Wednesday, October 26, 2011

omg the ants

There are maybe a bazillion species of ants on this earth, I don't know, I'm not a scientist. I would guess that about three fourths of those live in Africa, and up until last week, three of them were battling it out with me over control of my house. Now, only two are.

Safari ants. If you have read Poisonwood Bible, you may remember a part where the ants come in the night and they have to escape across the river lest they be eaten alive. That is not too far from the truth, though my experiences have been thankfully less dramatic. The ants are migratory, and blind. Meaning they march right on through without a care to what they're marching through. Or, maybe they do care, I don't know. Either way, a few weeks ago I was finishing up doing a CRAP TON of laundry (it had been like a month and a half, at least) when I noticed that creepy spiders were swarming out of the rock piles near my door (totally safe to have rock piles around my house, nothing scary lives in those at all...) and up on to the sidewalk that runs the perimeter around my house. Confused by the sudden odd behavior, I went to find out the source of their terror - a basilisk perhaps? I was greeted by no less than 398,235,822 ants marching towards my house. My neighbors had spread ashes around their house that morning, so I should have known something was up, that's the traditional method for keeping ants out. Anyway, I got out my flip camera and started filming, though I don't think anything would be able to accurately portray the sheer numbers and determination with which these ants move. The single file line soon branched into several, which branched off even more. My yard was soon a black moving carpet of ants with jaws that can draw blood (not being dramatic) I sprayed Doom (Uganda's version of Raid) in front of my doors and hoped they wouldn't come in. Apparently they clean as they go, but I had just spent all day sweeping and mopping and wasn't in the need of a million army cleaning crew, but thanks. Of course, then the clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. It was about to storm. Can I pause here to remind you that my month and a half worth of laundry was on the line, almost dry? And that vicious biting insects were carpeting my yard? I quickly fashioned some waders out of garbage bags, taped them around my knees, and shuffled out into my yard, looking like a crazy person, to rescue my clothes. Upon returning to my steps, I saw that there were no less than 50 ants clamped onto the plastic bags. For the next week or so, the ants stuck around, though not in the same ferocious craze. They mostly stuck to the edge of the yard and my garbage pit, which means that walking around took careful planning and a watchful eye. About a week later, I saw a long line of them marching away from my house, each one of the billion ants was carrying an egg. Weird.

millllliiiions of ants. I wanted to see how fast they'd clean the jar

Trails of ants through my yard

Trash bag leggings!

Little red ants. These things are the bane of my existence, they are invasive to my life and they are ruining everything. Ok, that was all exaggerated, but I am super annoyed. Somehow, for the first 5 months I lived here, there were no ants. Then, all of the sudden, there are ants in everything. EVERYTHING. I brush my teeth, I have to pick ants out of my toothbrush first. I go to put on my retainer, I pick ants off that. I look at pictures on my wall, I see a line of ants marching up the wall. I shake amazing American Parmesan cheese that my mom sent me on to my pasta, and 50 ants come out with it. This morning I found that they had some how gotten up around the threads of my nutella (my NUTELLA!) over the top of the jar, and were stuck in the chocolaty goodness. What do I do when I find ants in every delicious food I have? I eat them. I am like a mean giant. Ants in my brown rice? Hang them in the sun, kill them, and eat them. Muahaha.. (Fe Fi Fo Fum?) I don't know if I could munch down as happily and with such gusto on the giant white ants that were brought to me upon my arrival, but the tiny red ones that are the most f*cking annoying things ever in my entire life? Yes. I will eat those. And I will do it with glee. (I don't pick them off the walls and eat them, just so you know, only if they're in the food already. I'm not that crazy...)

Little red ants in my american food. Of course I ate this. 

Regular ants. Lastly there is a colony or something of the normal black ants in my yard. They're not as organized, annoying, or invasive to my life as the safari ants or the little red ones, so I kind of just watch them sometimes if I'm on the phone outside and they're scurrying along the edge of the table. I think they were in my house a few weeks ago, I noticed a bunch that were all carrying a larvae. I quickly moved some furniture, sprayed, and swept, making sure to let them know this was not a place to set up home. They got the message and I haven't seen them inside since. Every now and then I'll watch the red ants marching up the wall outside meet a line of the haphazard black ones. They do battle sometimes and it's like the nature channel right on the wall of my house, it's a 15 minutes well spent, watching them go at it. Sometimes a spider gets involved and I have to text someone about it :)

*Edit* this evening when I was doing my dishes, I noticed an inordinate number of these black ants... doing a kung-fu battle royale on my steps. They were all scattered hither and thither, and were literally slinging one another around and clamping down with their jaws of death when they met one they didn't like. It was one of the oddest things I've ever seen ants do, I tried to get pictures but the battlefield and its warriors were much too little.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I haven't fallen in the Nile

Holy long time without an update. To all those who have been bugging me about it, I'm sorry. I have no excuse other than... I am lame? Either way, here goes.

I've been back from IST for a little over a month now. We wrapped up the time off with a trip to Mbale and then an all-volunteer conference in the famed Ryder hotel, complete with hot tepid showers and tile floors. (I'm not sure why tile floors are such a big selling point for me, but I love love love them.) Being back was not as traumatic as I was expecting it to feel, being totally spoiled with all the company of my fellow PCVs. I was expecting to feel lonely and sad all the time, not unlike it felt when I first arrived. That could not be further from the reality of coming back up here. It felt really good sleeping in my own bed again, opening up my house and enjoying my yard, sweeping all the spiders out and making it clean again. People in the village and the college were happy to see me back, and the askari who keeps the compound clean told me "apoyo dwoggo", "thank you for returning". Someone told me she thought I had gone back to America, so I think they were a little surprised to see that I'm here to stay (at least for a while, haha.) I felt like a member of the community rather than an outsider, I don't know how to explain it other than it just felt like a change or a new phase of service had started. I go running now in the village and am less self conscious of being seen doing something so totally out of the norm. I am lucky in that my community in general seems to stare less and be less invasive to my privacy than other volunteers' are. I also fixed my issue of eating lunch at school :) I've received a lot of packages from home with taco seasoning, so I decided to pack a small zippy bag with envelopes of taco seasoning and taco bell sauce packs (thanks James!) and add them to my beans. I just use a spoonful of the seasoning and one sauce pack and instantly I have Mexican flavored posho and beans. I am an idiot for not having done that sooner. It was incredible the impact it made on everyone I work with. The comments the first few times were a bit embarrassing - "You're eating our food?!? We are SO happy, you have made us delighted to be breaking bread with us, we cannot express how happy you've made us!" Jeez. My principal asked what the seasoning was, and I explained and showed him. He asked if I just added water, if I'd get the tacos that were pictured on the front... I wish. (Someone, please invent that. Instant tacos complete with cheese, sour cream, shells, and lettuce.) Anyway, I now eat a plate of taco-flavored beans for lunch every day and all is right in the world of Canon Lawrence PTC. I still don't take tea though, which is unbelievable to them, but whatever.

I've spent the last few weeks preparing and then monitoring second year students on school practice. They had two weeks here at the college working with a co-teacher (another student) making schemes of work and lesson plans based on topics that were given to them by the classroom teachers. Then, the next three weeks were spent in surrounding communities, teaching in pairs. The tutors went out and observed them daily, making comments and giving feedback. Apparently the feedback I gave was very different from the other tutors... my comments were "very serious" while the others "joked around"... I'm not sure why jokes were made on final school practice feedback forms, but I guess they were. On Friday we went around and did a final "mop up", telling students to hang their posters higher or lower, to underline the subheadings in the lesson plans, make sure the time and dates are written across the tops of lesson plans, important things like that. A little part of my soul died when a student teacher was actually pulled from teaching a lesson to be lectured on the neatness of his handwriting. I tried explaining to the school practice officer that the things focused on in America are very different from the things focused on here, so it's not always easy for me to give feedback. What I have to say isn't necessarily understood by my students, because it might be addressing things they've never heard of or been taught. What they want feedback on seems irrelevant to me a lot of times. I drew a poster the other day, illustrating Bloom's Taxonomy and higher order thinking, to show that most of the assessment here only touches the "remember" level. The other tutors that watched me draw it could only comment on how straight my lines were, how neat my handwriting is, and how I must teach students to draw posters like this, so that they can become good teachers. Hmm.

