Saturday, April 13, 2013

Full circle

Power is out, and my candles are about to be. I've done my last load of dishes and laundry, which was honestly just a handkerchief that I'd used to make cheese; the rest will be done in Kampala by hotel staff. I spent the day today sorting through my last few items and packing my little grey backpack with what I've deemed necessary for the next two and half weeks. I've included two pairs of pants, a pair of leggings, four tank tops, a tee shirt, a dress, undies, flip flops, running shoes, my planner, pertinent paperwork, shampoo & conditioner, face & body wash, face & body lotion, travel perfume, makeup, toothbrush & paste, my mini med kit that I always travel with (ibuprofen, Benadryl, melatonin, pepto, Imodium, bandaids, malaria meds, and sudafed) steripen, headlamp, travel towel, sarong, iPad, iPod, kindle, journal, stuffed elephant, rain jacket, and cameras. It seems like so much when I write it out like that...

Anyway, the last week at my site has been nothing short of delightful. Never having visited Murchison Falls national park, we took a last minute, seat of our pants, impromptu trip there on Monday. It was incredible. We did very little planning and thus ended up paying way more than we should have, and taking a route that was absolutely absurd. On the drive through the park tsetse flies swarmed our car as we almost ran out of gas, so annoying. We just missed the two o'clock ferry and had to sit for two hours waiting for the four o'clock boat, but we saw a hippo so it was totally fine. We spent the evening eating our fill of the buffet and drinking boxed wine on the balcony overlooking the Nile. The next morning we drove to the top of the falls and then hiked around for a couple of hours. It was so so hot but so worth it. That was really the last place in Uganda that I'd really wanted to see. Over the past two years I've been able to visit an incredible number of places and see the majority of the country.

Driving out of the park that afternoon we were somewhat late according to our pass. The pass we paid for was good for 24 hours, and we'd stayed 27. We had a little kerfuffle at the exit gate where the park warden was skirting around the idea of a bribe. I offered 20,000/- (about $8) which wasn't enough for him, so I pulled out a wad of ones and twos, conjured up a few tears and told him that was all I had (lie). He eventually let us go for free, I'm sure because of the waterworks. Success. Driving out of the park was beautiful; I absolutely love the landscape here, after the people in the north it's my favorite thing. A huge bull elephant blocked the road for a bit and I finally saw giraffes in the wild. Still no lions, but I have a lot of my life ahead of me.

The day after we returned I had a goodbye ceremony at the college. I was hoping that it wouldn't be overboard with the formality and pomp and circumstance, as some events can tend to be here. It wasn't, it was perfect. Of course it started late, but only by about a half hour. The first year students preformed some songs (which I'd tried to record but my camera battery died in the middle of it) the bishop came and made a speech about how everyone should be encouraged by my volunteerism and do things for the community without expecting to be paid for it. He studied in America and told them how much comfort I'd given up to come here. Some of the other tutors gave speeches about how I encouraged timeliness and professionalism, and how I taught one of them to be kind to animals. I gave a short speech thanking them for making this my home for the last two years, I thanked the reverend and another tutor for always teasing me and talking to me about the cultural differences, and I thanked the women from our baking club for cooking with me and sharing that aspect of our cultures. We ate dinner at the school afterwards and they made.... FRIES. And chapatti, and spaghetti, and tons of veggies, and chicken. It was delicious.

Since then I've just been hosting a couple of other PCVs, making friendship bracelets, and playing with baby goats. I leave tomorrow morning. I remember my first night here like it was a month ago, it really doesn't seem like this has been two whole years. It's scary how quickly life moves.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Loose ends

This post is long overdue, as Jacque was kind enough to point out in a text message a few minutes ago. It's hard to put into words the last few weeks here in my village, mostly because nothing has been happening and most of what's been going through my mind are feelings and reflections. All of the pictures, cards, letters, mementos and such are off my wall and the paint has been touched up. My things have either been sent home (thank you thank you thank you Rachel & Nora!) given away, burned, thrown down the latrine, will be packed up in my one little backpack, or left behind for the next inhabitant of the little teal house that somehow became my home over the last two years. Finishing Peace Corps service is strange and I'm at a loss of words for how to describe it.

