Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Oh, the places you'll go

As a Florida girl, it's against my code of conduct to shy away from thunderstorms. The bigger the better. My host-mom doesn't understand this about me and keeps insisting that I'll be scared once I see a Ugandan storm, but I seriously doubt it. There was an awesome one last night, between the hours of 3 and 7 that I laid in bed and watched/listened to. All of the houses here have tin roofs, so the rain sounds amazing on them.

There is most definitely a mouse in my house. It may be in my room right now, or I may just be paranoid. Either way I was so thankful to realize that it wasn't my mefloquine that was making me crazy, but at the same time creeped out that there is a mouse. Reason #8 to get a cat at site.

Also in the annoying category: the lining of my rain jacket decided to disintegrate, flake all over me, and in doing this, become not waterproof anymore. Granted the jacket is seven years old, but it's a Northface, which in my opinion should make it last forever, no? Now I'm trying to decide should I order a new one and have my mom send it, order a new one and have someone bring it over when they visit, or just forget about it and get wet. Stupid rain jacket.

When I taught third grade, at the the end of the year we had a kind of relaxed week. I brought in a movie to watch, we had a party, we went through and cleaned out filing cabinets. One of my students spent a lot of that time weaving friendship bracelets, and on the last day of school, she handed me a little gift bag full of them. I put one on right away, but I think I cut it off that summer because I was in a wedding, and who wants their bridesmaid to have a friendship bracelet on? (Probably this bride, actually, but I cut it off anyway) I put another one on after the wedding was done, and I've had it on ever since. Until this morning. It finally disintegrated and fell off during my mock LPI (not that I was nervous and playing with it or anything.) Thank goodness I had the foresight to bring two extras with me from the little gift bag, so when I got home today I could tie another one on. The one that came off today had been on for a year and a half, I wonder if this one will last as long, TIA and all.

We had a session today on working in post conflict areas, which I will be doing. I am going to the north of the country, which, until five years ago, was being terrorized by a rebel army, the LRA. The LRA was known for kidnapping children and turning them into child soldiers and sex slaves. Sadly, Uganda has the record for the youngest child soldier, at five years old. Many of these children are back in school now, living either with family they've been reunited with, or in orphanages. An estimated 30,000 children were kidnapped, and 17,000 of those were made into combatants. Of the two million people living in the north of country, 1.8 million were displaced and living in camps. A lot are back at home now, but the camps are still heavily populated. There are so many factors that go into it all I can't even explain it. Some of these children will be my students. It's really difficult to process this and think of what impact I will have, if any. I feel like the people in my community and my schools are going to have more of an impact on me than I could ever hope to have on them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I hear in my mind all of this music

Sitting here in the conference room on a Tuesday afternoon, jamming out to Regina Spektor. She reminds me of the late spring of 2009, shopping at the farmer's market with Camille, singing aloud, and dancing in my kitchen while I used fun ingredients like sprouts and avocados and jalapeno peppers and made delicious guacamole. We finished the nutrition and dental session earlier than was scheduled, so there is an hour to fill before lunch. This is incredibly typical of Uganda, and probably PC in general, so I'm just going to roll with it and appreciate the time I have to update (even though there's not really anything to update on) and listen to new music I acquired from another trainee yesterday. It's the rainy season, but it mostly just rains at night and early in the morning, so it's still gorgeous and sunny during the day. My hair is starting to lighten up, I may be blond again somewhat soonish.

We have 4 weeks of training left, including this one. This week we're just at the training center, getting prepared for our mock language proficiency interview (LPI) and a presentation on Thursday. Next Monday we find out our permanent sites, and get to visit them Wednesday through Saturday. The following week is paperwork and getting everything wrapped up, and then the week after that we're leaving Lweza for Kampala to tour the embassy, shop for things we'll need at our homes, and swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers. It will be pretty bad ass. We kind of all agreed yesterday that it feels like the end of the school year and we're all ready to graduate.