Primary students greeting me on my observations 

Other things: My garden is somehow... there. I planted American sweet corn, zucchini, cantaloupes, lettuce, spinach, hot peppers, and watermelon. I feel like the dad in Poisonwood Bible who plants all these American things and doesn't understand why they're not all fourishing. I don't know if it's a lack of sunshine (there's a giant papaya tree in the middle which shades it all) or just that my seeds have no idea what to do in Ugandan soil, or that I have never gardened anything in my life, but I'm somewhat flummoxed by the lack of progress. I have a toad named Trevor who comes in my house almost daily. I'm not sure what his deal is, but he seems totally devoted to me and has taken to hiding in my dirty laundry. Gross. No matter how forcefully I sweep him out every evening, he always comes back for more. Rachel has convinced me that tossing him down the pit latrine would be cruel and heartless, so for now I just chase him out and yell at him. A stray dog also took up part time residence in my yard for a few weeks, but she has moved on to other homes, I think, as she doesn't come around as much recently. I'm fine with that as I really don't want a dog here. It was kind of nice having an animal to talk to, but she didn't really talk back (anyone who has a dog knows that, yes, they do talk back, in their own way. Eye contact, facial expressions, tail wags, interest in your movements, etc. She obviously wasn't that attached to me.) I've submitted my application for vacation leave to Peace Corps and am waiting to hear back so I can finally buy my plane ticket :D I'll be home sometime near the end of April through the middle of May, so everyone needs to start making plans to hang out with me! I'm excited beyond excited and counting down the days! (Odd, since I wasn't even planning on coming back to the states during my service.) It's almost the middle of October and the weather feels the EXACT same as it did when I arrived in Lira back in April, and the same as when I arrived in Uganda in February. The lack of change makes it feel like time isn't passing, so it's alarming (in a good way) to cross off months in my calendar and realize that things are moving along.

I have to check to make sure I don't squish him when I go running

Sad but totally true story: For my birthday back in July, my family (mom, brother, sister-in-law, and two adorable nephews) sent me the most glorious birthday box ever complete with preppy potholders, dark french roast coffee, and s'mores ingredients to act as a birthday cake. I hoarded the s'mores ingredients, knowing I was going on a camping trip and wanting to savor them around a campfire with my PCV friends. I thought it would be more enjoyable that way than me, alone, over my gas stove's flame. I trekked all over the country with a bag of the heaviest chocolate bars ever (how do you do it, Trader Joe? I'm impressed) marshmallows, a box of graham crackers, and a blueberry cliff bar. Every time I picked up my heavy as all get out backpack, I'd complain to whoever would listen that all I wanted to do was camp so that I could eat the food and not have to carry it around anymore. Well, the time finally came to set up camp. We pitched the tent and unloaded some crap, including a bottle of rum, sleeping bags, a the bag of goodies. We dragged the rest of the stuff up to the lodge and then came back to light a fire. The bag of candy and goodness was gone. Yes, gone. The bottle of rum was still there, along with the sleeping bags and thank GOD my stuffed elephant, too. We are pretty sure that vicious, cruel children stole it, given that they left the alcohol. I swore a lot, double and triple checked all of our bags, and then bitched incessantly for three days. To all my friends who were with me that weekend, Jacque, Stella, Rachel, Mike, and Chen, I apologize for not being able to get over it. I know that it was just s'mores, but I was REALLY bummed, and I still am. I hope those kids got the worst stomach ache of their lives after eating my delicious birthday s'mores. The End.

(I promise to be better about updating!)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

we are who we are

IST is somehow winding down, and we are getting ready to move on to the next phase of this fantastic vacation on Saturday morning. It has been a little hilarious reconnecting with all of my PC friends, most of whom I had not seen in four months. A large chunk of the girls have some version of the same bracelets, shoes, and purses that we've bought at various markets around the country. Our bracelets are braided leather with seed beads sewn in, our shoes are flat flip-flops with amazing beaded designs across the top of the foot, and our purses are all beautifully colorful cloth hobo bags. We wear scarves and look like peace corps volunteers. It's nothing short of fantastic. All four things I want to buy for everyone I know back home, they're so much fun. We have the same Ugandan phrases that we've picked up, partly from living in the culture and actually picking them up, and partly because we find them funny and are being ironic. We joke about getting back to America and having no one understand that when we say "mzungu, how are you?" in an obnoxious nasally voice, it's actually in the top five funniest phrases ever. I'm so thankful for these people :D

In rebellion of our accommodations, we've been walking and taxiing to delicious restaurants in the surrounding communities. We've had legit pad thai, some sort of heavenly pasta bake, pizza, calzones, burgers with fried eggs on them, a buffet that literally brought tears to some peoples' eyes, red wine, tiramisu, and key lime pie. My bank account is not happy with me.

The actual training has been interesting. All of our counterparts are here, so a lot of what we are talking about is how we're dealing with the differences between our cultures. We have addressed being called "mzungu" when walking around (which I don't think most Ugandans will ever understand why it bothers us), corporal punishment, and who is to blame for HIV transmission in the case studies we're reading (the wife who handed her salary over to her husband who then went and got drunk and slept with prostitutes? apparently yes, she is to blame for not being more responsible with her money... and then obviously the woman who had a drink with a guy, she's definitely to blame.*) Josh and I coordinated the session today on Women and HIV that sparked one of the more heated discussions we've had so far. Several people came up to us afterward and told us how much they appreciated the frank discussion on such a sensitive topic. It's a hard reminder of what we're facing when the honest opinions of our Ugandan friends are shared. That condoms have never been used, that women are to blame for rape if they drink alcohol, that godlessness within a marriage is the main cause of domestic abuse.

*note the sarcasm.

Friday, August 19, 2011

next purchase: hiking shoes

Still here, going strong. Myself and the other 43 volunteers in my group are currently stewing in annoyance at the venue for our In Service Training (from hereon out known as IST). Three months into service (four for us, to coincide with the break in school terms), PC Uganda holds this training to reconnect, process what we've done at site, and figure out where to go from here. Traditionally, it's held at a nice hotel outside Kampala to give us a little tiny bit of luxury in our otherwise grimy and besmirched lives. However, our group is staying at the same place we stayed at for PST; we live dorm style, eat food that keeps us from starving, and have no access to a pool. The hotel we had been originally promised had self-contained rooms, bread pudding, and tile floors. Needless to say, we were all a bit crestfallen when we received the text confirming that the venue had been changed. I need to stop complaining though, because there is hot water (sometimes) and monkeys that roam around and try to steal our food, which is entertaining if nothing else.

True story: last weekend I climbed a volcano and ended up in Rwanda. I traveled down through Mbarara and stayed with Jen a night, and then we made our way down to Kisoro with a decently sized gathering of our training group. We argued with a couple different conductors in the bus park, trying to get a fair price all the way to Kisoro, where a van from the hostel had agreed to pick us up.

Annoyed at a pitstop

We had to make a pit-stop in Kabale (get a map) to "grease the brakes" (warning sign #1). The road from Kabale to Kisoro is all through the mountains and absolutely breathtaking, and about half of it is still under construction.

Beginning of a seriously treacherous road, Sabinyo is the third mountain you can see 

 At one point we all smelled something burning so the driver stopped to check the brakes and saw they were smoking (warning sign #2). In the typical "it's ok, we go" fashion that I've become so accustomed to (but still find hilarious) we continued on our way until we came to a small trading center where we stopped again and the guy sitting next to me blurted out "Oh my god, the wheel is on fire!" and we all skittered to get out of the flaming matatu (final warning sign). Some of the locals who were standing around threw sand and mud on the wheel to put it out, but obviously we refused to get back in to continue down the mountain.

