen back into his bag]:  I think I have to go now...  It's getting close to lunch time...
B [turning so that both baby and breast are inches from Joshua's face]:  Will you be back tomorrow?

[Young Man]

Saturday, October 22, 2011

In You

In short, Our Hero had [in American Slang] “epically failed” at being the center of attention.

This, of course, was not something new.

Regardless, he had hoped to lay low in the circle of Ugandan breakdancers; in this hope, he had imagined befriending several teachers, honing his [non-existent] acrobatic skills, and developing at least average upper body strength.  [As a bonus, this last expectation included toned arms, chest, back, and legs, but he would be fine if he left Uganda with the same lanky body.  Thanks, genetics.]  Although a part of him knew that it would eventually come, he was still pulled into The Circle.

Performed at the end of every Saturday class, the group of [30 or so] B-Boys and Girls would gather in the cement hut, clap hands, and chant “Bouncing Cats” over and over again like a secret society mistaken for a cult only Dan Brown would decide to write about.  It was in this circle of dancers that any [somewhat] willing volunteers would dance, showing off ‘their stuff’ and whatever new skills they had acquired that day.

-| "The Hut" or "Sacred Ground" or "Not-Baby-Classroom" |-

Perhaps it was the fact that his water bottle was running empty, or that an unsettling knot was developing in his stomach, or that he had been suddenly hit by a wave of ‘tired,’ but Our Hero knew things would go wrong when Andrew had finished gliding through the air then across the floor on his head [the laws of physics apparently paid no attention to this boy].  Our Hero half jogged, half dragged his feet across the cement.


Not feeling the most creative juices flow to his brain, or sudden pangs of superhuman strength, Our Hero began to run through the choreography he had learned that day.  First, the uprock – this part went fine.  Then the turn – this also went fine, until the claps increased in volume and a shrill Xena/banshee-like wail emitted from a nearby B-Girl [sudden and violently loud acts of praise usually threw Our Hero off his groove].  Recovering, he executed the fall, and completely forgot the six step.

-| "Basics" or "Jeff The Teacher Teaches Six Step" |-

Which, of course, is both helpful and necessary in any break “routine” [slang: “round”].

Going straight into a CC roll, then a CC, another CC, then a CC roll again, Our Hero should have taken a hint from the Dance Gods and stopped.  Refusing to listen to any and all deities, he finished with what he had learned to finish with: the Baby Freeze.

-| Modified Baby |-

Although he learned to successfully do the freeze, he still had problems throwing it into a round.  This, of course, was his fault since he refused to practice in his spare time on church grounds.  Not only did his freeze not  happen, his upside-down face contorted into a face of surprise, and he flopped onto his back.  When he arose, Our Hero felt an uncomfortably familiar sensation in his jaw; whatever he had done, his strangely shaped jaw had locked to the right of his face [mild symptom of TMJD].  Walking out of The Circle, he massaged his jaw, knowing that only time would release the lock and stop making him look like Edvard Munch's "The Scream."

In short, Our Hero had earned [in Ugandan Slang, maybe] “Two Points” while being the center of attention.


After fifteen minutes of the Druid-like “Bouncing Cats” chant and looking like his jaw had dropped in amazement at everyone who had entered The Circle, Our Hero found himself talking to BPU’s current Leader of the Day [Name still unknown - Our Hero had to work on avoiding calling everyone "brother," "sister," "sir," or "ma'am"].

Although he was sure the Leader knew it, Our Hero hung his head and mentioned how he had done terribly in The Circle.  He would need a ton of practice that he knew he wouldn’t do on his own.  The Leader shook his head, then Our Hero’s hand.

“There’s a War in you.”  The Leader said.  Reading Our Hero’s confused eyebrows, he added, “I can see it.  I think by next year, you’d be perfect.”

Our Hero mentioned that he had already made plans to leave on November 30.

“November 30?”  The Leader pondered this.  “We better start teaching you faster.”

[Unlocking War]

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


For some inexplicable reason, the Boy had met an unusually high number of doctors during the two and a half months he had promised to accomplish two things:  a) learn about dance and community service, and b) avoid thinking about the possiblity of applying/going to med school.  Whether this turn of events was meant to come off as fate, symbolism, or merely good/bad luck, the Boy acknowledged one important fact:

Networking with doctors abroad proved easier than attempting to do so in the United States.