It is insane how fast this is all going, but at the same time how I can barely remember not knowing these people. Before PC feels like a different life. We arrived on a Friday night, and on Sunday afternoon we couldn't believe that we'd only been here for two days - it felt like this was just life and I'd always been here doing PST. I remember on the plane to Philadelphia after I left Gainesville, I was reading the handout "A Few Minor Adjustments" and it was saying how readjusting to American culture can be more difficult since you assume that "going home" will feel natural and safe, but things change and we change over here, and it's not always simple. I started crying on the plane when I read that who I was at home didn't exist anymore, not once I took the step to do this. But at the same time, the person who I'll be after Peace Corps wasn't fully formed either. I was in between identities and I felt this overwhelming temporariness, like I didn't fit in anywhere at that time. Thank God it only lasted the flight. It's so strange to be able to pinpoint specific experiences in life as you're going through them and know that it will be a seminal experience, rather than looking back later and being like "oh wow, that made all the difference." Maybe that's what makes this so amazing/terrifying.

I miss & love you all!!!!


Saturday, March 26, 2011

i want screens on my windows

Oh my goodness it's been so long since I last updated. I finally have my own modem so I can get online whenever I want and use as much as I want. Things here have been getting better and better by the week, I feel like a lot of it is the fact that we were so sequestered at the beginning of training that it didn't really seem like Peace Corps. There have definitely been moments of "Holy crap two years is a long ass time, can I really do this??" but the short answer has always been YES when I honestly think about it. I have not yet wanted to leave or go home or tuck tail and run. The good outweighs the bad by far, and I would be so disappointed in myself if I quit after a month and a half, because that's really no time at all, and I haven't even started what I came here to do. Here's a run down of the last 10 days (it seems silly that so much has happened in such a short period of time).

17 March: St. Patricks Day. None of the Ugandans knew what this was. I tried explaining it to my host family but it turned into my host dad just lecturing me on how Halloween is celebrated in Uganda and how girls in boarding schools get in trouble but boys would never think of celebrating such a day. Lots of my attempts at cross cultural conversations end this way (not specifically with an explanation of Halloween, but some such other Ugandan way of life that is superior to all else...) I wore green, taught in a PTC (Primary Teacher College), ate some green cake that Erica made, and drank some Scottish whiskey that Alex bought. All in all it was the best day that far.

20 March: (Straight from my personal journal) "This week has been so intensely exciting and finally feeling like PC (I think)." We took a tour of Kampala, which is lightyears beyond NYC or Boston when it comes to freaking me the eff out. Rainy season finally started here, so most of the side streets and the taxi parks are 4 inch deep mud/I don't know what, and I got so many stares and exclamations of "BAMBI!!!!" (which btw means "OMG I"M SO SORRY") when I sloshed through the mud and got my feet dirty. Cleanliness is huge here, I have no idea how Ugandans keep their feet so clean because mine are atrocious. (My first day walking home from training, the house girl, who speaks no English, goes "Oh Jesus Christ" upon seeing my feet) I bought a modem in Kampala, and a map of Uganda. It's not as sweet as my two Nat Geo maps of the world and Africa, but it will do. I am starting to get anxious to finally move to site and be able to set up my own house the way I want it, cook what I want when I want, walk around in my underwear and leave the windows open past 7pm.

21-24 March: Language Immersion. We traveled 8 hours (which should have only taken 4) to Lira to immerse ourselves in Lango for the week. The bus ride up was a bit harrowing as the wheel kept coming lose or something and we'd stop every 20 minutes to tighten it. On one such stop, we sat there for a good 45 minutes when three of us decided that we should pee. It cost 100/= to use the bathroom, and of course as soon as I got in there, the bus decided it was ready to go and all of the sudden in a huge hurry to get to Lira. I almost got left on the side of the road in East Jesus Nowhere, Africa. But I didn't. At the stops, people rush up to the bus trying to sell meat on a stick, chapatis, sodas, water, and oh, live chickens. We bought meat on a stick and chapati, the people sitting next to us bought some chickens. My hand to God they passed money out the window of the bus and were passed two live chickens with their feet bound together so they couldn't run around. It was fantastic.