I've thought a lot about extending in the past few months, more seriously than I have at any other time during my service. I think this was probably a result of a combination of things; the new principal at my college is making great changes and I'm sad that I won't be here to see them take effect, people who I've grown to truly care about have told me how much my presence means to them, I'm scared about not finding a job, having to pay exorbitant prices once again for a cell phone and fit in with American culture, and lastly I'm sure there is so much more I could do if I stayed. When all is said and done however, I'm done. Yes, it would be great to see improvements at the school, but my day to day would still be the same. I'd still be frustrated over having to wait till it stops raining and warms up a bit to go take a shower, I'd still be trotting out to the latrine any time I had to pee, and I'd still cringe every time a child screamed "Munu!!!" at me. And regardless of how much I love or hate my experience here, it wouldn't be more of the same, it'd be different. Am I completely ready to go home? No. Do I need to wait until I'm completely ready? Absolutely not. Plane tickets have been bought, plans have been made, and my mind is already sipping on something refrigerated, or perhaps even iced! That kind of momentum is really hard to stop.

In a couple of days Jacque and Stella will leave their sites and come live at my house for a few days until we all travel together to Kampala. This is entirely appropriate since my house has kind of been a catchall for those traveling to, from, or through Lira. Jacque and I spent a good seven or eight minutes one day pondering what our service would look like if we quantified it in terms of movies watched, jars of Nutella eaten, bonfires stared into, text messages sent, etc. All those inane things that ultimately made up our lives here. It's strange to think these will be the last.

Until I get back to America my life looks like this:
April 4 - 13 - laze around the village, awkward goodbyes, try to eat all the American food I haven't gotten to yet
April 14 - head down to Kampala
April 15 -17 - three day medical check up to make sure I'm not leaving with anything particularly nasty
April 18 - Peace out Uganda! Bus to Nairobi, game drive on a bike, and dinner at Carnivore (yes, there are two in the world, and I will have eaten at both of them)
April 21 - 23 - Istanbul with Jacque and Stella
April 24 - 30 - Egypt with Stella
May 1 - Egypt to Florida!

After that I'll be attending a bachelorette party in Key West, a wedding in Tampa, a graduation in Gainesville, flying to Ireland, taking a train through the UK and France to Italy, flying home, driving to Chicago, visiting North and South Carolina, moving to Boston and hopefully settling easily into a new phase of a life I love.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Someone to corroborate my stories

A few days after I left the COS conference I again headed to the Entebbe airport, this time to pick up my third visitor in Africa! I'm completely blessed and spoiled to have such good friends as ones who would apply for their first passport and take their first international trip to come see me. Nora's plane landed at 10:20pm and by the time she came out of the arrivals area I had tears of joy in my eyes. We picked up like we hadn't been apart at all and made our way back to the hotel in the city. The next morning I had to run by the embassy to pick up my renewed passport and I dragged Nora along. She was amused by the fact that I just verbally agreed with the taxi driver that he'd wait and be around when we were done. I guess living here I've become used to the fact that things like that just work out. It never occurred to me that he would leave us stranded (we took our bags with us) and it probably never occurred to him that I'd screw him over and get a different taxi back to the other side of town. Things just work like that here. (I have to interject here that I'm super excited about my new passport. The new books you can get with either 26 or 52 pages. When I went to renew it, I'd just checked the standard 26 page book, but the lady behind the desk gave me a wink and said I needed the 52 page one. I was delighted that someone had that much faith in my future travel as to insist I get twice the number of visa pages.)

Anyway, Nora. After the embassy we had breakfast at a Dutch bakery and walked downtown to the bus park. She was completely amused by Mountain Dew in a glass bottle and drank one while we waited. It was neat seeing things through new eyes again, like when Jamie came. I pointed out odd things that I've come to take for granted, and made suggestions about personal safety that I've come to just do without thinking. The bus ride was hot and the men sitting next to us had no qualms about spreading out as much as they wanted, shoving us diagonal in our seats and into the aisle. Then a kid vomited on the man in front of us and it splashed on our feet. Welcome to Uganda!

The next few days we just hung out at my house, the weather was unseasonably cool and I felt like a prize idiot for having droned on and on about how hot it'd be when she got here. We watched chickens and roosters, ate roast pork on sticks, I taught her how to hand wash her clothes :) It was neat really showing someone from back home how I live, not just explaining it over the phone or in a letter. One vodka soaked night she decided she wants to do PC too. I have no idea how that will actually play out, but I already promised to visit at least twice wherever she ends up.

