From Technical Training to Homestay
The morning the group dispersed from our technical training center near Kampala to our separate regional language training centers came and went in a haze. Our final night of training as a 52-person cohort was full of fun and laughter at a sendoff barbecue that gracefully distracted us from our worries and concerns about language training and homestay.
Time during technical training moved as it usually does. The first week was slow as the body and mind adjusted to the new surroundings and demands. The second week came and went as we fell into stride. And the third week dissipated before we realized it was even there. The send off barbecue partnered with an early departure, with each language group heading their separate ways, left us in a trance the following morning. Our heads were spinning as we tried to piece together where the three weeks had gone while simultaneously reminisced about the strong friendships we had made and contemplated the concerns and excitement the next stage of training would bring.
Lusoga Airlines, which is the term used and coined for our 12-person Lusoga language team, departed promptly in the morning with all the students on board. Not until we reached the main road to head east did we realize that a co-captain (instructor) was not aboard. With the minor hiccup of departing without a full crew remedied, through lucid dreams and head bobbing sleep we made our way over the bumpy roads to the training center in Iganga, where our language and cultural training is held, to meet our homestay families for the next five weeks.
Our early departure and subsequent arrival gave us enough time to shake off the anxiety and put on our best face to meet our future families. With little information given with how this adoption ceremony would go we quietly spread ourselves out across the tables unsure what to do with our hands as we watched the families stroll in. As the families arrived they signed in on a sheet and quietly went to sit at an empty table, equally unsure of what to do next. Amongst ourselves we whispered around the room the last name of the family until it reached the volunteer who had the match. Using our formal Lusoga greeting we had learned the week before we each enthusiastically introduced ourselves showing off all that we had already learned of their mother tongue, for this was our way of masking any nervous energy we may have been feeling. When I got the whisper that it was my turn to perform I stumbled over with my bags and quite ungracefully went through the formal introduction. The nerves quickly cooled as my host sister and brother gave me their names and I became aware that I’d be living with another mid-twenty-year-old Derek, spelled Derrick. In my head I though, same name, same age, I’m probably going to get along just swell with this guy… and I did.
Meet the Masanjas
Upon arriving home with my host sister Maureen (27) and host brother Derrick (24) I got to meet the most of the rest of the family just as they were finishing the preparations for a feast. My household is headed by Robert Masanja who is an entrepreneur and small business owner in town. My family is run by Mami Masanja who is also an entrepreneur and small business owner in town… and an outstanding mother. In addition to Maureen and Derrick, I have three other younger brothers including Maurice (20) who is doing an
internship in Iganda, and Joel (18) who was around due to a public holiday but attends a boarding school in the neighboring city Jinja, and Pius (16) who is at secondary school in Kampala. I also met my older sister Vero, short for Veronica, over the phone while using both hands to dig into the feast. As I was simultaneously cleaning my hands to receive the phone getting passed clockwise around the table, I was being informed the context of the call. It was Vero, my older sister, who was calling to say hi now that she was done giving birth to her second child. We quickly connected on the phone and she explained her circumstances and how she was disappointed she could not be with me for my arrival. I thanked her for the call and let her know I didn’t hold her absence against her as I understand she was a bit busy.
Now that all my immediate siblings are accounted for I’d like to introduce you to the other siblings I met on the first day. Zeitu, (approx. age 16) is a joyful girl that is always the first to greet me on my way home from school, who not until recently did I find out she is not a blood relative of sorts, but a paid house helper. Shafik, (roughly 14) often
times walks me to school and tries to get me to dance with him as he practices his moves to the radio at night. I always accept his company as we both walk to our schools, but only briefly have I shown him my go to dance move. Naigaga, (around 8-10) is the daughter of one of my relatives that my mother has taken in to raise. Naigaga is an absolute hoot who was very shy upfront but has now come around to being an absolute goofball. She also surprises me with English phrases when I’m least expecting. The best example is when she was sent out to meet me on the trail to escort me home as the sun was fading and it was becoming dark. She was carrying a long stick over her shoulders looking like Barry Bonds ready to hit another homerun and I decided the best way to approach her was by doing karate moves at her. In response to my martial arts in sweaty dress clothes with an empty water bottle flailing in hand, she smirked and stated “you think I wont hit you with this stick.” Those were the first and just about only English words she has spoken to me. Most of our communication has been through hand gestures and funny faces, since she refuses to respond to my Lusoga or English.
It is safe to say I’m in my element with this crew.
Although my host siblings, both university graduates, eased any thoughts I had about possible language barriers on our walk from the training center to home, I was still a bit nervous to meet the parents, especially the mother. From experience living with host families in the past, I knew how important my relationship with the mother would be to my experience. With two very positive experiences and relationships with host mothers previously, I was anticipating my luck may be running out. As I approached the backside of the house my host mom was sitting outside in front of the sigiri (charcoal stove) putting the final touches on the meal. Upon glancing up to see us, she quickly jumped up to welcome me to her home. On her way over to give me a hug she managed to tell the little ones to help grab my bags from me and my older siblings as well as grab us chairs before greeting me with the big hug. Her first words to me were something along: “Welcome to my home. I am now your mother and you will call me Mami. You are my son and I want to welcome you to your new family. Now please sit down and let the kids take your bags, its almost time to eat.” At that point I knew for certain I was in good hands. When meeting my father a few minutes later who managed to appear just as the food was being served welcomed me in the exact same manner. I knew that not only was I staying at their place for the next five weeks, but I was going to be part of their family while living in Uganda.