Tuesday, April 26, 2011

i have a door!

I spent Easter with a few other volunteers about 45 minutes from my house. We got a little sunburned, as happens here on the equator, ate delicious food cooked by Heather, drank room temperature tequila and krest (a sprite-ish wannabe), watched Anastasia, and passed out by 10 pm. When it gets dark at 7:30, and as a girl you have to lock yourself in pretty much by that point, staying up late loses some of its appeal. (I went to bed at NINE last night and it felt amazing.) Anyway, as I was laying in a bed that was not my own, I thought about how I, in no way, have that "ugh, I just wish I was HOME" feeling. Mostly, I think, because I don't have a home right now. It's way less sad that it sounds, so don't feel too badly for me just yet. A lot of times when I'm away for long periods of time, all I want is my own bed, in my own room, but I haven't had that for a long time, so I'm kind of content bouncing from place to place, packing an overnight bag to hang out with some cool people I know, crossing my fingers that my belongings, which have been strewn all over this country in the middle of Africa in various storage rooms, hotels, home stays, etc., are safe and sound. Maybe this is part of what Peace Corps instills in a person. I know for damn sure I can pack lighter that I have been able to in the past.

 Day 1, less of a home than a room with my things in it. 

I think the saddest part about all of that was that, technically, I have a home now. I have fourish rooms all to myself for the next two years, but they don't feel like "me" yet. When I got back to Lira on Monday morning, I went shopping for a few more things I needed (rope for laundry, clothespins, plates, silverware, bleach, hand soap, and a gas tank for my stove). The gas tank was way to heavy to even consider carrying the 6k back to Boroboro (not that I'd wanted to walk it anyway) so I called my principal/next door neighbor who said he could pick me up on the way back. The afternoon was spent watching two carpenters make a mess of my room as they knocked a hole in the wall between my sitting room and bedroom. I wish they had let me know it was going to be a messy affair, because I totally would have, oh, I don't know, zipped up my luggage. Closed my cabinet doors. Put away my iPod. Any number of things that would have avoided the clusterfuck of DUST that I had to deal with when the ordeal was through. My Ugandan broom is a joke when trying to deal with this, I'm going to have to buy a giant squeegee (yes, we have those here) and just dump water on my floor and squeegee it out... but not till they cut the second door into the kitchen.

Denis the Carpenter, with his chisel and block of wood. 

Hoooooly mess

My doorway!!!! (standing in the bedroom, looking into the sitting room)

I spent last night kind of rearranging my things after trying my best to clean it all up (some things might never be the same). It felt a lot more like home after I had access to more than one room at a time, and with a mirror up over my dresser. This morning I walked around the village with the principal and was introduced to the Bishop and the LC1 (the Local Council Chairperson, highest office on the most local level). I then returned home and washed my mosquito net and sheets, since they were embedded with concrete dust still. Apparently my water doesn't work until the afternoon, so I had to wait until then to rinse everything (I'd collected enough rainwater the night before to wash, but not rinse. Yes, I collect rain water. I actually just put my buckets out, hope they don't get stolen!) I also did dishes, ate some ramen noodles, and finished another book. (13!) The carpenter came back to frame the doorway (they cut the hole with only a hammer and chisel, it took like five hours) with wood and cement, and again they made somewhat of a mess. The art of throwing cement into a gap between a chiseled out doorway and a wooden frame must be a tough one to master. There was cement everywhere (this was after I was like.. hey, should I move my things today, is it going to be messy? and was answered, no you leave them, it's ok.) Oh, Uganda.