Flaming brakes

 We payed the driver for taking us, though not the full fare since we didn't actually make it all the way to Kisoro and had been in danger of being burned to a crisp. It was a slightly terrifying three minutes as he tried to rally the crowd against us in protest of our reasoning. We got it solved and no punches were thrown (thank GOD.. I was more scared of that than I was the flaming vehicle I'd just been sitting in.) The Ugandans standing around started shamlessly requesting money from us for helping put out the fire and keeping us company (seriously?). I have so many fewer qualms about flatly refusing these requests and calling someone out on their manners than I did six months ago and firmly told them to go to hell. Josh called the hostel and had them drive up the mountain to pick us up as our matatu went speeding off into the darkness. I have no idea how far they made it with burnt, mud filled brake pads, but we didn't see any evidence of a wreck on our way back a few days later.

Kisoro was freezing. We arrived suuuuper late at night after having been traveling for a good 45 hours or so (I left Lira at midnight on Thursday night, and this was now near midnight on Saturday night). There was a fireplace in the lodge and I felt like we were on a ski trip rather than a hiking one. We quickly ate what had been prepared for us and then settled down into our huts for a cold, brief night's sleep.

We woke up early and I tried to figure out exactly what to take on an 8 hour hike up a volcano that had been described as nothing less than gnarly by two incredibly athletic PCVs. These are the things that made the cut: a liter of water, little camera, big camera, two Clif bars, headlamp, steripen, roll of TP, change of socks, PC ID (to get the East African Resident park discount), a packed lunch, and a ziplock bag. Of these things, this is what would make it if I do the hike again: small camera, water, Clif Bars, maybe the socks.

Hiking to the base of the mountain took like 3 hours

 I got some amazing pictures, but the giant camera was definitely too cumbersome to bring again. I did an awful job packing for these three plus weeks away from site and didn't bring my camera cords, so you'll have to wait to see pictures (but since the internet is so slow here, you'd have to wait anyway, so whatever.) The hike was gorgeous but difficult and I only made it to the first of three peaks, but still, I climbed a really big, 12,037 foot high mountain and I'm super pumped about that fact. Next time I'll have to be faster because there's no way I could have made it to the third and then back to the base before dark. The first and second peak straddle Rwanda and Uganda, the third wedges the DRC in there somehow. We sat and laughed and looked at the nonexistent view from inside a cloud and took the requisite "look I'm in two countries at the SAME TIME" pictures. There were some ridiculously precarious Ugandan ladders (read: tree trunks nailed together) leading our way up the ridge, and they were only more daunting when we had to descend them backwards in the rain. We stayed on the peak until it started thundering and lightning and we realized that we were indeed on the highest point around, so it wasn't smart to stay. The guards (yes we had guards, with guns.) were convinced that we'd be fine and wanted us to wait for the rest of our group to come back from the third peak, but we ignored such requests and started making our way down. It was terrifying, but a fun quote I read recently succinctly states that if you want to lead an interesting life, you should be prepared to spend half of it terrified, or something to that effect. The hike down took what felt like a miserable 7 hours (but was actually only a miserable 4), mostly because we kept having to stop in the freezing cold rain to wait for everyone. The guards told us that sometimes elephants or buffalo come out onto the trail in the evenings (oh how I wanted to see an elephant!) We made it back, soaked and worn out and sat again by the fire, drinking Nile beer. Life is good and my only regret is that I put off ordering a new rain jacket until last month and it hasn't arrived yet. That would have been nice. These will be my next purchase as I have now cemented in my mind that hiking up mountains is something I'd like to continue.

Seriously steep!

View of the second of three peaks from the first (where I crapped out)

The next three days were spent making our way slowly up to Lweza for IST. Nothing was dry for several days and it sucked having to pack up wet things and tote them all over the country, but whatever. We ate some amazing food and slept in an amazing hotel along the way, completely spoiling ourselves, knowing full well what our accommodation would be for the next two weeks. Jacque, Stella, Leah, and I are all sequestered in a dorm on the other side of the compound, away from the ruckus and fraternization that is going on in the big dorm, but we're moving tomorrow or the next day, so maybe we won't be so antisocial anymore. We walked up to the mall (yes, mall) today and got pizza and ice cream, and are going back tomorrow to get burgers because I found one with bacon and fried egg on it. I also ate macaroni and cheese pancakes at my hole-in-the-wall-Italian-place that I visit when traveling. There is a culinary genius somewhere out there who obviously sends me his love.

In catch-up news, I went to a malaria training, finished my first term of teaching in a Ugandan college, turned 28, painted my nails four times because people love me and sent me amazing packages, decided one of my goals here is to become a phenomenal packer, graded appallingly maddening exams, and got more than one glimpse of the incredibly brave and capable person I am, that this experience is slowly but surely revealing.

I miss and love you all, but it feels like time is finally starting to pick up and move more quickly. I've been here six months already, and it kind of feels like nothing most of the time, so I'm much less concerned about getting through than I was a few months ago. It's a test of my patience sometimes, exhausting and frustrating others, but mostly it's amazing and I have to pinch myself to see if it's real and then congratulate myself when I realize it is, and I'm living it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Balancing & Vices

Two entries in two days? What the what? Truth is I wanted to write about all of this, but it didn't seem like the various topics went together, so I split them up. Internet was crap last night so I decided to wait. Either way, here is another entry for your reading pleasure.

I have been finding it very difficult lately to balance certain aspects of my service here, namely being able to eat my own cooking and not offending Ugandans by doing so. This has felt lately like it translates into a bigger issue of not being sure how much of my American-ness to insist on holding on to and how much to let go of. I will start by saying that Northern Ugandans are some of the most welcoming, kind, and happy people I have met before. They have made me feel at home since arriving here and seem to genuinely care about me, which I don't doubt at all, but I also don't want to take it for granted. They can also be pushy and have little tact about certain things. I will go on to say that I don't prefer Ugandan food to, say, my own cooking. During homestay I was pretty miserable on the food front and merely picked at what was in front of me (if you know me, you know that picking at food is a completely alien action). I was so excited to cook for myself again when I got to site. I tried out a lot of the recipes in the cookbook, I posted pictures of my creations on facebook, I even gave recipes to my family and friends back home, urging them to try out what I'm making. It was the best thing ever, except that to not eat at the college every day is somewhat of a sin. My college is not wealthy, I've come to find out, comparing it with other institutions I've visited and hearing the stories of my friends' schools. The school is even closing two weeks early because we can't afford to feed the students anymore. There is only one dish ever prepared and served; posho and beans. Posho is maize flour mixed with boiling water and can best be described as a dry, dense version of grits. It's much smoother in texture than grits, but unfortunately has no butter, cheese, salt, or pepper mixed in. The beans are simply boiled. I have eaten at the college several times, but usually prefer to duck out and eat left overs or something at my own house. This has drawn attention and "playful teasing" in the form of telling me I'm not Ugandan enough, that I need to learn to love the food since I'll be staying forever, and that I need to understand the reason for the limited diet is the poverty level of the country. (Although I feel like some pretty poor places in the world have come up with some amazing culinary creations.) I know that I'm supposed to be integrating into the community and sharing culture, and I had a discussion about it with my principal the other day. It was very informal; he's my neighbor and we were standing in our yards. I told him that I had tried almost all the Ugandan foods I'd ever heard of, even the white ants that were brought to me. I told him that I had not refused to try anything since I've been here, and that I thought I was pretty brave to begin with, moving 8,000 miles away from my family to live in a completely foreign culture simply to try to help and learn, something almost none of my friends back home would do. He told me it wasn't enough, that trying foods wasn't enough, that I had to love them, and that when I don't eat their lunch they are sad. I asked if he'd ever tried something he didn't like, and he just laughed and asked what kinds of foods we had in America that he wouldn't like (they call all of our foods "snacks" by the way, we don't eat real food). I tried to come up with the scariest, weirdest things I could think of to make my point: lobsters, crawfish, oysters on the half shell, ceviche, sushi, tofu, seaweed salad. Not having ever seen any of these, none of this even made sense to him, let alone got through to him. I get frustrated that it's so easy to criticize me and my culture when they are here at home, and the phrase "don't judge someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes" is completely lost on them. I have tried to offer food to people here, things I cook that I want to share. They just look at it and laugh and tell me I eat only snacks, and that I should eat their food. I'm trying to figure out how much I should give in and how much I should be like "this is something that's important to me, let me eat my goddamn spaghetti, will you?" It seems stupid to be this concerned about food, and that I should just give up, but for some reason it's bugging me.

