Friday, November 30, 2012

That sh*t cray

I knew it was a full moon the other night, not because the news or a calendar or because the internet told me, but because things around my home went batshit crazy.  Jacque arrived midmorning so we could start getting things together for our World Aids Day event this weekend, we broke into the box of wine, spread out the poster paper and markers, put on some TrueBlood, and proceeded to watch things go south from there.  One: I went to use the latrine and was met by a tiny (like the length of my hand tiny) black snake curled up behind the door. (what IS it with me and snakes lately?). Two: Jacque let out the loudest most terrified scream I've heard from her in the almost two years we've known each other and flung a giant spider across the poster paper on which I was writing HIV truths and myths.  Three: A toad hopped across our laps and into my bedroom.  I scooped him out with my dustpan and grumbled about animals in my house.  Four: Dogs were howling.  Five: When the lights went out my cat and her kittens got into a very intense growling/hissing/spitting fight and I was pretty sure she was going to attack her children.  Five things that added up to one nutso night.

Other than that I've just had constant company for more than a week now with Thanksgiving and preparations for World Aids Day.  There was absolutely a second Thanksgiving dinner last night, sans green beans.  It was magical. Sunday we're going down for Camp GLOW where we'll be for a week before coming back to my place for five days of laying out, patting ourselves on the back for finishing the term, being what we like to call "super volunteers", and day-dreaming about the upcoming transcontinental travels.

"Wait... wait, i'm back in Uganda?"

We missed you

Girl cat being adorbs

Pistachio pudding pies in lieu of an actual meal

Vera stocking in my favorite colors from Nora :)

Cheesecake pudding pie, again in lieu of an actual meal

Saturday, November 24, 2012

There's no such thing as too much pie

Thanksgiving is proven to be the most important holiday to PCVs around the world. I'm extrapolating this data based on my own opinion and the fact that I'm a PCV, so perhaps that's not a totally scientific statement. Whatever.

This is what I look like when I peel apples, and also what I look like after x number of days not showering. (x = 11). I'm thankful to be so charming and gorgeous.

I'm thankful I can find apples in Lira

I hosted Thanksgiving in my tiny home again, this time with about half the number of people as last year. No one slept on the floor and everyone had a mosquito net, almost unnecessary considering dry season has started and there are fewer bugs around.  Now that it's over and time is moving faster than it was during October (longest gd month ever) I feel like I can breathe a little easier, calm down, and stop worrying if this next month will ever actually happen.  

I'm thankful for Jacque who cuts sweet potatoes oh so beautifully, and keeps me sane :) 

And Rachel who never fails to make me laugh

We have a joke in Peace Corps, "expectations... reality" which is based on this website. Basically we just remind each other not to get our hopes up. I am happy to say that both last year's and this year's Thanksgiving celebrations blew that joke out of the water. With enough pots and coordination I've happily discovered that almost anything is possible. 

I'm thankful for hammocks and facial expressions/hand motions during stories.


I'm thankful that the kittens have learned to use a litter box without too much hullabaloo.

I'm thankful for friends who make me fudge, deep-fried snickers bars, and breaded pork chops.

I'm thankful to have a kitty to keep me company for a few months here

The celebration started about two weeks ago when I picked up three (THREE) boxes of food that my mom sent. Perhaps you think having food from home via mail is cheating? I. do. not. care. We poured over cranberry sauce, stuffing, instant mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole ingredients, and mini pie shells for instant pudding.  To this spread we added two pumpkin pies, apple pie, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese (which will henceforth be a traditional thanksgiving dish for me and mine), bbq pork chops, and fudge. 

I'm thankful for my mom. handsdown. period. best mom ever. & neon making a comeback. (also, how many freaking colors are in my hair?!)

I'm thankful for a boxed wine station in my sitting room.

I'm thankful for my picnic table and outdoor chairs, barbecue sauce from London, and nalgenes. 

I'm thankful for this plate of food and glass of wine. 