There is a gnarly looking storm a-brewin', and I wish I wasn't such a scaredy cat that I don't want to hang out in my yard and watch it. Speaking of cats, three stories. One, there was an intense cat-fight outside last night, I really wanted to go check it out, but my mosquito net proves to be enough of a barrier to keep me in bed unless it's something like I've had to pee for 4 hours and my bladder is screaming in pain. Two, today I heard another mad cat fight while I was sitting outside reading, except it was followed by peels of children's laughter. The angry cat noises/laughter alternated back and forth enough times to make me think a cat was being tortured by children somewhere around me. I wanted to go investigate, but I don't think I have a place in the community enough yet to go up to someones house and demand they treat animals with kindness. Three, a cat sat by the edge of my yard this evening and yowled so so sadly. It was a pretty tuxedo cat, and when I went to check it out, I was told that the cat is stubborn and steals things. I think I will put out some dried fish for it and see if I can't get myself a pet. Or better yet, see if it has kittens somewhere for me to steal. This will surely end well, there are no downsides.

Also, my internet is suuuuper slow out here in the village, and I'm really lucky that I have it at all... that being said, pictures are not going to be uploaded or emailed for a while, until I can get into town and be closer to civilization. Sorry :(

Love and miss you all!


Saturday, April 23, 2011

I woke up about an hour ago, after my first night in my new home. It wasn't as traumatic as it had the potential to be, my first night in the middle of Uganda, pretty much all alone. At training Rachelle told us that it might be a night to lock ourselves and just cry, something it seemed like she did two years ago when she first got to site. I locked myself in when it got dark, but no crying, amazingly (I'm a crier).

I went to Lira yesterday afternoon, after what felt like one of the 4 longest days of my life, and bought two basins, a jerrycan, two cooking pots, toilet paper, peanut butter, rolls, two bowls, ramen noodles, a big ladle, a mattress, a bigger mosquito net (double bed, what what), and four screw hooks to set up said mosquito net. I did not manage to buy a gas can for my stove, but will try again today. I made it home about 3 minutes before a huge storm and really had to pee. I tried to brave my latrine for the first time but there were spiders and a gecko and a moth that kept ambushing me, so I called uncle and went inside and peed in a basin (not the weirdest thing I've peed in while in Uganda).

I rearranged my room, set up my bed, and hung a map of Uganda on the wall. It's probably right where the new door between the bedroom and the sitting room will go, so it's definitely not permanent, I just wanted something up. As I was moving things around, I discovered a leak in my ceiling, great. My principal came over and invited me for dinner and I let him know about it. I declined the dinner offer because I'd bought a couple things to eat in town, and was so tired that all I wanted to do was finish up and lay down. I didn't feel like being "on" and social again. I had to explain that I'm not going to church tomorrow, or ever really, and I hope I did it tactfully. Sometimes (read: a lot of the times) Ugandans can be very persistent when you give an answer they don't want to hear. I haven't gone to church regularly since I was in high school, and don't really plan on it while I'm here. It's such a religious culture though that the concept of not being religious, or even not having a religion doesn't make sense to them sometimes. I would probably be more relaxed about it and willing to go once in a while if I knew that it would be understood when I didn't want to go. Maybe I'm just being way too stubborn.

I'm super pumped that I have power at my site, however, I have this nifty little gadget called a powermatic that monitors the current coming through and shuts it off if there is a surge or fluctuation that would damage my electronics. When the power is unstable, the light is red, when it calms down, the light changes to yellow while it monitors it for a bit, and then if the power is stable it changes to green to let it through. In the 15 hours that I have been here, the light has only changed to green three times, for a total of about five minutes. Fuck. I can totally plug things in, but I'm knowingly taking a risk of blowing everything up and rendering them useless. Gotta solve this, because what's the use in having electricity if I can't use it?

It's going to take a while to arrange my house, there are so many things that I'm going to have to improvise and make up as I go along. For instance, I don't have a kitchen sink, but I do know that somehow I can put a tap in the bottom of a jerrycan and put it over a basin. But I have no idea how to do that and my limited Lango mixed with Lira residents' limited English = we have no idea what we're talking about. There should be a door soonish between my bedroom and sitting room that will let me move about my house at night, but it's not there yet, so ALL of my things are in my bedroom for now. Water pools on the floor of my latrine and soaked a roll of toilet paper last night. My walls are cement and the pushpins I brought are useless. This is going to be a fun few months. I'll post pictures today or tomorrow hopefully.