In India, the Boy had developed a most questionable skin rash that would best be left undescribed [for the moment]. After consulting with general practice doctor after skin specialist doctor - for the unbelievable consultation price of Rs. 70|$1.55 to Rs. 400|$8.88 - it was concluded that he had developed an allergic reaction to the daily doxycycline tablets [an anti-malarial] prescribed in the United States.

You could say that it wasn't the Indian food or air or water that was making him sick, but the American medicine.  Ah, symbolism.

The Boy underwent a several weeks-long treatment of pills, creams, and dietary restrictions [no tomatoes, bananas, curds, or chocolate].  Most importantly, he was told to stop taking the anti-malarials in India [Doctor Siddeshwar: "You don't need to worry about catching that here.."] and wait until his arrival in Uganda to find a new prophylactic.  Although it left scars [concerned mother: "Is it... unsightly?"], the rash's source was treated and the Boy continued on his merry way bearing a nutty brown complexion for the rest of his days in Asia.

-| "Treatment 2 of 3" or "Buying Out the Pharmacy" |-

Following the Murphy's Law so characteristic in his life, the Boy again developed a questionable bump on his skin [why this would always be the target of foreign disease, he would never understand] within the first week of arriving in Uganda and forced himself to seek medical attention at St. Mary's Lacor, the nearby missionary-based hospital.  After the long [and highly abbreviated for mature content's sake] treatment, the Boy asked some of the Ugandan doctors and nurses about getting a new prophylactic.

Their response: "You didn't come here with any prophylaxis, so we cannot give you one."

Although the Boy did not understand this logic, he was fortunate to have been overheard by Abbie, common bystander and also travel organizer for a group of week-long volunteers.

"Oh, we definitely can help you with that."  Abbie said.  Introductions were made, and the Boy was whisked away to meet doctor after doctor after nurse after photographer after fireman.  The purpose of the volunteers' visit was simple: provide free clinics, treatments, and education to those who needed it.  He watched as doctors applied antibiotics to fungus growing on the heads of babies, as firemen taught children and parents to stop, drop, and roll [how many burn victims were there because they didn't know how to put out a burning article of clothing?], as nurses tended to women who couldn't walk, and as photographers recorded children playing duck, duck, goose [which, to a degree, didn't prevent the head fungus from being spread].

"Come with us," Abbie said, packing leftover hospital id bracelets into a ziploc bag, "We have plenty of medication back at our hotel, especially ones you're not allergic to.  Hey, if you're lucky, you might get a dinner and beer out of this."

For the umpteenth time in his travels, the Boy got into a mysteriously large van full of strangers.

Later that night, he sat among the circle of volunteers, all drinking a bottle of Nile Special Premium Lager.  He listened as they spoke of the day's cases like gossip.  Although he recognized next to none of the more advanced terms, he took mental note of ones easier to pronounce:

"I mean, didn't they invent the wound vac?  And they didn't even have one?  We were all like, 'where is it?'"

"Yeah, it's bad.  I mean, how many people did I see with hepatitis c?"

"So then, she comes in and says, 'Who wants to do a triple-A?' and after a day like this, I shot my hand right up."

"And they wanted me to work on the hernia, but without mesh, I was like, 'It's going to fall apart anyway.'"

He found himself less interested in explaining his reason for being in Uganda [Abbie: "Could you imagine just spending a year doing what you want around the world?  Chris the Fireman: "Yes, I could.  So the budget covers prison bails, right?"], and more absorbed in learning who these people were, why they came here, and [of course] where the funding came from.  Some came with their mothers, some worked at Harvard's Public Heath Office, some were aspiring nursing school students, and some were just asked to join because a member from the previous year was unable to return.  Most came for the experience, to do something bigger than their jobs back at home, to give more to people who had so much less.  Although there were some funds and donations, they came here out of their pockets using their own vacation days.

The Boy was floored.  Amazed.  Jealous?  He explained how the first two years of college had convinced him that he wasn't cut out for med school, but times like now [ironically, during this year in which he hoped to avoid the thoughts of med school] were convincing him the opposite.

Victoria, one of the older doctors, leaned over and said, "Honey, you have time.  You're young.  I only realized now that giving something is so much more important than getting something."  For a fleeting moment [or two] the Boy could see himself in their place, traveling to developing countries and treating afflicted locals who didn't have enough to pay, or knowledge to prevent.

As dinner [beef steak, tilapia, potatoes, chapatti, rice, and sauteed vegetables] began, Abbie came over with a small plastic bag in her hands.