I'm thankful I wasn't in this much pain.

I'm thankful for just-add-milk anything (in this case, cookies 'n' cream pudding)

I'm thankful I'm somehow getting better at pie crusts

I'm thankful for canned food that lasts a year (like the ingredients in this pumpkin pie)

I'm thankful for teal walls, pictures from home, and cheeky notes

I'm thankful for breakfast pies and my coffee press. 

I'm thankful for left-over Thanksgiving sandwiches & Amanda Pie

Friday, November 16, 2012

winding down

Sitting here in my yard with my feet propped up, looking at a table with two basins of rainwater and a collection of clean dishes. This sometimes feels incredibly easy, being here. Then a child wanders over to stare, call me munu, ask for money, and quickly skitters away when I give her the eye. Or a brand new lightbulb literally explodes and shatters the first time it's turned on. There's a pan of avocado bread on the stove, a delicious concoction that was born of my almost painful boredom and hesitancy to toss out the quickly mushifying (yes, I did just make that up) avocado in my cupboard. Oh, and google. Though it's pretty fantastic and will surely be gone by morning (avocado french toast? I've eaten weirder) it's still runner up to pumpkin and banana. I just finished The Tao of Travel (Thank you Donna!!!) and it made me itch to be alone on a train going somewhere.  There was one quote I loved, I'm too lazy to go find it, but it basically said the best part of traveling is when it stops being about reaching your destination and starts to just be a part of your every day life. Love it.

(somehow my internet is now fast enough to upload pictures, I'll try to add some each update)

The new group of trainees arrives in Entebbe tonight, the last new group I'll see before I peace out of here come spring.  It's very odd being a senior in Peace Corps, having come not-quite-but-almost full circle and seeing the worries they have over packing and the flight and how they'll get a cell phone. One of the things I'm most proud of accomplishing here is being able to pack lighter than I ever have in my life. It's an odd thing to think about, let alone scrutinize, but to quote another PCV, "I've had every thought humanly possible. Twice."

What else? The kittens are fine, they're quickly gaining gross motor control and will soon be pouncing on one another.  I'm crossing my fingers that someone at the college has a connection to someone who could possibly spay Tia, as cute as the babies are there doesn't need to be a repeat of this fun little experiment.  I feel terrible that animals here (cats and dogs mostly) are almost constantly either pregnant or nursing.  As long as I've lived here, that's one thing I won't ever feel differently about.  It's interesting to step outside myself for a moment and think about the things I've held onto and the things I've changed.  I will always value animal lives and their companionship, I will always enjoy (cherish, really) my alone time, and I will always prefer cooking for myself, regardless of money I spend on groceries.  I think things that have changed are my complete lackadaisical attitude toward having clean hair, an almost 180 degree change on my belief in foreign aid and donations, and my unwavering love for powdered milk.

Today is Friday, a week from now I'll be eating Thanksgiving left overs. A week after that Jacque and I are hosting the second World Aids Day Lira 5K & Health Fair, then Camp GLOW - check out the BLOG!!!! - Then back to site for a week of eating and laughing and laying out, then I'm off on a much needed, much anticpated, year-and-a-half-in-the-making vacation to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Dar Es Salaam, Zanzibar, and Addis Ababa.  After that it's just a few short weeks until our COS (Close of Service) conference where we scramble to pick our dates to leave and book our tickets for another amazing international adventure.  Nora is coming to visit me right after the conference and I'm so excited to show her where I live and for her to see in person that I'm not making up all of the crazy things I tell people back home.  It's gotten to the point where everything I do - remotely cool or not - I think "I wonder what Nora will think of this?" Whether it's the cold water in my shower, the chickens who wander into my house, or the naked baby that calls my name as I walk by, it's going to be amazing to really share that with someone from my "real life".  Then Shaun comes (yes?) and then I'm out of here. I have to stop thinking about all this sometimes and just look around my village and appreciate that it's been almost two years since I sat looking at the dukas and the market thinking "Holy crap, can I do this?" It's lush and green and beautiful and I can now practically float over the mud instead of clomping through it.  I listen to the tropical birds and bugs and bats and forget that those won't be there when I'm back in America.  I watch storms rolling in from the East and think about how that's Kenya. My storms come from Kenya.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I love the rain the most... when it stops.