Secondly, vices. I have developed three of them: reading, cleaning, and planning trips. I guess all three of those things were present in my "real life" just not to the extent that they are here. Cleaning is actually super necessary because bugs will move in and take over if I don't sweep (including all the corners and up the backs of doors) on an at least daily basis, mop the whole house weekly, and never leave dishes out overnight. Spindly spiders, little robotic jumping spiders, and ones that look like they are straight out of Arachnophobia. I swear a producer of that movie was like, "Oh hey, I've been to Uganda, and they have some creepy ass looking spiders hanging out up in the north. They're little, so they seem like they'd be harmless, but man do they give me the willies." I actually had a little jumping spider living in my room for a while, mostly up on the ceiling. I watched him attack a fly one afternoon, and then found the dried up corpse on the floor later that evening. Since he was earning his keep, I left him alone. Somehow sadly, when I returned from my weekend in Gulu he was gone. His much bigger cousin stopped by the other day, but was gigantic and much too close to my bath towel hanging on the wall, so he got the boot. Or more accurately, the flip-flop. Also in my menagerie are flies of all shapes and sizes, bees the size of a baby's fist, wasps that come in to explore my house, centipedes as thick as a finger and eight inches long, praying mantises - both minute and enormous, the tiniest gd gnats that can fall through mosquito net weave, and mosquitoes ranging from Florida sized to looking like they flew out of Jumanji. Geckos live in my house too, and other than occasionally startling me if one jumps out from behind a curtain, I really don't mind their presence, because they eat the bugs, and are cuter than them too, even though they poop everywhere.

I have read 43 books so far, in under 6 months. Whoa. Granted two of them were Harry Potter and eight were A Series of Unfortunate Events, but that is still a lot. I swear every other conversation somehow relates to something I've read and I am starting to feel like an ass hat being like, "Oh yea, that's somehow related to something I read!" I'm like Hermione, sheesh. If anyone wants to send me Harlan Coben books, The Survival of the Sickest, or anything else you've enjoyed, I'll love you forever! (Shameless plug: also, see my wish list for other, fun, package ideas! I heart mail!)

I heart planning trips. Danielle and I used to sit around our apartment with Expedia pages open on our computers, trying to figure out where to go. We looked at London a million times, Italy, the Caribbean, but we never went anywhere except to visit our families. Now that I'm over here and am a stone's throw from crazy ass places like Rwanda and Zanzibar, and am in the company of people who are excited about traveling too, we're planning trips that are so totally going to happen. Climbing Mt. Sabinya, for instance, in a few weeks (the mountain that straddles the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda), and hiking Mt. Elgon a few weeks after that. I love looking forward to things in general, and looking forward to these small milestones instead of that looming "21" on my wall (as in, 21 months till I'm done) makes this experience much more doable and enjoyable.

Friday, July 22, 2011

what do you bring to Africa?

There are a number of things that I packed and lugged all the way over here that were a waste of space and energy. I knew that when I was packing and lugging them over here, I just didn't know which of the million things I brought would be useless. Now that I've been in country for almost six months (what?!) I feel like I have better sorted out what is amazing and what is crap.

Ballet Flats? Crap. I only ever wear my rainbow flip-flops. PC says we're supposed to wear nice shoes, look smart, yada yada, yada... the reality is that my rainbows are as nice and smart as most of the shoes I've seen. The ballet flats aren't even out among the shoes I rotate through - rainbows, second pair of rainbows, running shoes, shower shoes, chacos (which I haven't worn since training), they're neatly packed in my bottom drawer. I feel like constantly stooping to empty sand and rocks from my sweaty ballet flats would be silly, and so they will stay packed until I either give in and give them away to a Ugandan (which I hate the thought of because it perpetuates the idea that white people are here to give things away), throw them in the free box for another volunteer to get excited about only to realize they're useless in Africa, or throw them in the duffle bag I'll be bringing home and leaving there next spring.

Standard sized pillow? Fabulous. I put it in a vacuum sealed bag and shrunk it down to lay flat in the bottom of my suitcase. I love it. Peace Corps gave us a decent pillow when we went to homestay, but it's not quite the same as having my pillow from home. It's also super helpful when I have people stay with me, and having two pillows on a bed is just more homey, and we all know that's really what PC is all about. (No, for real. A homey home will keep you sane.)

Beer Koozie? Useless. While I used my beer koozie all the time in the states, to the point where I just kept it in my purse, it has proven to be a pointless addition to my packing list. The beers here are 500mL where the ones in the states are 333mL, so it wouldn't fit even if I wanted to use it, which I don't, because 90% of the beer here is served at room temperature and doesn't need to be wrapped in neoprene. Not to mention the fact that I never drink here except once in a blue moon.

Pushpins? Mildly useful. All of the buildings here are are built of bricks with a covering of cement to make them look smooth and smart. Because of this fun construction fact, pins are a non-option for hanging things on the wall. I did, however, use them to decorate, tacking some cloth to some ugly, unfinished wooden panels on a cabinet. Had I not had them I could have used glue or something else, though.

Duct Tape? omg omg omg I should have brought 5 more rolls. I love it. Things I have done with duct tape: hang every single card, letter, envelope, and box front I receive on the wall in my bedroom, hang every single picture I brought in my sitting room, make funnels to stick in cut-open water bottles to trap fruit flies, cover the wall where I'm going to put a nail so the cement doesn't crumble (it took me a few tries to figure this out), tape closed my bucket when I was moving so the contents wouldn't spill out, label cords so I know which solar lamp goes with which plug, fix a pair of cheap sandals, label tupperware, etc.

Northface Rain Jacket? Ugh. This is a love/hate thing, because apparently Northface rain jackets' lining deteriorates after a few years and they become no better at keeping rain off than a tee-shirt. My jacket is now eight years old and well past its prime. It's especially awesome that the neck was the first place to go, so on the two occasions I've worn it, my neck has gotten soaked. I can't bring myself to throw it away though considering how expensive it was and how wasteful it feels to throw things away here. I should have done a better job appraising it before leaving and just bought a new one then.

Planner? Have you met me? I'm a bit anal about things, somewhat stubborn, like to organize, and am a visual learner. I always get the same planner several years in a row and get genuinely annoyed if the company discontinues it or changes it somehow. I brought one with me mostly as a comfort thing, but I use it all the time here. As disorganized as the school system (and every other system) here can be, it would drive me nuts not to have some sort of calm center where I keep track of meetings that are supposedly taking place, lessons I'm most likely not teaching anyway, trips I'm planning, and, most importantly, when I'm getting together with fellow PVCs. I also use it to make sure I'm both on track with my malaria meds and bathing often enough. When it comes down to it, I know myself very well and am glad I listened to that voice that said "you're going to want a planner." Jacque is picking me up a 2012 version when she's stateside this winter.

Awesomely bad 20 degree rated sleeping bag? I live like 2 degrees north of the equator, I knew this before coming here. What was I thinking? Yes, it does get chilly here, and yes I sleep under a blanket, but the whole sleeping bag thing could have been done a lot less intensely. I could have gone with a 60 degree bag that would take up less room and be way more useful. I brought a sleeping bag to take with me when I visit other volunteers (which is hilarious by because we all just pile in a bed 3 or 4 deep) but usually leave it at home since it's so impractical here. I am planning a camping trip on Mt. Elgon next month though, so hopefully it'll be a little colder there and I won't feel so stupid.

Measuring cups? Love mine. Bright orange kitchen aide ones. I probably could have found them somewhere in country, but I would have put it off and estimated shit for a few months and then eventually bought some when and if I thought of it. Bringing my own I was able to measure accurately from day one and have not thought twice about trying to find some or lamenting that my tortillas just don't come out quite right. I do, however, need some measuring spoons (if anyone could get orange kitchen aide ones, that would be awesome. I like to match.)

Friday, July 8, 2011


The paradox of being in Peace Corps is that it feels like nothing ever happens when in fact, many things happen. Many things that you would probably be amused to read about, that I have to remind myself are maybe worth writing down. There is a saying about PC that goes "the days go really slowly, but the weeks go fast" and I've found that to be pretty true. Days can drag on here and by 6 pm I'm thankful that I can finish cleaning up for the day and go to bed and read. (It's kind of funny that I'm over here in Africa having this crazy adventure and I go to bed at 7:30 or 8 most nights.) But somehow it's already Friday when my friend Jen was just here on Monday. I don't know where the week went.