"Okay, so here's the deal.  We don't have any extra malarone, which we think is the prophylactic you should take.  You're going to have a difficult, if not impossible, time finding the prescription here, but you might have a chance in Kampala.  Lisa, our pharmacist, is sure that you can get it in Nairobi.  But why go through all that trouble?  I've decided to go around to all of our volunteers and ask for their last day's malarone pill [everyone forgets to take it anyway], so you should have about a month's worth of prophylactics when I'm finished.  As for the second month's, well, why don't we just send you a prescription when we get back?"

Lisa stepped forward.  "And I've taken the liberty of putting together a kind of first-aid kit, based on what I think you'll need in Uganda and what you definitely need after your treatment at Lacor.  I'm sure I have all of the things with me here, but I'll double check tonight just to make sure."

The Boy asked Abbie how much the package would cost.

"Hey, we're here to give medication to people who need it.  For free.  You fall into that category too, bud."

Free drugs?  In Africa?  The Boy looked at the small plastic bag packed with brown tablets.  Each pill had come from a different volunteer, donated without a second thought.  Most of the volunteers were off in their own world, eating dinner, attempting to connect to the internet, or working on the group's blog, completely unaware of the Boy's dumbfounded stare.  He imagined what planets had aligned for this meeting to happen.

Somewhere in the distance, he could hear his Mom and Dad thanking the volunteers who provided  proper healthcare for the next two months.

[ Protected ]

Monday, October 17, 2011

Make Every Shot

After leaving India, he vowed to improve documenting his travels; only 400 pictures of India in two months?  He could do much better than that.

He sifted through the photos taken that day; attempting to capture "the moment" proved difficult with his four year old Canon Powershot.  [ Damn - maybe it was worth spending more of the budget on a camera that didn't evoke the "Hey!  My mom has that camera!" response from friends back in the US.  Being stingy would always later bit him in the rear. ]  Sighing, he chose two that would, to a degree, portray some of the talent he saw over the last few days.  

Additionally, he wanted to apologize to those who followed his travels, however few there were.  The photographic pickings were slim to begin with [ mainly due to his limited photographic skills ], and even more slim after realizing how many of the images contained something worth looking at...

Rarely, the photos would turn out like the one below.  At such times, he couldn't complain.

-|  Luo Talent Centre  |-

Documenting his time in Uganda would prove a challenge; not only were the photos highly unable to embody "amazing," but the videos taken were as equally limiting.  Oh, and YouTube refused to process his videos whilst in this part of Africa.  He would have to wait until much later to upload these clips.


[ Sharapova ]

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Aw Snap[Shot]

What's the best/most convenient way to describe life so far in Uganda?

In as little words as possible.  Cue photos and captions.

-| The balcony outside the bedroom.  Much reading takes place here. |-

-| Ominous church bell tower that rings at 6:30 am and 1:00 pm. |-

-| "The school uniforms are somewhat colorful..." |-

-| The Catechists Training Centre/home is also a vineyard. |-

-| Daniel the Cook making polenta during a [regular] power out. |-

-| Beer from the Nile.  Served at the CTC. |-

-| Homemade croissants/rolls with marmalade inside! |-

-| This picture doesn't do it justice.  Incredible homemade peanut butter that runs like syrup. |-
-| Secret ingredient: sesame seeds. |-

-| Elephants are a thing here in Gulu.  Especially as gifts. |-

-| Demon cat who lives outside my room & in the kitchen. |-

-| Ah, nothing says Uganda but homemade Italian pizza. |-

-| They make my bed every morning [against my will]... |-

-| ... and fold my laundry, which they wash [against my will]. |-

-| Beastly girls balancing clay pots at Luo Talent Centre. |-

-| They practice at sundown... |-

-| Beastly live music on the drums. |-

-| Practicing for their performance this Saturday. |-

-| Beastly jam session on the bow harp/adungu |-

-| If you dance, you can/must play music too.  Ergo, David teaches me to play the tenor adungu. |-

[Adungu Apprentice]

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Corner

I had convinced myself that all of Uganda had me backed into a corner - a comfortable one, but a corner nonetheless.  It was in this corner that I saw myself lacking the challenge I needed to grow, to change, to evolve, to not be the person I was five months ago.  Essentially, this corner was THE place in the world I most wanted to avoid, that and The World's Only Corn Palace.