Sometimes really interesting or funny things happen and I think "people will get a kick out this for sure" but then power is out or my internet is slow or it's raining or something like that, and it never gets recorded. Sorry. An hour and a half ago, though, something interesting happened and it just so happens that it's lovely weather out, I just renewed my internet, and power has been on for a full 18 hours.  The fates obviously are clamoring for an update today.

I arrived home from town and shuffled up to my door, backpack and tote back laden with half my month's living allowance worth of groceries, only to be confronted with a bright green snake on my stoop.  A few weeks ago I came home and was in my house for a good half hour before I looked in the mirror and saw a snake above my doorway, watching me creepily.  I ended up chasing out of my house and up a tree, convinced that it was a green mamba.  Well, apparently it had returned, or it's twin stopped by to say hey, either way there was a green snake staring me down.  I slowly put my bags down, and ignoring the desperate cries of my cat inside, picked up a huge log and started hacking at the snake like a crazy person.  When I saw that it was injured enough to neither slither away nor attack I went into my storeroom, grabbed a slasher, and proceeded to try to cut the head off. My slasher isn't very sharp so the most I managed to do was bluntly cut it into sections, but it did the job and the snake was dead. Justice.

See my friend?

You may have noticed that I mentioned my cat inside meowing to get out, and you may also remember that my last entry ended with the sad tale of the cat running off and becoming a village cat. Well, a few days after that post, she came back, typical.  I feed her well enough that she knows this is home, but it's a double edged sword because it means that she stubbornly refuses to go hunt for her own food and instead yowls for a bit of whatever I'm eating, jumping onto the kitchen table and sticking her nose in the blueband (a horrible, horrible imitation of butter) A few weeks after our happy reunion however, I noticed that she felt a little rounder and that her nipples were more pokey and came to the conclusion that my kitten was going to have kittens.  I kept expecting her to miscarry since she was so young but she carried them to full term and two weeks ago I watched her deliver 4 tiny babies.  They are all seemingly healthy and while I'm enamored by them, I can't help think what crappy lives they are probably going to have.  Two of them are black and I can't really tell them apart, so I named them Bootes and Pavo after the kittens in The Night Circus (amaaaazing!) One is a dark charcoal grey and I'm pretty sure he's going to have white legs and chest when he's older, and the one girl is calico. Those two are still anonymous.  Tutors at the college have claimed them already and were insisting that I hand them over at 2 weeks of age, as if! They can't even walk yet.  I told them they could have them at 6 weeks old, which is when I'll be leaving for camp GLOW, so the timing will work nicely.  I'm worried about leaving Tia for December and January, when I'll be traipsing the continent, but hopefully it'll be a test run for when I'm leaving her for good.