Since I have been a crappy blog writer for the past few weeks, I'll have to search my memory and try to recap what went on. The Health Center, Budgeting, Missing People, The RPCV, The Ugandan Club/Town View Guest House, Students Return, Remedial Lessons, Gulu, EuroBash2K13, Stars, etc.

The Health Center: Since my college was closed for about two weeks due to budgetary issues, I went by the dispensary that is run by the church to see if there was anything there I could help with. "You can come give health talks" the nurse (?) told me, "We have antenatal sessions on Tuesday and Thursday, and give immunizations on Wednesdays. You come around 10." Whatever will I talk about? I asked. "Oh, simple things, like preparing for the baby to arrive, antenatal nutrition, breastfeeding, HIV/Aids, malaria, that kind of thing." Lovely. I returned a few days later and sat around for about three hours while women got their pulse, BP and other things taken. Finally the head nurse (who I later found out was newer in this village than I am, and just likes to be in charge of things) asked me to give my talks. I sheepishly asked if I could just assist and supplement since I wasn't exactly sure on the way they did things, it being my first time and all. She said that was fine and then asked what I'd prepared. "No, I want to just help out today, I haven't prepared anything." She asked if I could talk about HIV and I said sure, so she went on for about 10 minutes in Lango and then asked if I had anything to add. I had to stifle my laughter because other than picking out numbers I understood, the word condom, and ARV, I wasn't sure what was said at all and would have a hard time adding on to it. I kind of gave a little talk on how HIV attacks the body's immune system, how it's spread, and ways to prevent it, although I could have been repeating exactly what was already said, I don't know. She translated for me, and it occurred to me that I really don't want to be sued for malpractice due to mistranslation here, but I'm not sure Ugandans are as lawsuit crazy as Americans are. I told them I wasn't comfortable telling women how to prepare for the coming of the baby since I haven't had one and things are way different in the states. We, for instance, don't tell women they need to shave their privates to avoid cutting baby's head with the pubic hair. (Do we? I've never had a kid, I don't know.) Sheesh. I went back the next day and sat while women came and got their children immunized and dewormed. I was fascinated by the nurses walking around, stepping over small bodies to give shots. What if one of them tripped? It seems like it might be safer if the needles stay in one place and the other people move around. This is not the place I'd want to be accidentally stabbed with a deworming shot. I haven't been back yet, but I have been reading my Life Skills and HIV books to get a better idea of how to approach community education sessions. I drew a pretty sweet poster representing HIV attacking the immune system and letting opportunistic infections do the dirty work. It may or may not include lions and elephants, my two favorite animals.

Totally legit explanation of how HIV works

Budgeting: I've started trying to do envelope budgeting here so I can save money to go on all our awesome trips that we have planned (rafting, climbing Mt. Elgon, Egypt, Gorilla trekking, and backpacking down to South Africa). It is kind of a pain in the ass though because the ATM gives me super huge bills (50,000/=) and no one here has change. Even trying to pay for something in my market here with a 5,000/= note would be looked at as ostentatious. Bah, guilt.

Missing People: Yep, that says it all. I received some awesome news though that two of my good friends got engaged and will be getting married during my time here. Though I wasn't planning on going home at all, I decided that I can't miss their wedding and will be making a visit back to the states sometime next spring. It'll be just about half way through my service, a long enough time on this side to where I'll fully appreciate it, and a short enough time afterward to where (hopefully) it'll breeze by once I'm back in country. Knowing that I'll get to see my dog, drive my car, and eat all my favorite foods made me feel so much better last night when I was making the decision. I know that I would have gotten to do all those things in two years anyway, but the fact that I get to have a little reprieve in about 10 months is like a weight off my shoulders.

The RPCV: From 1969 to 1971 a woman served in my village and taught at the school down the road from me. She met Idi Amin, tanned in a roofless hut, hitchhiked to Nairobi, wore short shorts, taught the future (current) woman president of parliament, and returned last week to hang out with me and tell me all her stories. I had been in touch with her via email and knew she was coming, so I offered to cook dinner and host her for the night. I made homemade pasta, and bought both a bottle of wine and real glasses so we wouldn't have to drink out of my nalgenes or toothbrush cup. We sat outside and used the place mats my mom made me. (I felt fancy.) It was so cool hearing all her stories and walking around the village with her as she pointed out buildings that hadn't been there before, her old house, and where the pyromaniac next door lived. Even more exciting is that she went to my university (Go Gators!) and has a house in NY not far from my dad's family, so I'm hoping to keep in touch with her over the long term. I can't imagine coming back here in 2051. Nuts.

The Ugandan Club/Town View: After 5 months in country, my friends and I finally ventured out to a night club. As most of my friends back home (Nora) will tell you, I'm not really one for clubs except once in a blue moon, so while I was excited to see everyone, the club part wasn't really drawing me in. After stopping off at two bars, one of which was a country club of sorts, we headed to Club 24/7 and were promptly stopped by security for having cameras. Seriously? is JT in there? Kanye? No. You're not getting my camera dude, you don't even have a legit coat check system going. Two of our friends had Ugandan guys with them, so they were safe from stares and grabbing of arms and the "you come" that is oh so annoying. The rest of us were not. The ratio of guys to girls in there was about 9:1, men were just standing around drinking, half dancing badly to bad music.... we lasted about an hour before we had to call it quits and be able to say "yes, we went to a Ugandan club, no we probably won't again." I got a rolex on my way out, because late night street food is always a good idea (or so I thought.)
We had gotten a room in town for the night so we wouldn't have to hope for transport back to Boroboro super late. The room cost 16,000/= (about $6) and it's true that you get what you pay for. Three of us shared the bed (sleeping sideways with our feet hanging out, tons of mosquitoes bites.) It was stifling hot and I woke up the next morning feeling like crap. The rooms are all dorm style so everyone in the hotel shares two bathrooms that are at opposite ends of the hall. Getting sick in public bathrooms is not my favorite thing to do, not by far, but it's happened before and I guess it will happen again if I continue to eat street food in Africa. I avoided breakfast and was pretty useless the rest of the morning as we walked around and eventually made it over to Sankofa. Nikki and I went back home earlier than the others left, and the walk from Nikki's house to mine was brutal. I slept the whole afternoon, laid around in the evening, went back to bed at 8, and slept all night. Monday I felt much better.

Before the barf-o-rama. Rach, Nik, Me, Jac, Stella was in the front seat. 

The Students Return: My college is now open again, with about half the students and half the staff reporting back the first week. I've been teaching more consistently than I had been before the break, which is nice, but the college is closing early so I really only have about 3 weeks left. I teach the first lesson most mornings and my students are always about 20 minutes late because they saunter back to the dorms after the assembly to get their things. I got mad yesterday and told them to bring their books to the assembly next time. I also get annoyed with no one answers questions or follows directions, but then feel stupid when they offer "madame, we have not picked you," which means "we can't understand your American accent and you talk too fast." I hate feeling like I'm belittling them by putting on a fake Ugandan accent, and I hate when they imitate me in a high squeaky voice, so I just try to talk slowly in my normal voice but apparently they don't "pick" me well enough. Ugh. I have decided that I'm just going to be as ridiculous as possible and not take myself seriously at all, and maybe something I do will stick in their heads. They laugh at me anyway, I may as well be in on the joke.

Remedial Lessons: I'm not sure where this came from; if it's because we missed time being closed, or if the IRC always does this, or maybe a combination of the two, but I'm teaching seven days a week now. People from the International Rescue Committee came and talked to the staff about remedial lessons to increase girls' education and retention in school (our college is like 70:30 men, and sidenote: it bugs me when they say "the girl child," just say girls, we're not a specimen). There was a lot of talk about getting money for buildings and paying for lessons since we're working on the weekends. I think it was finally decided that tutors should be paid 5000/= per lesson. That is $2. The thing that gets me is that there's no sort of curriculum presented by this organization that is supposed to help the students, we're just supposed to teach on the weekends exactly what we'd be teaching during the week. The feeling like I'm not 100% sure what's going on has continued...