This corner, inhabited for the first four days in Uganda, consisted of the following schedule:
  1. waking up late [8 am] after sleeping for almost 11 hours
  2. cold showers, which were uncannily refreshing
  3. a hearty breakfast of toast/croissants/homemade peanut butter/scrambled eggs and veggies/coffee/bananas
  4. talking about life, science, and politics with Father Joe
  5. two or three hours of reading The Count of Monte Cristo on the balcony [how all of my rooms have thus far had a balcony, I'll never know]
  6. surfing the internet and updating the blogs, family in the US and India, and "attempting" to contact members of Breakdance Project Uganda
  7. a hearty lunch of rice/cassava/beans/pasta & tomato sauce/bananas
  8. talking about cultures with Father Joe
  9. more reading
  10. more internet surfing
  11. roaming the Catechists Training Center grounds
  12. more attempts to contact BPU
  13. a hearty dinner of rice/cassava/beans/polenta/beef or smoked fish/bananas
  14. talking about travel and other lands with Father Joe, Father Felix, and Joe the groundskeeper
  15. sleeping at 9 pm, due to the frequent power outages
Excluding the occasional trip into town on a boda-boda to attempt to withdraw money from an ATM, my life in Africa had already become redundant, repetitive, and very very settled into a corner.


This, however, all changed after receiving the fateful email and making the fateful phone call to a BPU director, Josh Jones.  The man had a delightful British accent, was skinnier than I expected being a breakdancer/bboy, and held the air of someone who was completely happy with their life.  After a lunch in an American-themed cafe, we traveled by [the same] boda-boda to the Gulu Youth Centre.  Nearly falling off of the moped pushed the corner away a few inches, but also resurfaced fond memories of almost meeting the same fate in India.

"And this is our practice grounds," Josh said, arms spread wide open.  Aside from the field of grass and the nearby water tank, Josh's gaze faced only a cement hut.  "You'll start today," Josh said, reading the worried look I had on my face.  I had mentioned earlier how I literally knew nothing about breakdance.  "No worries," he continued, "Eddie here will teach you.  And these guys are just starting out too, so you're not alone."  Josh waved over some twenty-somethings, one wearing a tuque and DC shoes [Eddie], one wearing dress pants and suspenders [a schoolteacher, Jeff], and a third wearing a rugby shirt with the collar popped [name still unknown].  As they approached, the corner backed away a few more feet.

"Don't worry," Eddie said, reading the same, unchanged expression, "You'll start with baby classes."

Baby.  The word called forth memories made from no more than two weeks ago, my kalaripayattu teacher yelling as I stretched, jumped, and slid my sore and sweat-drenched excuse of a body across the tile floor:  "Baby, are you tired?" and "Come on, Baby, we're not finished."  Perhaps the name came from the way I grunted as he made me practice, or the way I grimaced as I pushed myself to go as fast as he wanted, but it most probably came from the way I found myself almost in tears at the end of every class.  

Come on, Baby.  Learn to break.  In front of 30 Ugandan youths who have done this for years.

And thus the hour and a half commenced with Eddie, Jeff, and NoName.  At first, learning and repeating uprock [see in: breakdance] made me feel like I was doing nothing more than the Charleston.  Then came footwork on the ground, which made me feel like an elderly person trying to relive his youth.  The most humiliating part was learning the Baby freeze, the most basic of all poses in b-boying, in which I realized the amount of upper body strength my forearms lacked.  Time and time again, I rolled over onto the grass ["You learn Baby moves here, on the Baby ground.  If you learn in the hut, you might hurt yourself."], unable to support my hip with my elbow.

"Don't worry, it's coming."  Eddie said, turning to leave and join the non-Baby b-boys.

Jeff and I continued to practice.  The uprock was the easiest to get, the footwork bearable, and the Baby freeze... hypothetically tolerable.  Each successful execution resulted in an applause by the other b-boys, and each failed attempt resulted in a raucous round of laughter.

But each attempt pushed that corner farther and farther, first by inches, then by feet.


There's a delicious moment in dance, and in this case, breakdance, when you feel that everything you do is executed correctly and, more importantly, without doubt.  This moment is most recognized by breathing.  The breath is inintially chunky, hesitant, and usually held when changing from standing on both feet to being on all fours to supporting your body in the air with just your head and hands.  But when your body actually knows how to do it - after about an hour and a half of attempting, failing, and laughing - something changes.  Maybe it's a sense of pride, maybe it's a sense of accomplishment, but it's most likely a sense of awareness that you are doing everything correctly, and this sense pushes the breath out in one strong burst.

For some [purportedly unknown] reason, my breath came out in the form of yelling, "AMERICA!" upon executing the Baby freeze.

The Ugandan boys paused, smiled, laughed, and clapped.  "Perfect!" they yelled.  "See?  You're learning fast."