This is Africa

Other than snakes and kittens, I've actually been quite busy at the college, but it's mostly been a project of my own choosing rather than teaching.  Back in July I met with the girls to see if they'd be interested in learning how to teach the reusable menstrual pads program that PCVs teach, and they said yes, but that they couldn't pay for the training materials (a sample pad, and a rice sack for making a visual aid of the menstrual cycle and reproductive system).  I wrote a grant and it was approved, so I spent a few months opening the bank account, waiting for the funding, and getting everything together.  One absurd morning I spent at the bank trying to withdraw the funds.  I got there at 8:30, when it was scheduled to open, but had to wait outside while the floor was mopped, furniture was arranged, wastebaskets emptied. Opening time is a great time for all that, no?  Anyway the line quickly filled and I had to wait for my friend who was the co-signer on the account.  Ugandans don't really use lines the way Americans do, there can't be any space between two people, or at the front of the line between the person being helped and next up.  A general lack of personal space is quite evident, and that, coupled with a lack of air conditioning and an overabundance of time waiting, got to me in a way that things usually don't get to me. Let me also add that the bank has a helper, who wears a sash and is in charge of minding the line, making sure people have the right forms, and directing them where to go.  When I finally got to the front, I had this man, and the eight people behind me literally within a four foot radius of my person.  The sash-wearing bank shepherd was peering over my shoulder telling me this and that, telling me I needed to go to another window when I asked the teller the balance of the account, and telling me I wasn't allowed to do that when I looked him in the eye and crumpled the paper he'd just handed me. In short,  I lost my cool. In a bank. Surrounded by Ugandans. It was embarrassing, but I was just soooo over it all, the slowness of everything here, the lack of personal space, the people peering at my bank slip, watching me write out "one million two hundred thousand..." and my account number, the clicking of the tongues when something goes wrong, being told "You're not in America..." It's days like that that make me think, ever so cruelly, "I win. I have a free ticket back to America, the greatest country on Earth, and you have to stay here."

Re-usable, washable, made from local materials, incredibly affordable

After that experience, preparations for the workshop went smoothly.  I commandeered the college van for a day, justifying it by putting in $8 worth of gas, and got all of the shopping done, refusing to leave anything un-purchased for another day. Let me just say that trying to get "everything done in one day" here is a feat, and I accomplished it. The shopping at least. I cut and prepared 150 pad kits, organized a ton of information, made the schedule, prepared activities for the girls so it was interactive, basically I was not only ready, I was stoked for this workshop. Of course it's Uganda though, so it started late and barely kept to the schedule and people came and went as they pleased. But at the end of it, 117 girls had shown up at SOME point, and at least 40 were there the whole time asking questions, participating, making the pads and the visual aids, playing the games I'd planned, and hopefully got a lot out of it.  I have a ton of extra materials so I'm going to chill out and regroup for a few days and then see what to do.  Options I'm throwing around are offering it again, this time to the gents since they were left out the first time around, or going to the primary school and offering a workshop there.  I told my girls if they want to teach it during school practice next term that I have extra pads they can use and I'll go with them to teach, but that it's up to them to initiate it.

Sewing sample pads

Other than that I've just been hiding out in the village for way too long, trying to save money and begin some semblance of a tan so I don't immediately fry in Cape Town. Power has been awful lately, so has the weather, and Airtel got rid of its unlimited texting plan, so there have been inumerable boring days spent daydreaming about things like really good red wine, the new camera lens that Stella is bringing me from America, and melted cheese. I escaped for lunch with the other Lira girls a few weeks ago, but apart from that afternoon of pizza, I've been alone here for over a month. I think that's a record, it's certainly something I never intend to do again.  Cannot WAIT for Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

jigger what?

Being on the equator and having little to no change in seasons (other than the god awful dry season that was surely meant as a punishment from someone up above) it can feel like time doesn't really advance in the way it does in the states, where days lengthen and shorten and the weather changes cyclically.  I have to stop sometimes to think about the date, and then what time of year that makes it, and what it might feel like in Florida. Summer is slowly fading into fall, but here it feels the same as it did in April, and the same as it will feel three months from now.

Term two finished a few weeks ago and I wrapped it up by painting a dorm, turning 29, and saying goodbye to the Irish teachers who were here.  They were generous and left me with some tupperware, a jar of nutella, a bottle of soy sauce, and a kitten. Yep, seven months left and I got a kitten. She is super cute and friendly and I rechristened her Tia (for This Is Africa, thanks Nora and Emmy!) However, promptly upon adopting her, I had to leave her with some neighbors to go work at Camp GLOW East.  The woman I left her with speaks zero English and my Lango is puttering out, but somehow I managed to communicate that I'd return in two (hours? weeks? days? who knows) and that the bag of fish was for the cat to eat. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.