Gulu: About two hours to the north is a town called Gulu. It is pretty well known for being one of the main places that was so badly devastated by the LRA. The IDP camps have almost completely been taken apart, but remnants remain and are a reminder that things weren't so great not so long ago. A group of us traveled up there last weekend to visit, hang out, and generally get away from site (I hadn't been away since the service project in the southwest a month ago). I love getting to know the volunteers from groups other than ours, the year-ins and year-and-a-half-ins. We stayed in a pretty nice hotel and layed out by a pool for the first time in forever. We ate super yummy food and shopped in the market for things like football jerseys (I have to figure out who I support) sandals, and running shorts. I tried Ethiopian food for the first time, and Indian food for the second, both of which are now in my top favorite food-genres. I drank a coffee milkshake for breakfast and walked around barefoot after the sandals I bought in the market broke. It was an amazing time.

Street in Gulu seen from our balcony

Ethipoian food! 

Eurobash2K13: Completely ignoring every "live in the moment" quote I have ever read, I planned my post COS trip last week. Bored one Monday afternoon (after recovering from what was surely food poisoning), I looked at the map on my wall and listed out countries that would take me around the continent of Europe in a somewhat organized fashion. What I came up with was the most awesome trip anyone has ever planned (not that I'm not on one now, or won't go on several while I'm here...). Starting in Morocco, we're going to Spain, Portugal, back into Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, back into Germany, Denmark, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, back into France, the UK, and Ireland. So ridiculous, the 18 year old me would be peeing her pants at the thought of this trip, but she'd also be perturbed that it took this long to do it.

Stars: I walked up to my college the other night at about 10:30, way later than I have ever walked around my village before. The power was out, and it had rained earlier, but the sky was clearing and on my way home I saw more stars in one little patch of sky than I have seen in any open area I've stood in before. The lack of light pollution here is incredible.

Milky way seen from my yard

Holy super long update! I've got to start my laundry (because I have an American sized load to do, which will take a million liters of water and several hours, blah) and the power just went out so I don't want to waste my battery. Thank you to everyone who has sent me packages recently, the apple oatmeal is amazing and I'm trying to hoard it and enjoy it at the same time, which isn't working (so keep it coming :D)

Miss and love all of you!!!! <3

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Reading Culture

Warning: I toot my own horn a few times in this entry. It's not serious, well, not totally.

I'm not quite sure where June is escaping to, but the countdown on my wall (yes I made a countdown. So did Jacque, don't judge us.) is about to be flipped over to 22. As in 22 months left. As in still quite a significant chunk of time, but one that is continuing to roll by. The new group of trainees arrives on August 5th, and my group will be known as "the six month group". I would love to be there when they get off the plane and see exactly how far I've come since I've been here. It tickles me when they get in touch with us via facebook or email asking for advice, as if I know what I'm doing over here yet. Ha. I was wondering the other day if I've changed enough to where it would be noticeable if I went home now. Bernadette said she had trouble remembering how to drive when she visited, and while that sounds funny, sitting on the left side of the car and passing on the right doesn't seem so terrifying anymore. Nor does leaving food out overnight and enjoying it for lunch the next day. I will certainly never take things like fountain soda, sinks, or vacuums with hose attachments for granted again. Not the things I'd initially thought I'd miss, but I do. Like whoa.

In actual Peace-Corps-what-I've-been-up-to news, not a whole lot. I taught for a couple of weeks, lessons here and there as the timetable got ironed out and beginning of term whatnots got completed. Then my school closed. All of the schools actually, all the PTCs in Uganda, due to budget issues and lack of funds to keep them open. According to my principal and the ministry the money will be found shortly and we'll reopen in a week or so. I'm headed over to the primary school tomorrow to see if they need any extra hands or help with clubs. The feelings of not knowing what's going on, like I'm not doing anything useful, and like there is an incredibly large amount of waiting for little things to happen have all gotten way more familiar, though not altogether less frustrating. I traveled down past the equator with a bunch of other PCVs to teach life skills and paint murals at a school. I helped out with a lecture on HIV/AIDS and was honestly surprised at how much of my own knowledge I'd taken for granted. We received all sorts of questions related to the transmission of the disease, what actually constitutes losing one's virginity, rape, and even some about homosexuality. Given this culture, that last one surprised me, but I was proud that someone had the courage to ask, so I mustered up the courage to answer it publicly and honestly.

I was posted to my school to teach mathematics, I think because in training that's the only subject in which I was observed teaching. According to the timetable (when the school is open) I teach four classes of math a week - two to year one and two to year two. The head of the English department asked if I'd take over some of the English classes and I said sure, after which she thanked me and said "We have a problem in Uganda, our problem is English." I thought about this for a while and then had a little epiphany, as only a girl who is as bright and learned as I could have; Uganda is not a reading culture. People here do not read before they go to bed, when they are on transport, when they are done working on a test in school. Parents don't read to their kids before putting them to bed, nor to themselves afterwards. No one ever references something they read in a book when speaking to others. I have only seen one Ugandan one time reading for pleasure. The culture here is more geared towards oral traditions - storytelling, singing, talking to one another (and usually not in English). It's all about togetherness, and I've actually been told "You must be so lonely just reading by yourself like that!" Yet, English is the language they teach in after P3, it is the language business is conducted in, and it is the language everyone is expected to master. In the states, being "well read" is assumed of anyone who has a good vocabulary or is a decent writer, there is an entire program in schools called Drop Everything And Read. I have just found the missing link in Uganda's education system (applause, applause, thank you, little bow.) *That was me being facetious.

I have no idea how accurate my ideas about this are, but it makes sense, doesn't it? That in order to be good at something, one should possibly be exposed to decent, even great examples of it, in different contexts, repeatedly? And then be required to think and produce their own examples of it? I haven't seen the whole curriculum for English yet, but I know that in the PTC I'm teaching parts of sentences. To adults. Who completed primary and the first half of secondary school. I would bet my whole next paycheck (don't get too excited, it's not that big) that literary devices and elements of style are never even introduced, let alone explored to any sort of depth. I would also venture to guess that resume, report, and grant writing are never touched either. I poked around in the library on Wednesday, just to see what they had in terms of novels or anything other than textbooks and was pleasantly surprised to see four whole shelves of titles such as The Republic, Madame Bovary, Crime and Punishment... wait, what?? There were some serious novels on those shelves, ones that I have never even gotten through, and I'm wicked smart. I really want to explore this, getting students to read more than just their notes that are copied from the board, but there's no way that Dostoyevsky is the place to start. As I'm obviously an amazing teacher, I know that books that relate to students lives are the ones that will capture their attention - seeing themselves in the story makes reading relevant. How the eff is European/Russian/Greek literature relevant to Ugandan students who lived their first half of their lives in war camps. Maybe some day if they go for a masters or something in literature, but not now, not when they don't even read to begin with. On the one hand I'm kind of stoked that I've identified something to start working on other than just the classes I've been assigned to teach, but on the other it's something I know is totally huge and possibly unattainable for one volunteer to do during her time here.

I'm done thinking about this for today, I'm off to reread the first Harry Potter (not even kidding) and maybe eat a Luna bar or some oatmeal for dinner.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Grilled Cheesus. Or, Bacon is God's way of saying "I love you, Liz"

I don't really have anything specific to talk about, but I'm sitting in Sankofa Cafe with Jacque & Rachel using fast internet (hi Rachel's mom!), so I feel like I should take advantage of it and post something. Maybe even a picture or two. I just ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and tomatoes, and received my large chocolate milkshake that is made from real ice cream. Two little pieces of heaven. It's easy to forget where I am in the world when I'm here; it's our once or twice a month sanctuary. We're currently discussing supermarkets. Mmmmm Publix.