Lira was fabulous. The people there mostly ride bikes, so the air is much much cleaner, and the streets are generally cleaner too. We ate so much street food there. Pork joints are little shacks in alley ways that have pork on skewers in big charcoal ovens. They pull one off, and put it in a plastic baggie along with fries ("chips") cabbage, tomatoes, onions, and hot sauce. All for 2500/=, or $1. We ate a ton of rolexes too - a fried egg with tomatoes and onions rolled up in a fresh chapati (Roll eggs = Rolex). The best drunk food ever, this needs to be taken back to the states. Those cost about 7-800/= or $.40. During LI I got to sleep in a FIRM bed that wasn't a freaking BOWL that I fall into. It was amazing and made me really excited thinking about my future house at site.

I talked to my mom on Sunday night and she told me all about the US being involved with what's going on in Libya. Being on this side of the world when so much is going on is so much different than being on the secluded side of the Atlantic. I'm interested to see how it all plays out - being an American serving in a country where official alliance might be on the opposite side of my home country's. I'm obviously not going to voice my opinions on here, but I will just say that I'm paying close attention and listening to the BBC nightly.

Lastly, my cousin Molly, who is possibly the only person in my family who gets how much books mean to me, is taking up the task of sending me a new Kindle! My mom bought me a new one and had it shipped to Molly (thank you mom!) and she's going to finagle some sneaky packaging that will look unassuming and hopefully pass right through the hands of postal workers unharmed. I got a new phone that texts back and forth to the states, let me know if you want the number :D (I still have the other one, I just have two now, kind of how it works here)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

books don't break

I have a bunk bed at my homestay, and a horribly sunken in bunk bed with a mosquito net over it is difficult to get in and out of, so I usually just keep things on my bed, like my journal (which is written in way more often than here, sorry), headlamp, kindle, etc... Things I use right before going to sleep. Well, stupidly, I somehow put some weight on my kindle when rolling over to get out of bed, and I cracked the screen. Fucking A. I was laying in bed last night, I'd just finished a paper book (I've been borrowing those from the PC office) and went to use my kindle and when I turned it on, the screen went all crazy and looked like cracked glass. My blood literally ran cold. I got the worst feeling in the pit of my stomach and all I could think of was "two years, no books" I almost cried. After about 2 minutes of thinking of all my options, I remembered that I'd gotten insurance on all my things (camera, computer, and $300 worth of random electronics). I called my mom (because my phone is on my bed too and when something happens, I call my mom) and asked if she'd gotten the paper work from the insurance company yet. She had, so she said she'd call and ask about it. I had a really hard time sleeping last night, hating that I'm so far away from the easy fix to all this, hating that even if my mom gets the insurance money, we're still taking a very big risk shipping it through the mail since things are opened and messed with all the time, and if they do make it they take at least a month. (I have yet to receive ANY mail) I thought of how my CD is going to the states tomorrow for two weeks, and wondered if he'd be willing to somehow carry a new kindle back for me if I have it shipped to him instead of my mom. I emailed him this morning to ask if he'd be ok with it, but his email is already on auto response, so I emailed the acting CD in his absence, but her email is on auto response till Tuesday. I really just hope this works out because I cannot spend 2 years without books, I spent a shit ton on all those kindle books, and I didn't even want it in the first place. Grr.

Other than that things are going well. It really hit me last night how hard this is going to be, not in a bad way, just in a way that's like..... I don't even know. I'm going to be placed up in the Lira district, and on the news last night they showed women there fist fighting over water in a mud puddle because there's a drought. It rained at about 3am, so I was thankful for that. Literally the toughest job I'll ever love.

We held a workshop for primary teachers on Friday, and 32 showed up. I was shocked. It was a Friday afternoon, we didn't provide food, and there was no per diem (both requests that are often made in order for one to attend a workshop). We were guessing a much lower turn out. I worked with two other people and did a presentation on teaching English in P1 and P2 (approx. 1st and 2nd grades) We talked about setting up a school store to reinforce vocabulary and simple sentences, creating a word wall, taught them some songs, and showed them my oh so popular dodecahedron. It's a 12 sided paper ball made of pentagons that you staple all together, it's my favorite thing ever. We wrote 12 verbs on it and showed them how to toss it around the classroom and have the students act out the verbs they read. We shared how it can be adjusted to any grade level and any subject. A man stood up at the end to thank us for our work and our time, and I had a small Peace Corps moment where I could feel how worth it this will all be.