Camp GLOW was fabulous. Maggie and Bethany really did a wonderful job organizing everything and making the week flow without any major hiccups. I was in charge of media and photos, and it was fun having a legit excuse to just walk in and out of sessions and take pictures. I also taught friendship bracelets, literacy hour (where I successfully introduced Scattergories to Uganda), banana bread baking, and wrangled the campers to paint a world map, which turned out beautifully but all the head teacher had to say was "Eh! There is no compass rose!" Sorry dude. In other, fun, somehow camp related news, I got my first jigger! Apparently the Busoga region is rife with chigoe fleas that like to burrow into one's toes and lay eggs. Lovely. After my post-camp shower I noticed a little bump on one toe and knew instantly what it was, having cringed over pictures of them in training. I dug it out with my leatherman (totally safe, right?). Out popped a split-pea-sized white egg sac and I think the mama jigger. So so gross. I wasn't in the mindset to take pictures of the process, but if I get another one I'll get some snaps.


James on the porch of our tent

I'd been looking forward to this week since about February when one of my best friends from home, Jamie, began making her plans to come see me.  I finished up camp and headed to the airport with a wonderful driver named Jjuuko (PCVs let me know if you want his number, he actually called ME to confirm picking us up!!!). As soon as I knew her plane had touched down my heart was all aflutter and I was so anxious to see her! This was her first trip out of the US (Canada and Tijuana don't count?) and I can't say enough how impressed I was with how chill she was about all of the absurdity Uganda can throw our way. Bus rides with a child clinging to her? No problem. Bring pulled four different ways in the taxi park? Hakuna matata! Haggling for a better price in the craft market? Madame, you reduce!  We had a wonderful trip and it was neat to see Uganda through fresh eyes again. I feel like I took in more details than I usually do on transportation just because I was looking out for things to show Jamie. The names of businesses ("Praise Be To God Butchery and Bookshop") and the absurdly wide-hipped dress models will always be images I associate with here, and now one of my "real life friends" has those images in her mind, too. It was also great for her to meet some of my Peace Corps friends, without whom I can't honestly say I'd still be in country.  The support volunteers give one another is priceless and these are friendships that I truly cherish and am looking forward to a lifetime of looking back, laughing, and traveling to new places with :)

No words :)

We were able to pull off a couple different activities despite her short time here and the Ebola outbreak that limited travel to certain areas of the country. (Note: everything is a-ok here, it's not like a zombie movie or anything, no worries!) She saw the mountain gorillas in Bwindi and said afterwards that her life was complete. We went to the source of the Nile and watched incredible sunsets, punctuated by monkeys traipsing up and down the roof of our dorm. We drank Nile beer, shopped for purses, lamented over long taxi rides and bad roads, and winded our way across this little country in East Africa. I can't say how glad I am she came.

Sunset on the Nile

Saying goodbye sucked, but I know I only have about seven months left and how quickly that time will go by.  It was strange being sans Jamie again, I'd grown accustomed to her being here.  The next morning I made the drive back up to Lira in record time (thank you post bus, I was in town by 1:30 pm!) grabbed some items from the supermarket and made my way out to the village where I promptly began cleaning out the spiderwebs and dust that had accumulated in my absence. I went to collect the cat and found her dirty but in good health. I thanked the woman with a chocolate bar and took my purring bundle back home.  I'd like to say that's where my story ends, but kitty went hunting yesterday afternoon and never came back. Who knows where she is. I felt like an awful human being going to sleep with her still outside last night and slept poorly for it.  I'm hoping she prances out of the maize fields today, happy to see me and meowing for some fish. But if she doesn't, c'est la vie. I'd adopted her with the intention of leaving her here to be a village kitty when I'm done, so maybe she'll just get that title a few months early.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

100 books

I finished my 100th book in Uganda last night. The End, the 13th book in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.  I was hooked on the series and reveled in finally getting to the last one, but was still left with a ton of questions and promptly got on wikipedia to search for all I could find. Then I realized what a nerd that makes me. Whatever.