Love & miss you!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Today I totally took an oath to defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and some other stuff that I forget. But I'm legit now and it feels so much better than I could have imagined. I'm so proud of myself for doing this... I was sitting there the whole time listening to the ambassador and our country director and a couple of my fellow volunteers speak about what Peace Corps means, its history, and the impact it will have on our lives. I was trying to think back through my application process and remember what it felt like when I first filled out the application, when it was kind of just a castle in the sky, and the fact that I did it. I put aside my life, said goodbye, got on a plane and moved across the world. Damn. I have a million things to pack up and forty three other people to celebrate with tonight before we say our goodbyes and move off on our own tomorrow. As much as a pain in the ass as it was today, I'm glad that I mapped out my first five weeks at site and made a quasi-calendar of things to accomplish, and that we get assignments to complete such as "greet five people and let them know what you'll be doing in their community for two years."

I ate so many canapes at the swearing in. I'm stuffed, but the chicken nuggets and garlic mayo were to *die* for.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

kistchy entry about nothing important.

I'm sitting on a bed, with what has been the most comfortable mattress I've slept on in over two months. I must find one just like it when I go to site. I'm in a hotel outside of Kampala, getting ready to swear in as a PCV tomorrow afternoon. FINALLY. I'm pumped. I'm so proud that all 44 of us made it through and will swear in together. I love us.

We arrived at the hotel on Monday morning, after a hurried goodbye to my homestay family who, for some reason, waited until 20 minutes before I was leaving to decide they want a family picture with me, and all needed to bathe and get ready. The picture did not happen. Sorry. We had a huge week of Peace Corps office tours, Embassy tours, shopping for site, etc., planned, but that was all thrown off by a political/social demonstration that has been going on for a week and a half now. Basically food prices and oil prices are out of control here (Nutella went from 3500/= to 11,200/=. I mean come on.) and the opposition parties have decided to walk to work on Mondays and Thursdays to protest the rising cost of living. The only problem is that, in an effort to curtail any possibly violent protests, the police have preemptively shut down the demonstrations, arrested the leaders, shot at people, and fired tear gas into the crowds. Effective, no? Peace Corps is all about keeping us safe, so at the first sign of anything going on, we were put on standfast at the hotel, meaning we weren't allowed to leave the property. Shopping at the mall-that-is-like-America was out. (Sorry.) We spent the rest of the day laying by the pool, drinking beer, and feeling like we were on spring break. My thighs may or may not have gotten sunburned. (It's ok.)

Tuesday we were able to go to the embassy, find out more about the foreign service than I ever thought I would, and then go to the PC office and eat some delicious sandwiches. (Salami, garlic lettuce tomato and CHEESE!) We went shopping at Garden City, where I bought coffee, a milkshake, and a lot of airtime for my phones and computer. Super successful trip, if you ask me. I guess I also bought a gas stove and a hammock that looks like the Ugandan flag, so my house will have a few things in it :) We have been eating the most amazing food while we're at the hotel - I had REAL Heinz ketchup tonight with my potatoes, I gorged myself on bread pudding at lunch, and there are made to order omelets every morning. There is also flan. Apparently this is where we have our In Service Training conference in July or August of this year, so we are all incredibly psyched to come back here after three months.

Tomorrow we're leaving the hotel by seven so that we can avoid the protests and get to where we need to be before any shit goes down. We have more workshops with our supervisors, kind of just to let them know what's expected of them, what's expected of us, what we are like as Americans, and what Peace Corps expects from our time working with them. We swear in tomorrow afternoon, and then hopefully come back to the hotel to celebrate. Friday I'm traveling up to Lira, gonna buy a sweet mattress and some paint, and spend the weekend making my house a home! (That's what I'm anticipating anyway, I have some new movies, a jar of nutella, and some nail polish if things go south.)