The teachers all seemed very into our ideas and had a lot to say, but in the end when they evaluated us, they all noted how disappointed they were that we didn't bring them higher salaries and material things for their classes, like makers and flip charts. One of the PVCs who has been working with us told us that that will be one of the challenges we face in Peace Corps since so many other aid organizations come in with tangible items; books, classroom supplies, medicine, bottled water, money... and we just come with ideas to share. Many Ugandans want more from us, not realizing that the skills we are there to share will last longer than if we were to paint a classroom. A culture of having outsiders, whites usually, doing things for them has been reinforced over many years. When an organization comes and builds a school, or even just fixes one up, that building will obviously be in disrepair five or ten years down the line, but since mzungus did it last time, where are they to fix it this time?

We use a set of tools called PACA (I forget what it stands for) but basically we work with community members, asking them questions to gain a sense of what resources and assets they already posses, and what they feel they need to achieve more. There is a tool on community mapping, to figure out who can do what (is there a great seamstress? what about a carpenter?) daily and seasonal calendars (to know when everyone is going to be busy with planting, when the kids are out of school, when major holidays and festivals occur) and needs assessment and priority ranking (to figure out what they need, and more importantly, what order the needs should be addressed in). We worked with a group of teachers on that last one on Wednesday, and to no one's surprise, their greatest need to which they gave the highest priority was their salaries. At this point, it's not up to PCVs to solve their problems, but to hand them the reins and ask what they think they can do about it. One of our PCVs told about an income generating project she'd helped the teachers at her school start that supplemented their income. (The teachers are required to be at school until 5 or 6 and don't have the opportunity to hold second jobs if they need them) The teachers at our school wanted nothing to do with this. They just kept talking about the ministry and the parents and how they couldn't do anything about it. It was very frustrating to hear, and I think they were frustrated that we were there, asking them these questions, and then not providing any answers. Thank God we had a Ugandan woman there with us, who could speak to the teachers more firmly than we were able to, and she reminded them that when money is tight at home, they have to solve things themselves, and that they can't go to the ministry or the head teacher asking for help. It was very eye opening.

Random Ugandan things: roosters are all over, they start crowing at about 3 am and don't stop until, well, I'll let you know when they stop. My favorite snacks are roasted soy nuts and drinking yogurt in a plastic baggie. We get them whenever we stop for snacks at the gas station, which is about every other day. Lately I've been seeing bunnies all over the place. Mostly in yards, but sometimes along the main highway where we walk home from training. The Ugandan clock (mostly in villages, and I think all over Africa too) is different from the western clock. They start at 7 am because that's when the sun rises, and that's 1. 2=8am, 3=9am and so on until 7 at night, and that's the first hour of night. So if you ask someone what time the meeting is at and they say 2 in the morning, they're not crazy. I've trying to figure out if that's something that is strictly on the equator since the days and nights don't vary, or if it's all over Africa.

I'm pretty stoked about some things my mom is sending me. I got to talk to her last night (we talk once a week) and she told me about a fun website called that does freeze dried foods for backpackers and traveling. They have a freeze dried red wine powder that they don't suggest drinking, but adding to soups and stuff :) My mom is the best, love her!!!!!

I love you and miss you all!!!!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

very little thought went into today's post

Sunday afternoon and I'm sitting in the internet cafe at the bottom of our hill with some of my PC neighbors. My family has a mobile modem but I feel bad/stupid asking to use it more than once or twice a week. The constantly connected American in me will be hard to kill. I put up pictures last night of our first month or so here. Hopefully you will be able to see them. I don't want to waste my host mom's internet airtime by uploading them all over the place, so I'll just share that link. There are a shit ton more, but given the limited capacity of internet here, the final album may have to wait till I get home.