The mouse came back last night. I was sitting on my couch with my feet propped up looking through pictures of Florida on my computer when a mouse ran through my living room like it belonged there. It scurried under my desk/kitchen counter and squeaked good evening to me. I sat there, dumbfounded, for a second or two before deciding there was no way I'd be getting off my couch any time soon. Except I live in Africa and I have to be brave about things like mice and bugs and the occasional bat, so I mustered up some courage and was about to get up to throw a shoe or yell at it, or something else brave... when the power went out and I was plunged into darkness. The glow of my computer screen attracted all the flying things that had been fluttering around my lightbulb, and a moth smacked into my face three times before I screamed and decided to call it quits for the night. I closed everything up and stumbled into my room, under the safety of my mosquito net and called my mom, because I thought she'd find my tale amusing. Mouse: 2, Liz: 0.

I've taught a handful of times now, always to a crowd of faces more than 150 in number. I know I wrote about this already, but I find it unbelievably interesting (read: frustrating) that while the students know what constitutes good teaching methods, they refuse to participate in them when I, as the teacher, try to have them work in groups, share ideas, or anything else that would deviate from straight lecture. Actions speak louder than words, people.

The three other women I work with are becoming more and more like surrogate aunts or something who look out for me and I love it. They always ask about my house, say they need to come check it out to make sure it's up to their standards, tell me to call them if anyone is bothering me, and have recently decided that I'm to marry one of their sons and stay forever. (Wait, maybe I don't love that last part.) I tell them that I will miss my family too much, my dog, my friends. They just laugh and say I can have them all visit. True, but no, sorry ladies.

So no pictures, internet wasn't as fast as I thought, but the grilled cheese and the milkshake were delicious. Love & miss you.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

short story

Once upon a time, a girl who lived in Africa was talking on the phone with her friend when a huge storm blew in. She got up off the couch to shut her windows when she spotted a mouse shivering in the corner by the door. The mouse was tiny and would have, under any other circumstances, been considered adorable by the girl, who loved most animals. She shrieked and jumped up on the sofa and started laughing, scaring both the mouse and her friend on the phone. The mouse realized that shit was going down, so it ran back out under a crack in the door, in through which it had come, but it soon remembered that it was raining outside and had come into the house looking for a place to stay dry, and so it ran back in. The girl and mouse both freaked out for about 3 minutes, jumping and running around like idiots. Finally, the girl believed and hoped, the mouse left to find a quieter place to wait out the storm. "Out of sight, out of mind," she said to herself. Miraculously, even though she was on mefloquine, she had no scary dreams of mice running up and down her bed that night.

The next day she woke up and lazed around her house, and was just sitting down to eat breakfast when a bee flew in the open door, landed on her sofa next to her, and smushed itself down between the sofa cushions. "What the EFF," she exclaimed, and then proceeded to rip her sofa apart looking for the bee. It was not to be found and the girl was stymied. Later that morning, three women, who the girl had not seen before, showed up at her door and started requesting (in very broken English and very fast Lango) tea, food for eating, water and soap for bathing, a camera, and red puffy thing that she had hanging in her bathing room. This clued the girl into the fact that her privacy had been very much invaded and the strange foot prints on her bathing room floor did indeed mean that someone other than herself was using it. She made a mental note to keep it locked from then on, generously gave the women some of her collected rain water to wash their feet, but declined their requests for tea, food, and a camera.

The End.

Friday, May 27, 2011

gd kids

Friday evening has finally rolled around to close what was my first week as a tutor in a Ugandan college. Holy crap. I think I heard more excuses this week than I have in my entire life.

Monday was supposed to be registration. I asked what time things went down and what I needed to do, where I was needed to help out, etc. It was determined that only the tutors on duty would be registering the students, and they'd all show up sometime around "the afternoon." I showed up at 11. Only one TOD was registering, so I went and sat with her and made myself useful. The first years were supposed to bring 10,000/=, a hoe, a brush broom, and a ream of photocopy paper, the second years, 10,000/=, two brooms, a slasher (machete for cutting grass), six rolls of toilet paper, and a ream of lined paper. Most of them only came with one or two items so I couldn't "clear" them. The threat was that they wouldn't get their meal cards, but apparently those meal cards hadn't been printed and filled out yet, so they could eat for now. Tuesday, I was told, there would be a short staff meeting at 9, to discuss the schedule for the week. The students were all supposed to be in lessons and marking exams during that hour, but I was assured, "Oh it's ok, it will be short, 15 minutes at the most." (Can you hear me laughing?) Tuesday morning rolls around, I show up at 7:30 for an assembly and am one of two tutors there. More students come register, meal cards still aren't around so the threat of no food is still an empty one. The staff meeting begins at 11, which is after break tea, and at the start of the the next session of lessons/marking. It goes for an hour and a half. I have my first moment of interjecting my opinion, trying to conceal my frustration with what I see as a less than professional way of doing things. The question is what should be done about all the students who have not shown up yet (more than half) - should those exams be graded? Should the students who did show up for the term be given two or three, in some cases, exams to go through and grade? I give the opinion that students should not be given more than one paper to mark - that a) those who have not shown up shouldn't have their work done for them if they can't show up on time, and 2) it's not the students' responsibility to do OUR jobs and mark the exams in the first place, so why give extra work to the ones who showed up on time? Eventually it's decided that students will mark as many exams as they need to so that they all get done, because TIA and people are poor and probably couldn't afford transport to school. My counterpart spoke up after I did and agreed with me that it's our job, not the students', so that made me feel like I'd been heard, even if the decision taken was opposite what I'd said.

The rest of the day, as well as Wednesday, was spent sitting registering students who showed up late, or who had been too "stubborn" to come turn their materials in. I can't count the number of people who claimed not to have the money until I said they wouldn't eat without being cleared (the meal cards had shown up by then and were filled out by yours truly) and then miraculously produced a wad of bills from a pocket or purse. Thursday I registered in the morning and then at 11 went with the other math teachers to monitor the grading of exams. Students switched around papers and took out their red pens. The purpose of this was to teach them how to grade papers uniformly... The other tutors went through and actually taught how to do each of the 24 questions instead of just giving the answers (it took four hours). I realized, going through the test, how much of what I will be teaching is upper primary math - only one question dealt with methodology. Points were given for method and accuracy. If the method used was wrong or something was left out, no points were awarded at all, even if the answer was correct. There was a question about a number pattern, where each number is increased by the next even number (+2, +4, +6, +8, etc). A student raised her hand and asked what to do if the test-taker hadn't put the + sign next to the 2, 4, 6, 8, etc. Many people said that it should be marked wrong until someone brought up that a number by itself was usually assumed to be a positive number, so they agreed to mark it correct. Uniformity and accuracy was stressed about 5 times. I wanted to cry.

I taught finally this morning. Lecture hall with a dirt floor, no power, and 245 students aged 19-23 staring at me. I talked about myself, why I'm here, and a little about Peace Corps. I gave my expectations for them as students, and then asked for them to work in small groups to discuss their expectations of both me and our classes. They said they wanted passports and American contacts. Oh jeez. Then I introduced pre-math activities, identified by the 30 year old text book as describing, identifying, and sorting. No one had anything to add (though they can all tell you exactly what a learner centered classroom is, and why discussion and participation are good things...) I called a girl up to stand with me and talked about engaging students in discussing similarities and differences when describing things and people. A few hands were raised and noted that one similarity between the girl and I were that we both have breasts. Um, ok? A difference that was noted was that I'm fatter than she is. Thanks, you can sit down now. This is going to be interesting.

PS. OOOOOOHHHHH and my package from Molly finally arrived with the Kindle in it that my mom bought :D Totally made my entire month. I gorged myself on internet that night reloading all my books. LIG.

Fact: none of these things were actually in the package.

Happy girl!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Glad the world didn't end yesterday (no for real, i am)

Holy boring day. I'm trying to remember that school technically starts tomorrow and that today might be my last "slow" day for a while (but really, who am I kidding?). The market was closed today, and I think most of the dukas (small shops) were too, so I stayed home and hung out with myself. I am kind of out of food, so I ended up skipping breakfast and then making beans and rice with marinara sauce for lunch. I was super excited about it until I ate too much and realized that it wasn't that great after all (I don't have any Mexican spices, just Italian ones, so all the food I make is either bland or Italian flavored). Then I did dishes, watched the brood of chickens meander around the yard, and watched a movie. My neighbors must have gotten some more white ants last night because they were drying them in the yard today and the chickens found them. They gorged themselves for about five minutes before anyone but me noticed. I took a picture. Sorry.