I realized the other day that I kind of maybe have less than two years at this point, a thought which I found oddly comforting. I've been counting down from 27, but in reality I think it's less than that. I don't know why one or two months makes such a difference in my mind, but knowing that I'm on this side of "two years" makes me feel better. Maybe a career in the foreign service isn't realistic for me... so sad. The power has gone out a couple times tonight, and every time it does I just stare up at the sky and see all the stars that I never have before. In relation to the US, there is very little light pollution here, and we're up pretty high (I think about 3,000 feet?) so the stars are much more impressive here, I can't wait to take pictures of them!

I'm so excited to take a shower and lay in bed and read tonight. I'm such a nerd, but I'm really looking forward to it. I'm freaking exhausted, this has been a long ten weeks. Oh, and of course my stuff is strewn EVERYWHERE and I'm doubting my ability to fit it all back into my bags. Sorry.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Luggage & Bread. Or, I'm really, really procrastinating here this evening, folks.

Tomorrow morning while I'm at training, doing five hours of language in preparation for my LPI, a Peace Corps driver is coming by my homestay house to pick up my luggage. Other than the fact that I'm not leaving until Monday, this is great news. I have two bags in storage at training right now, and will add one more (plus a bucket and some bedding) to that pile. I am so tired of sorting my things into bags according to when I'll need them next. I am tired of living out of suitcases and constantly packing and unpacking my things. I am tired of being in transition. My biggest fear right now is shuffling through the streets of Kampala with all my crap in tow, and somehow something important not making it to site, or making it to site broken (camera, computer, I'm thinking of you right now). All the other trainees and I can talk about is how badly we just want to be in our own homes, where we can eat what and when we want, and not have to ask permission to bathe or wash clothes. It's really the simple things in life that matter, no?

In other, more fun news, I've decided that while I'm here in Uganda, I want to learn how to bake amazing bread. We were given a cookbook (that I am PUMPED about, I kid you not) that has several bread recipes. I will start with those and then see where it takes me. I lived with my cousins this summer, and Molly is a bread baking aficionado, which is where this little flirtation of an idea is coming from. She and I discussed opening a bakery/restaurant/whatever else we want it to be someday, when we're both done doing what we need to in life, and can settle in to what we want to do. I fully plan on photo-documenting this endeavor and writing about it, of course, so that I can publish it when I get home and then someone can make a movie about it, a la Julie & Julia. No, I'm not kidding.

Ok, I'm obviously just avoiding doing any work in the way of studying for language (kop ango?) or packing up my shit. I'm off.

Miss & love you all.


Monday, April 11, 2011

The shortest answer is doing the thing - Hemingway

Back from future site visit, rested and decompressed. My trip up to Lira was pretty uneventful, by my current standards of travel. We arrived in Kampala at about 6:45 am, hoping to catch the post office bus (a bus used to transport mail all over the country that also ferries passengers at a reduced rate, but more slowly due to all the stops). We apparently were misinformed that a post bus even goes to Lira, because there isn't one. We ended up at the regular bus park, hoping to get a seat on Mawenzi, a pretty reputable company. Too bad Mawenzi didn't leave until 11am. We sat for four hours, funny how this barely phases me anymore. The trip up was fine, we arrived a little before five, and I met my principal in the bus park. He drove me to a house where I'd be staying, since my house on the campus wasn't ready yet. Then he took me to the campus to see my house.

It's very simple, but nice. I have four rooms plus a pit latrine in my yard. The building is long and rectangular, with three doors down the long side - a bedroom, sitting room, and kitchen. On the short side there is a wash room with a shower head and tap. I have electricity and running water, though I'll have to collect water from my wash room and walk it around to the kitchen to boil and cook with. I asked if they might be able to put up gutters and a rain barrel since it seems silly not to collect water in a country that has two seasons devoted to rain. All of the doors are exterior, so to go from my bedroom to get a snack, I'll have to go outside. This worries me slightly, but I will either: get over it, never do anything after dark, or ask that they knock down an interior wall and put in a door. I'm a bit curious about pad locking my doors every time I go use the latrine or bathe around the corner in my wash room. My doors did not have pad locks on the inside, just those little locks used in bathroom stalls, so I played the mom card and told my principal and the burser that I promised my mom I'd be as safe as I could here, and that if she saw small locks that weren't pad lockable she'd want me to come home. This seemed to make sense and they agreed to put bigger locks on the inside. The walls are all freshly painted, so I feel bad about wanting to paint bright colors, but I really hate white walls, so I will force myself to get over the guilt and paint away. I can't wait to get settled in and make it my own. I have a long list of things to buy, it's so different from all my other moving lists that I've made over the years; jerry cans, wash basins, squeegee for the latrine floor, gas stove, etc.