We had a teaching fair put on by the year in education volunteers yesterday and got to mostly just mingle and talk with the people we could possibly be working with this coming year. I learned how to avoid CFs in order to GSD (figure that one out, it's fun), how to make a rocket stove, how to put on a workshop for AfriPads (reusable menstrual pads for girls so they can actually come to school when they have their periods) and generally just reinforced the idea that PC people are one of a kind.

As of Tuesday I will have been gone for a month, and I'm starting to get little twinges of homesickness here and there. I was talking to Jen about how moments hit me where I can't believe that this is really my life, and how there's not really anywhere I would rather be, and 99.7% of the time that's completely accurate. That other 0.3% of the time I miss my mom and my dog and food that isn't hot.

Everything that happens here does so magnified ten times. The food is blander or more delicious, the laughter is louder (there is no way I'll ever forget the way some people's laugh sounds), the sun is hotter, the diarrhea sucks more, the showers feel nicer.

No one would ever accuse me of being overly patriotic, but I have been feeling very defensive of America lately. Some of the PCTs have been jokingly criticized about how we Americans sleep too much (going to bed at 10, getting up at 6 for a full day) how we don't eat enough starchy foods, drink too much water, don't care enough for extended family, etc. Last week I think I was in the "annoyed phase" of cultural adjustment. On the plus side, I got a jar of nutella for half off at the gas station the other day (for about $1.50 instead of $3) and am listening to Christmas carols in the internet cafe.... TIA.

Love you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


One more thing checked off "list of things to do in Africa" - specifically, "throw up on side of road while being followed by small children yelling mzungu at me" Expectedly, I have acquired some "Ugandan Funky" stomach thing that has left me drinking the rehydration salts from the PC medical kit and dreading the walks home up the mountain. Literally, I live on one mountain, and the training center is on a near by mountain. Uphill both ways. I arrived home, fought off tea time, and passed out. I was made to get up and bathe at 8, and then went back to bed. Apparently Americans are dirty because we only bathe once a day (even that is a lot for me... oops).

We have been going to the primary schools finally to meet with teachers, observe, and teach some lessons. I really don't ever want to hear about lack of resources in American schools ever again. The teachers in the Ugandan schools are God sent for doing what they do with so little. I just hope I can make a big enough difference to change the way some things are approached. There is a lot of lecturing, repeating of terms, and copying from the board into notebooks. Students wear uniforms that are well beyond worn, and are 60 deep in a classroom. They are taught in their local language until P4 (about 4th grade) when they are magically expected to begin instruction in all subjects in English. After P7 they take a huge test that determines whether or not they go onto secondary schools. Not surprisingly, the age range in each grade varies widely. I do not think there is any way to describe the school grounds, and even pictures will not do it justice, but I do not feel overwhelmed by this at all oddly enough... I think being able to understand that TIA (this is Africa) and that I should approach most things in life mpola mpola (slowly, slowly) is helping me. I know that I am here more as support and a resource of ideas more than anything, and that whole thing about teachers affecting eternity because we never know where our influence will end... I feel as long as I keep that in mind, things will not frustrate me as much as they would if I had gotten off the plane with my feet ready to run and fix Ugandan schools.

I've read three books so far and am half way through the 4th one.... as much as I bitched about my Kindle, I kind of do love it. I will say that I got confused at the end of The Lost Symbol and wished I could go back and find something, so that was annoying. I think it's so much fun/bizarre that all our PCV trainers are just as anxious about returning to the US as we are about adjusting to Uganda. They left before iPhones got big, before Kindles were everywhere, etc. They haven't seen an iPad. I wonder what kind of changes we'll be returning to in 2 years.

Lastly, I have a phone now, so you can call if you want :) The phones here are all pay as you go so there's no connection to my name or any personal information, therefore I have no qualms in sharing my number. If you skype it, it's about 15 cents a minute. 011 256 0791 678 337. There is an 8 hour time difference, so mind that ;) We're off to the zoo tomorrow, though I'm still looking forward to seeing lions and such in the wild.

Lots of love, I miss you all!