I'll admit that learning these basics in an hour and a half is a small victory in the world of breakdance.  Yes, it might take weeks for someone to learn how to six step, or even hold a freeze, or how to transition from uprock to three step.  And yes, it'll take several more weeks [years, probably] to learn something much more impressive.  And yes, this will all involve getting even more humiliated in front of these horribly graceful b-boys.  Regardless, executing that bit of choreography today was still that: a victory.  However small it was, I took it and relished the fact that I had quickly left the comfort zone I had built for myself in the past four days.

Take that, Uganda.

Nobody puts Baby in the Corner.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011


-| 021011 |-

He should have known that traveling from India to Uganda would go awry when the ticket counter looked at the passport, turned to the officer standing nearby, and said, “Magno?  Sir?”  The officer looked at the name, swatted away something in the air, and nodded.

Our Hero looked up from writing his name on the address tag for his baggage and asked if something was wrong.

“No, sir.  Thank you for your passport.”

The rest of check in went as expected; he received the boarding ticket to Dubai, he filled the emigration form, and earned a stamp in his passport for the exit from India.  Before he could pass through security, the x-rays, and metal detecting guards, he wanted to know if he should dispose of the water in his Nalgene.  Walking towards the closest security guard, Our Hero pulled the water bottle out of his bag and waved it in the air.

Like a flock of seagulls on a discarded bagel half on Navy Pier, or a flock of middle aged women at a Josh Groban sighting, a flock of guards descended and encircled Our Hero.  The eldest stepped forward.

“Sir, may I see your ticket and passport?”

Our Hero handed over the passport, which now contained three visa stamps collected from the past five years.

“What is your purpose of visit to India?”

Hoping to simplify his explanation and cut back on the chances of having to apply for a student visa, Our Hero explained that he was traveling, and that he had visited a family friend in Bangalore.

“For study?”

No, not for study.  He had finished university and was taking a break for one year.

“And what did you study in university?”



Our Hero pointed to his skull.

“Is that a study in medicine?”

Sigh.  At it simplest form, yes.  Our Hero did study medicine.

“So you went to Johns Hopkins?”

Our Hero shook his head furiously, incredulous at the thought of attending such a school oriented for solely one topic of study at so early a point in his life.

“Where was your University?”


“Your home?”


The questions flowed.  Questions that seemed partially relevant to Our Hero’s trip were asked: Why are you going to Uganda? [To go to countries he had never been before] and What did you do in Jamaica? [built a playground] and What did you do in Ecuador? [the same] and Did you get paid? [no] and Why? [because he enjoyed things like that].  The more questions the security guard asked, the more personal the questions became: Where did you live in Bangalore? [HSR Layout] and Who did you visit there? [family friends] and Where do they live? [in HSR Layout...] and Where did you stay [didn’t he just say HSR Layout?] and Where else did you go during these two months? [New Delhi, Koramangala, Mysore, JP Nagar, Wilson Garden, Peenya] and What does your father do? [bookkeeper at a hardware store, but he just received his nursing degree] and How did you pay for University? [hard work, scholarships, the like] and What is in your check in bag? [clothes, toiletries, chargers, snacks, medicine, gifts, a larger backpacking bag].

Thinking he had done a thorough job of answering the questions, Our Hero looked forward to sitting in the waiting area.

“Mr. Magno,” the security guard continued, and Our Hero’s internal set of eyes rolled, “do you want us to look through your bag?”  The security guard’s eyebrows raised, his body leaned forward, and Our Hero assumed this was his way of asserting his dominance and masculinity.  He preferred his luggage stay intact, but if the guard were to do so, Our Hero had no choice.  Besides, he had nothing to hide, ergo, nothing to be found.  The security guard nodded to one of his four younger henchman, who left around the corner.  Our Hero assumed he was getting the bag.  Major sigh.  This was going to take a while.

Waiting for the younger security guard to return, Our Hero asked if there was a problem.

“Yes, there is.”  The conversation died at that.

Our hero found himself with the five security guards in what he assumed was supposed to be an interrogation room, but the microwave and table salt and pepper shakers and ceramic box of sugar packets made it appear more like a breakroom in Home Depot.  Our Hero felt immediately at home.

The leader asked Our Hero to remove the lock from the bag, and the five guards began to resemble vultures tearing away at a dying zebra; what had taken the entire morning to strategically stuff into the backpack and duffel bag was now splayed across the table in a matter of seconds.

