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.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

We'll see

I am holding my breath here in Uganda watching certain international events unfold. (By watching I mean listening to on the radio and reading about in the newspaper.) I can't bring myself to feel happy about this considering the repercussions it has the potential of sparking. I do feel somewhat relieved, and proud that as a country we never gave up, but looking at the last ten years and seeing what hatred and division has taken over my country, I can't help but wonder what the next ten years have in store.

On to happier things, like my turquoise walls. I went on Sunday to pick out paint, feeling pretty sure I was going to have to chose from one of nine generic colors, but was totally blown away by an actual wall of paint samples like in the good ole' US of A. My eyes zoomed in on the brightest, most obnoxious deep turquoise there was, and I bought two cans of it for 90,000/=. I spent all afternoon slopping up three, nay, four coats of the stuff, and there are still streaks in some places. I broke my own rule by putting such a cool color in a place where I look in the mirror, because now my face always has a greenish-bluish tinge to it and I have to remind myself that I'm not sick or choking when I'm getting dressed in the morning. Tomorrow, fingers crossed, I will be venturing back into the town to pick up a cabinet that I put a deposit on, along with a sofa and a table. I have things to hang up but don't want to do that until I have furniture in place to gauge where everything should go (I'm hanging things with giant nails that don't like being repositioned, and duct tape that has all the intention of peeling my pretty paint.)

I had a staff meeting today, my first real Ugandan meeting on my own with no other Americans to sit near and commiserate with. It was supposed to start at 9, so I got there at a few minutes till, asked where it was, and was told by the secretary that no one was there yet, so to wait in the staff room. I sat there until about 9:30, thankful I'd brought my book, when I decided to wander to the library to see if maybe they'd just forgotten to tell me it was starting, but no, they hadn't. I was the first one there, and slowly some of my colleagues meandered in. At about 10:30 the principal started saying things like "Eh! Have they forgotten?" and "This rain, it has delayed them, surely," and making phone calls. We started around 11 am, opened with a prayer, covered two items in the agenda, and then took a tea break. I got lost in all that was discussed, but a lot of it seemed like things that could be decided in private meetings or among the administration rather than in a general beginning of term meeting. Five prayers, one lunch, and six hours later, we were done. Just like the laundry, I have very little sympathy for any of my friends who have to attend staff meetings, sorry. The list is growing.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

It's May??

Last week kind of sucked. Lots of little things contributed, but a few of the main ones were waiting around for various carpenters and repairmen to work on things like my door frame, a leak in my roof, and some bees that were too close for comfort. All the waiting for people to come by meant limited time walking around my village greeting and getting to know people. School is on break right now until the 23rd, so a lot of people who are here normally are gone, which adds to the uncertainty of who is who and what do they do. I generally felt like I sucked as a volunteer because I wasn't out being proactive and making dinner for my neighbors and inviting them over and all that jazz.

On Wednesday I broke down and wandered to the market, hoping not to miss anyone coming by to work on my house, because God knows when they'd come by again. The market in Boroboro leaves much to be desired and it looks like I'll be traveling into Lira for most of my food that isn't tomatoes or onions. Wednesday and Thursday all I ate were eggs, tomatoes, and onions. And then I got sick. The fun kind of sick that leaves me trotting to the latrine every so often. The kind of sick that makes me miiissssss a real bathroom. I went through the handbook the PCMOs gave us and started treating myself with the rehydration salts, and no food for a few days. This just added to the fun of sitting around and waiting for things to be done, as well as not getting out into the village to chat with people, as I wanted to be no more than a short walk to my latrine.

Friday after my doorway was finally done being framed with cement, I went over and borrowed a mop from my neighbor to clean up the mess. Several people asked me if I needed help cleaning during the week, because apparently it looked like I wasn't able to clean floors, when in reality I just hadn't made an effort to do so since the work hadn't been finished yet. The brooms here look like those cinnamon brooms one can buy during the Christmas holidays, except a little more full. Driving up from Kampala last week, I saw a woman, in the pouring rain, sweeping a gutter along a busy road with one of those brooms and a dust pan. She had on a vest that said something to the effect of "I work for the Ugandan National Roads such and such." It's amazing to me the effort people in this country put into cleaning things that will so easily get dirty so quickly again... especially since two minutes down the road there was flooding up to people's roofs. Anyway, back to my floor. Knowing that I'd just have to do it all over again, I put off mopping till the job was finished. I also moved my kitchen things into the second room because I've been finding way too many bugs in and among my things to make me happy. And plus there won't be a door between the sitting room and kitchen for a while (if ever) and I'd rather just have it all together.

Saturday I went into Lira and meandered through the market, bought mangoes at a discount because I talked to the woman for a while in Lango and made friends with her, I spent 50,000/= at the Indian Supermarket, and I purchased ingredients for fun foods such as tortillas, spaghetti sauce, and risotto. I can't wait till the package from my mom arrives with all my spices :D I scrubbed the latrine when I got home and half-ass built a cover for it to cut down on the number of flies, I washed some laundry, ate four tiny bananas (BRAT diet), and generally meandered around. I made rice for dinner last night but prepared it like risotto, so it was extra creamy and delicious. Today I'm off to buy some paint to finally paint my walls... I have no idea what colors but hopefully something will tickle my fancy. I feel like painting will make it seem more "mine" because then I can put up my pictures and maps and stuff that I've been avoiding doing since the construction was going on and I knew in the back of my mind that I was going to paint anyway.

I know all this is normal, the getting sick, feeling like things are taking forever, feeling like "why am I even doing this?"... It just sucks to actually be in the middle of it. This week will be better.