Her last few days here we visited Jinja and the Nile River (and drank plenty of Niles) and shopped for souvenirs. I had packed my big suitcase and sent that home with her, so I threw some things in too. We bought three bolts of cloth tht will eventually be made into bar stool seats, throw pillows, curtain ties, and skirts. The bag was 53lbs by the time she had to drag it through the airport, so I have to say thank you again :)

14 April, 2011

Dear Future Liz,

How is 2013, do you have flying cars yet? Would you even know? Have all the world's problems been solved? Did you make it all the way through 27 months? (Or, 25 now, at the time I'm writing this... Phew.) If you (I?...) did make it, I'm sure it feels like shorter than it does for me now. At this point I'm getting ready to move away from training and go off on my own and "live deliberately" in the words of Thoreau. I'm nervous about missing home, failing at my job, not being a good enough leader for Peace Corps, and generally sucking at this. The fears I have now are more pronounced than I had before arriving in Uganda, I feel because now that I'm here and know what to expect, I have more tangible fears. What are some things that have popped up during service that I hadn't even anticipated? How did you manage missing Scarlet? When did you start to feel comfortable and useful?

Most of me is pretty sure I'm too stubborn to give up on this, but I hope I don't struggle through two years, being completely miserable. I hope you had fun, felt like you learned something, and grew a lot (not necessarily in size...) I hope that you feel like it was worth it to leave your friends and family and live in Africa for 2 years, and I hope that you have no regrets about doing (or not doing) anything while you were here. I know that when I'm reading this at COS I will be so proud of what I've accomplished, knowing that for the rest of my life I will be able to say, "I did that."

Congratulations on making it as far as you did, no one will ever be able to take the experience from you.

💚 Liz

As you might guess, I've had my COS conference. We finally scored a nice hotel (thank you PC!) and picked our dates to peace outta here. We got a nice little load of tasks to accomplish before we can go. We said goodbye to each other. Some of us cried. We had a late night poolside dance party and sang "send me on my way" and "tell the world I'm coming home." It was another moment where I felt outside myself, watching and trying to drink in what it tasted like so I wouldn't ever forget.

My last day as a PCV will be April 17th, less than two months away. So. Weird. I'm traveling for a little bit before returning home and making my next moves. I don't have everything figured out yet, far from it in fact, but I'm excited. (Also, a little bit anxious about fitting back into America... Not gonna lie.)

Parts II, III, and IV: Tanzania, Ethiopia, & Rwanda

Christmas Eve I bid farewell to my little brother and then boarded a plane with my friends, set off for Dar Es Salaam. My nearly two years straight regimen of mefloquine made me a nervous nelly on the flights. I've never been an anxious flier, but each take off and landing (there were six total) felt like the end of the world. Not cool. Anyway, we landed at about 4am, bought our visas, and then dealt with the fact that Ethiopian Air had again lost Jen and Jin's bags. Even at that hour, Dar was the hottest city I've ever been in and we practically melted into bed that night, sleeping in our skivvies under a terrifyingly rapid ceiling fan. Christmas Day felt nothing like it should as we wandered the empty streets of this coastal African capital. We picked up our ferry tickets for the next day and then set off in search of lunch. We happened upon cart after cart of seafood: octopus, squid, and prawns, chopped and fried. We paid a few shillings per piece and then topped it all off with some kind of tomato chili and a sprinkling of salt. Walking along the sea wall eating my octopus from a plastic bag was one of those moments in my life where I had to pinch myself to see if it was really happening. The humidity was clinging to our skin and I developed that film of stickiness so familiar to north floridians in the summer months. Christmas dinner was Pakistani barbecu; tables set up in a blocked off intersection, lights strung up, and charcoal grills fired up all around. Again, unreal.

Boxing Day found me perched at the bow of a ferry heading towards Zanzibar. The next seven days consisted of little else than laying on the beach, retreating to the fan in our bungalow, eating as much seafood curry as possible, and being constantly barefooted. I did not partake in any of the "activities" that others organized; the spice tour, the snorkeling, the dinner on a tiny tidal island... I was a complete beach bum and I do not regret one moment of it.

The next stop was Ethiopia, where none of us had any idea what to expect. We flew out of Dar at about midnight and landed early the next morning. It was freezing. By freezing I mean in the 50s or 60s, but whatever. Our group divided into two and we headed to two separate hostels since one couldn't accommodate us all. We ventured out and were pleased to see that we couldn't have picked a better location, we were practically in the middle of the city center. There were shopping malls, high rise buildings, markets, and the most adorable blue taxis zooming around. We of course ate ourselves silly night after night, sampling both national and Italian dishes. Fun fact: Ethiopia is the only African country that was never colonized. Apparently the Italians tried their best but the Ethiopians said, "Thanks but no thanks," and promptly kicked them out. Thankfully some delicious food culture was left behind and I was able to eat lasagna, mushroom ravioli, and to-diiieeeee-for gelato. One of the last nights we went out for drinks and happened upon a French speaking cab driver. I'm not sure how this came about, since France has no claim or stake in Ethiopia as far as I know, but it did and I quickly called upon my 8 years of French classes and navigated our way around. It was another moment where I had to pause, take a deep breath, and say a small prayer of thanks for the way my life is shaping up. Ethiopia was amazing and it's another country I will need to visit again. Three and a half days in the capital was not enough.

