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!)