“What is this?”  One guard asked, holding up a black rubber case.  It was a gift a friend had given him earlier that year, which contained adapters to a small, solar-powered charger.

“And this?”  Another guard held up a small grey chunk of plastic.  Our Hero’s father had given him a battery-powered mosquito repellant fan that now in Our Hero’s mind resembled what could have been considered a bomb.  Not that he had ever seen something of the like before.

“What are these tablets for?”  The leader asked, holding up a packet of denture cleaning tablets.  “You wear dentures?”  He asked, and Our Hero explained how he wore retainers, and then proceeded to explain how such retainers were cleaned with the tablets and a cup of water.

A third guard handed the leader a taped pack of detergent soap, leftover from his stay in India.  The Leader removed the tape, pinched some of the powder and sniffed it, and proceeded to have a difficult time resealing the pack.  He gave up, and tossed the opened bag of powder back into the duffel.

The fourth guard looked at the pair of gym shoes and the flip flops, and the leader demonstrated how to probe the inside of the shoes and check beneath the rubber inserts.

Our Hero asked if there was a reason they were searching through his bags.

“We think your travel plans are suspicious," the leader said, grimacing at the thought of traveling from India to Uganda with a one-way ticket.

Was that all?  What a relief.  And here Our Hero thought it was something serious.

The first guard pulled out a plastic bag of clothes, and his hand dove in to search for anything that wasn’t made of cloth.  Our Hero grimaced, and explained how that particular bag of clothes was full of ones that he hadn’t had the chance to wash yet.  The guard slowly removed his hand and pushed the bag aside.

“What is this?”  the third guard asked, holding up a plastic bottle of contact solution.  For his eyes, for his lenses.

“Why do you have so many lenses?”  The second guard asked, holding up a box.  This time, the leader answered in Our Hero’s defense.  “He’s traveling for one year,” he said, rolling his eyes, “of course he has to carry many lenses.”

“You wear SPF 50?”  The third guard asked, holding up a small container of sunblock.  Yes, but only because his mother bought it, thus having no choice in the matter.  “It’s too high.  The number is too big,” the guard said, tossing it back into the bag.

"You found an Indian girlfriend," the leader said, holding up a pink foil-covered gift, onto which a peacock feather and a computer printed image of Jesus was taped.  No, not a girlfriend, but the Little Prince from the children's home whom Our Hero had gotten close, and already terribly missed.

“Okay, well help us put all of these things back into your bag.”  Our Hero attempted to first explain how to repack the bag.  At his frustration, he finished doing it all himself.  Although he believed the search to be finished, the leader asked to look into Our Hero’s carry on bag.

Major, major sigh.

Our Hero raised his eyebrows in amusement while watching the guards figure out that a sweater could compress into its own pocket, that shampoo and soap bottles could come in small sizes, that retainers actually do look like they’re molded from teeth, that someone had the patience to read a book sized like The Count of Monte Cristo, and that Mickey Mouse's [thanks, Sis] shorts were filled with silicon beads, not drugs.  Restuffing this bag with poor care, the leader then asked to look at Our Hero’s wallet [as if he hadn’t shown enough forms of identification to apply for the Russian Tourist Visa].  The leader looked at Our Hero’s credit card, debit card, then driver’s ID.

“I’ve been to Chicago, last year.”  Our Hero deduced that was the leader's attempt at kindness, trying to carry small talk in the middle of the inspection.

Again, Our Hero made the mistake of thinking that the process was complete.  After reorganizing this backpack, he was asked to remove his shoes, and raise his arms to do a pat down.  He watched the insides of his shoes being probed, and then watched as his own waistline was patted down for something that could hide in the space between the belt and the lining of his boxer briefs.

“Okay, well, we’re sorry for the inconvenience,” the guard half apologized with a smile, “You can go now, Mr. Magno.”  Our Hero smiled, and looked at his watch.  It had been almost an hour since he began talking with the guards.

“Safe travels, god bless you, and go to Johns Hopkins, okay?”

Okay, Sir.  He made a mental note to tell his parents that the guard who probed every inch of his possessions for the year gave him valuable life advice and direction.  Our Hero turned to go through the metal detectors, and realized he still didn’t know about whether or not water in his Nalgene was allowed.  He turned to ask the leader.

“Oh, I don’t know.  I don’t know much about security regulations here.”  With that, the man turned on his heels and walked towards the Cafe Coffee Day | Indian Equivalent of Starbucks.

Our Hero hoped this wasn't an omen of things to come in Uganda.

[Suspicious Traveler]