The same afternoon I flew (white knuckled) into Entebbe I boarded a bus bound for Rwanda. This was to be the last stop on my little transcontinental adventure because I knew in reality that if I didn't visit while I'm living in East Africa, I probably wouldn't make it back here to see it. Taking the bus across the border meant that we all had to get out, get stamped out of Uganda, walk across the border, and get stamped into Rwanda before we could get back on the bus. It was neat walking across a national border and another item was checked off my lifetime to-do list. The capital, Kigali, was gorgeous. The government has done some major cleaning up (like literally cleaning...) in recent years. One Saturday a month the day is devoted to a country wide cleaning day. Citizens pick up trash, sweep, the whole nine yards. There are serious penalties for littering, and they have done away with the plastic bags that line other African countries' roadsides. We stayed at a church that is both close to the city center and was the site of a refuge from the genocide of 20 years ago. In Uganda I live in an area that is considered post-conflict, there was a civil war up until about 8 years ago, but I will say that there's not really any everyday evidence of that. The people are happy and friendly and are just glad to be going on with their lives. The same felt true in Rwanda. There were memorials scattered across the countryside and an intensely moving museum in the capital, but the people we met and interacted with were incredibly welcoming and open, happy to share their country with us. We visited another church that had been a place of refuge that sadly turned into a site of genocide. Thousands of people were murdered in the sanctuary and in the surrounding village. It's now a memorial and mass grave, and we were able to walk down into the graves. It was possibly the heaviest moment of my life; descending down steep step after steep step into a little catacomb, shelves of complete and incomplete skeletons surrounding me, closing in on me. Knowing that this happened within my lifetime. I will never understand how any people who claim to have a religion that preaches peace and kindness can do this to one another. At the museum we learned of many other acts of genocide, both recognized and denied, and I'm ashamed that I only really knew about two of them.

The last day we visited Lake Kivu which straddles the Congo border. The town blew away my perceptions of what a war torn African town could look like. Goma is the town on the other side of the border and is apparently still very unstable; people we talked to said that aid workers there still come back to Rwanda to sleep at night. The Rwandan side was picturesque and quaint. Quiet tree-line boulevards winded their way along the lake shore, dotted with beautiful homes, exotic flowers, and Mercedes-Benzes.

The theme of this trip was food, and Rwanda was no exception. One night we found a pizzeria called Sol y Luna (go there. Seriously.) After a half a carafe of wine, I literally blurted out, "holy crap, I forgot I was in Africa!" The waitress placed our orders on a nifty little hand held computer, made substitutions with no problem, and even said we could pay with a credit card, though none of us did. Incredible. We also stuffed ourselves silly at an Indian place called Zaffrains, go there too, best naan bread ever!

By the end of the trip I was tired and all my clothes stank, but it was an amazing experience that I will not soon forget. I love the kind of traveling that living here has allowed me to do; the eye-opening experiences that stretch my boundaries and my understanding of what I'm really capable of.

Walking in Dar es Salaam on Christmas morning

Seafood carts line the street. The red pieces to the left are octopus, the white ones in the middle are squid, and the pink ones to the right are prawn.

Looking off the bow of the ferry to Zanzibar. I love boats.

View of our hotel from the water.

Me, Nik, Jac, and Stella with our tattoos

Someone walking along at low tide

Drinking out of coconuts!

First meal in Ethiopia, way too much injera but delicious nonetheless

Love love love these taxis!

Second attempt at national dishes, much more successful thanks to our personal guide. So. Good.

Stella, Binen, Nikki, me, and Jacque in our Ethiopian shirt dresses.

Two little girls we walked behind in Rwanda, they were incredibly curious about the white girls following them

Aditi at the hostel at St Paul's Church, Kigali

Flowers along the shore of Lake Kivu

Beautiful neighborhood in an unexpected place

Memorial site at Nyamata church

Another flower

More flowers at the genocide museum, Kigali