The front of my house - room on the end is my bedroom, one in the middle is sitting room/kitchen, one on the end is technically the kitchen but used for storage (there's no ceiling so leaves and spiderwebs and gecko poo are more abundant) 

Back of the house, and the first part you see walking up. The door and first window are my bathing area, the second window is in the back of the kitchen. The first and second vents are my sitting room and bedroom, respectively. 

I have a shower!


I've talked to a few other trainees, both here and in other countries, who are at similar points in service. It seems the common theme among some of us is excitement mixed with apprehension of having to do this on our own now, and a healthy sprinkling of serious self doubt. This is a lot harder than I thought it would be, and it might be a lot easier to call it quits and fly back home if it wasn't also incredibly wonderful and by far the coolest thing I've ever done. Every day I feel torn about how unreal it is that I'm over here doing this, and how much I miss my dog. I reread parts of the Unofficial Volunteer Handbook (effing amazing resource - everyone should buy it!) occasionally to remind myself of what are "normal" feelings at the stage I'm in. Currently I should be feeling anxiety, irritated, fright, frustration with myself, and homesickness, among other things. So basically I'm right on schedule. One part of the book reminds me that I've pretty much volunteered for psychological difficulty, and that being here can be compared to a 27 month long self awareness retreat. Hmm. I keep reminding myself that there are no actual barriers to doing this, only mental ones, so it's really just a matter of being stronger than my doubts are.

I got a card from my older brother today that made my day. Seeing our names on the mail list is the best feeling, all of us on there just have this glow for the rest of the day, waiting until five o'clock when we can pick up what has arrived.

Love and miss you all!!!!


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mail, FSV, & a backpack. What are, "Things that make me happy?"

Future site visit starts tomorrow :D I found out I'll be about 10km south east of Lira town (which I'm pumped about) teaching at a primary teachers' college. I'm super anxious about it; on one hand I'm so pumped to finally see where I'll be living for the next two years, and on the other apprehensive because I've heard such negative stories from others' future site visits. I don't want to get my hopes up, but my program manager told me that I have a "very nice" house with electricity and running water. While I'm stoked about the electricity, I'd almost be ok without running water - relying on Ugandan plumbing might be interesting. In fact, I think I prefer a pit latrine to an indoor toilet simply because a pit latrine can't back up or over flow. I guess I'll see when I get there, pictures will be sure to follow. We were told to bring sheets, sleeping bag, towel, and mosquito net since we have no idea where we'll be staying, so I'm breaking out the giant backpack that I was so excited to purchase so many months ago. I could probably squeeze everything into my little backpack if I wanted, but I'm a little bit of a dork about the big one, so I'll just go ahead and use it.

Also, in equally important news, I got my first three pieces of mail today! Two were letters from Sarina, and one was the Snapshots Journal from Jessica in Zambia. I know my mom sent a package about a week ago, so I'm expecting it sometime in June. I was so so so happy when they told me that my name was on the mail list for the afternoon.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

they'll call me freedom, just like a waving flag

This weekend was one moment after another of reassuring me that it will all be worth it. Training has felt like forever, and while I still love being around all the trainees and rarely tire of their presence, I am so ready to move to a home that is mine. I'm just ready to be on my own and be able to eat when I want, lay around and read without feeling like I need to be taking tea or making small talk. We find out our site placement tomorrow, get to visit from Wednesday to Saturday, then we have one week of training left, and a week of being in Kampala getting ready for swearing in and moving to site. It kind of feels like it did before I left the states - so anxious and ready to start this for real (because up until now it hasn't been real?) but knowing that it's probably going to be super crazy and hard at times, and that there's no going back.