Drying white ants (giant ground termites) They're fried and eaten whole, ground into powder and made into bread, or the powder is mixed with water or oil to use as a sauce. 

My plate of dried white ants. I didn't like the legs getting stuck in my teeth... 

Chickens gorging themselves

I had to laugh at myself this morning as I was picking through my "compost" pile looking for a rotten tomato and found a bean garden. Let me back up: I have fruit flies in my house. I keep my house pretty clean, as anyone who has lived with me can attest to, so I'm not sure where they are coming from. In America I'd automatically start looking for a bag of forgotten potatoes in the pantry, but as I have neither pantry nor potatoes here I'm stymied. Anyway, I googled "how to get rid of fruit flies" and found a design for a nifty looking contraption that consisted of a tall glass or something and a funnel. One puts some slightly overripe fruit or veggies in the glass, and the funnel on top. The flies fly down the funnel to the food, but are then too stupid to find their way back out. It worked wonders. I caught about a bajillion flies at my house and then twice that at Nikki's because we made two for her. I was fly free for about three days until they all came back yesterday. No clue why, still no potatoes hiding out. I remade the fly-catcher, and was in the process of finding some rotten food outside where I toss all my veggie peelings and such when I noticed that I have a veritable garden already started amongst my egg shells and avocado skins that I've tossed over the last month. I have no idea what else has started, as I can't recognize seedlings to save my life, but I know that some are beans. (Any kindergarten teacher will be able to recognize seedling beans) I glanced over at my cut water bottle "nursery" and laughed that I've been paying so much attention to them while my daily habit of tossing crap in the yard is putting my efforts to shame. The chickens that come around every day and nibble on things and undoubtedly shit while they do so are probably helping the matter. I guess I'll just see what happens. I'm not giving up my water bottle nursery though, it gives me something to do.

Beans in my compost area

magical fruit fly catcher! 

Friday, May 20, 2011

A month in

My time to spent settling in is winding down and I'm starting to prepare myself for teaching in a Ugandan Primary Teachers' College. I have been filling my time with small tasks such as procuring seeds from the vegetables I cook and then planting them in cut up water bottles I find strewn about the campus. I have eight started so far, four with tomatoes and four with green peppers. They're nothing to write home about yet (I guess technically that's what I'm doing right now, whatever) but I'm hopeful. I have a notoriously black thumb but I figure these two years are as good of a time as any to figure out subsistence farming (there's actually a lot of things I figure these two years are good for, sort of an all expenses paid getting-to-know-myself-and-what-I'm-capable-of retreat.) I've also made pasta and tortillas from scratch - time consuming but really fun, attempted to figure out an appropriate cooking time for dried black beans, perfected my rain collecting/dish washing routine (yes, they're related), made chocolate/PB no-bake cookies twice, developed an unforeseen appreciation for powdered milk (oh, hello again, coffee), and explored bugs and small creatures to an extent that I almost wish I'd taken entomology classes at university. I keep accidentally buying way too many vegetables. One of the standard units of measure here is a "pile" or a "measured heap", that consists of a set number of vegetables for a set price. Three onions for 100/= or four tomatoes for 200/=. I asked for "four" tomatoes the other day and ended up with 16. Four meant four piles, not one pile of four. I made some kick ass marinara sauce with them all.

Baby tomato plants

Staple foods: tortillas, rice, guac. 

homemade pasta :P

I walked up to the college yesterday to check out text books from the resource room. The students don't get text books, so it's up to the tutors (there's that word again, grr) to go through everything and then just do a really good job making notes and summarizing what's in the books. I'm starting out teaching "Pre-mathematical Concepts" and "Measurements". I'm positive that neither of these topics will take the entire term, but my counterpart assures me that once I finish up, I'll just be assigned something new. I checked out eight books with titles like "Primary Mathematics Today: Third Edition for the Age of the Calculator," published in 1982. In fact, no book is more recent than 1994. At least not much has changed in education since then? I mean, numbers are numbers, right? Here in Uganda, all teachers everywhere, in every single school, do their lesson plans the same way. There is a national standard for what lesson plans look like, and it was very much a hot topic of discussion at the workshop I attended last week. Apparently instead of "objectives" we're now supposed to use "competences". That caused some uproar, let me tell you. The organization and labeling of things here carries a lot of weight; appearance is of the utmost importance. I think it's somewhat left over from the British, and somewhat because appearance and organization is what is most easily fixed and the first thing noticed if there is a change. I have a lot more to say on this topic, but I'm not sure quite how to verbalize it all at the moment.

Sitting room

Miss & love you all.

(PS: I'm almost 100% sure I have a kitten on the way! Bernadette's cat is pregnant, or so google says, and as long as she has more than one kitten, I'll be getting one sometime in August or September - Rachel has first dibs. A bientot mice & excess geckos that poop everywhere!)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Every day is like an adventure

I've been a Peace Corps Volunteer for three weeks today, and living at my permanent site for just one day shy of that. I feel like my house is finally taking on my personality, and that I'm more and more comfortable in this community. I finally spent all my settling in allowance, purchasing a sofa, arm chair, end table, and coffee table as finishing touches. I still want a second table for food preparation, but that will come eventually. After buying the furniture I hung up the maps I'd bought forever ago, one of the world, and one of Africa, along with letters and cards that I either brought with me or received in the mail here, and an envelope with a snippet of Scarlet's hair from her last haircut before I left. I hung up pictures ranging from Jenny and me in ballerina costumes before I had hair, to the photo booth pictures of Nora and me at my going away party. I got really homesick looking through everything and remembering how much everyone in my life means to me. I looked at a picture from when I was a camp counselor at CCL and thought about how that was seven years ago. In seven years I'll have been home from Africa for five. Life moves fast, so I'm not going to fret too much over this, but I do miss everyone terribly and hate how much in their lives I'll miss while I'm over here. I hate that my dog will be two years older when I get back, especially since dogs live so short to begin with.

Kitchen somehow coming together? 

Hideous color!

Another tutor (teachers at Primary Teacher Colleges are simply called 'tutors' - it doesn't do much for the self-esteem) told me that I don't visit enough, so I'll try to get on that in the coming days. I think part of the problem is that the situation of my home on the campus gives me probably the most privacy a PCV has ever had. My house faces away from the road, the edge of the campus at which there is a small hill that goes down to another road that I am pretty sure goes to Lira, but haven't tested yet. When I'm out in my yard cooking, washing, reading, investigating bugs, or observing lightning (all of which I do a lot) no one can see me unless they are specifically walking around my house to come greet me. That is unheard of among volunteer housing, and I've decided it's both a blessing and a curse. I don't have the automatic on display status that many of my colleagues have, but I also don't have the taken-for-granted interactions with my neighbors that would come as I wash my clothes and wave to the women doing the same. When I do walk up to the market, I greet every single person I come to with a smile, a wave, and a "kop ango?" or some other nicety. Perhaps my favorite thing here in the north of Uganda is how incredibly friendly everyone is as soon as that barrier is broken. Skeptic faces of men and women break into smiles and laughter as I catch them off guard, saying hello in their own language instead of my own. Every person I talk to boosts my confidence to walk a little further into the initially terrifying market, ask about one more vegetable, ask one more person's name. I have never encountered a friendlier community of people.

Rachel and I spent the last few days together at a workshop to rival all workshops (I'll tell you about it someday). Walking home yesterday evening we both sort of had a "Holy crap, I live in Africa" moment. We agreed that what was weirdest was that it doesn't feel all that weird: walking past the most adorable baby pigs through stalks of maize, having to fill jerry cans for water, using a latrine, only having hot water if I heat it myself on the gas stove, brushing my teeth in my yard... all those things that people were shocked I'd have to do over here feel like more or less like they're completely normal now. I drove home from Loro this afternoon, crammed in the back of a car with my bags on my lap, looking out over a landscape that took my breath away. Whatever I pictured Africa to look like before I came, this was it. Incredible thunderheads, purple and orange, rain off in the distance, green, lush bushes and acacia trees as far as the eye could see. I wanted a camera in my head to project what I was seeing to everyone at home, but there's no way a picture could ever do this justice.