This past Thursday, PCVs from all over the country descended upon Lweza for the 50th Anniversary celebration. There are 160ish volunteers in country, and I think about 115 came. We had a Day of Service where we cleaned up a school, painted the dorms, planted a garden, fixed a water catchment system so they can harvest and use rain water, taught life skills, and gave a teacher workshop. It was all pretty cool, though I felt like it was pretty opposite of what Peace Corps is usually about. Nothing we did was sustainable, and I highly doubt that much effort will go into keeping up the things we did seeing as how we swept in and did it all and then left. The students and staff at that school don't have much, if any, ownership for any of those projects we did, so it's less likely they'll feel responsible for maintaining them. Case in point: We painted the dorms, and then broke for lunch. Upon coming back to the dorm to put the second coat on, we saw that someone had scribbled on the wall with a pen. Really? After the work was done, we all separated and showered and generally defunkified ourselves, and then reconvened at an amazing hotel for an outdoor reception. There were white tents on a lawn, a buffet with white table cloths, it was like being at a wedding in the states. Of course, it being Uganda, there were speeches. There was a video of the day, volunteers being interviewed about what Peace Corps means to them, and I got a little misty eyed, thinking how proud I am to be a part of this. After dinner we danced on the grass until 1 am at which point we piled into a matatu (taxi) that shuttled us back to the dorms. About half of the trainees rented rooms to avoid a late night, tipsy walk home to inquisitive host families.

In the morning we got up around 7 (habit, ugh) and all dispersed to cook lunch with our language groups. My group made spaghetti and meat sauce, rice and kabobs, chapati, and "chicken soup" which from what I could tell was just pieces of chicken boiled in water. I'm going to have to get the recipe for my mom's chicken soup and make it for people here. Lunch took 4 and a half hours to cook, after a night of drinking and dancing, we were all pretty exhausted starving by the time it came to eat. Granted we cooked three main dishes for 12 people, but I still could not imagine having a family here and having to spend that much time cooking every day. Oh, and we killed a chicken. By "we" I mean the maid and our language instructor, Judith. I felt bad for the poor thing because the knife she used wasn't very sharp and it seemed like she had to saw for a while before it died. The kitten who lives at the house were we cooked was all about getting it's teeth on any part of that chicken it could, and ended up eating the head, the lungs, and part of the intestines.

After lunch, I walked for an hour back to my host family's home, where I skyped with Jenny for an hour, downloaded some fun music from the dance party, and then passed out. This morning I met up with some other trainees and we went to visit a volunteer near here so we could see her house and her school and how she functions in this country as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Her house is around the back of a main house, she has a "porch"/outdoor room that the kitchen is off of, a small living room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. Granted she has electricity and running water, but just the fact that she has her OWN space to put up pictures and hang her clothes and whatever else she wants made me so optimistic for getting to site. I felt like seeing all the volunteers this weekend gave me such a boost. It showed me what I have to look forward to after training is over, since usually I have no point of reference other than those who are at the exact same place as me.

Now I'm just uploading pictures, and I kind of feel like watching a movie on my computer, but there's no plug in my room and out in the family room people just talk to me all the time and I feel like I'm the rudest person in the world if I get annoyed at all by this family who has shown me nothing but hospitality (but sometimes I just want to watch a movie and not talk.)

Lastly, I would say for now to hold off on sending me anything since I'm moving to site so soon. I still have yet to receive ANY mail, so it's obviously taking a long time. I will have a new address soon and we can try again. At this point I know my mom and one other person have sent a package, and a couple people have sent letters that we'll see if I ever get. (I really hope I do, getting mail makes me the happiest girl ever!)