I've relished having the time to read to my heart's content.  I am tickled when a book I'm reading relates to something in another book I've read, and even more so when both of those books relate to a conversation I'm having.  I am absolutely that annoying person who chimes in with "oh, that's like in this book I just finished!" Sorry about that. 

Looking at the list of one hundred, these are the ones that stick out at me, though I have enjoyed almost every single one (except Lolita. Ridiculous book.)

Aboke Girls - This is the story of one nun who worked at St. Mary's College in Aboke, Uganda during the war between the Goverment of Uganda, and the Lord's Resistance Army (see my friend Jacque's post for a much fuller, better account of it.) 139 girls were abducted and this woman worked tirelessly to bring them back.  St. Mary's is about an hour from where I live. 

Lamb - A satire, looking at the 30 years in the life of Jesus that the Bible skips over. It's told from the perspective of Jesus's close childhood friend, Biff, and gives an account of travels they took together and influences to the eventual teachings of Christianity. I'm not sure how someone much more religious than I am would see it, but I think it was done tastefully and respectfully and definitely recommend it.

Molokai - The story of one woman's lifetime spent in Hawaii, in a leper colony that is hardly ever talked about. (I didn't even know there was one until I heard about this book.) It's a novel, but the colony is a real place and its history is heartbreaking.  I cried myself to sleep almost every night for the week it took me to read this. It weighs on you, but it's amazing.

The Shadow of the Wind - This is just a fantastic mystery novel written by a Spanish author which was then translated into English.  Normally some of the original awesomeness can be lost in translation, but not in this case.  A young boy discovers a book that he falls in love with, but when he tries to find other books by the same author, he finds that they are all being destroyed... suspense and mystery ensue! 

The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand is a suberb author, and while her political leanings tend to lean opposite mine, I really enjoyed this book.  Another book I read referenced Fountainhead and the boy reading it was told to "be a filter, not a sponge," which is spot on, but that's good advice in almost all cases.

The Lost City of Z - The account of one of the last expeditions into the Amazon River Basin when it was being mapped by Europeans and Americans.  There is something magical about diving into a world where maps were only estimates of what continents looked like and where being an "explorer" was an actual career.  It takes place in the early 1900's, which is all the more interesting since that's the world my grandparents lived in.

The World According to Garp - Not sure why this one is so good, it just is. Read it!

To Kill a Mockingbird - This is the only re-read I'm putting here because it's so so touching.  It serves as such a good reminder of what it means to be a decent person and have a strong moral compass.  It's one of those books that will stick with you forever.

Guns, Germs, & Steel - A long and tedious but beyond fascinating history of the world and why we ended up the way we did.  So many things relate to this book when I am having conversations with people in my community on why America is different from Uganda.

I have 50 books and 9 months left to reach my goal of 150 in Peace Corps. Again, I'm a nerd.  Books in my immediate future include The Long Walk to Freedom (I want to read this before going to South Africa in December!) Atlas Shrugged, The Red Tent, The Game of Thrones series, Little Bee, Quiet, The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Book Thief, and any others you want to send my way :) 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

There's whiskey in the jar

It's mzungu season in Africa. By that I mean that all over the world, short-term volunteers are packing bags full of crayons, donated clothes, toys, bibles, and hand sanitizer and boarding planes bound for my home. They are buying all of the granola, cheese, and cheap powdered milk that I so viciously hunt for on my once a month shopping trip.  They are hiring drivers, playing with children, drinking bottled water, and giving things out. They are making me look like an asshole. There are about 50 white people in my village currently, when I'm usually one of two, it's weird.  I watch them laugh and chase the primary kids, and think to myself "wow, I really suck, I never do that" but then I remember that the primary kids usually chase me when they see me on my morning run.  I feel like crap when they talk about building a new dorm or fixing the roof that blew off in February, but I also know the financial workings of the college better than they do and know there is no such thing as a maintenance fund and that upkeep is non-existent.  I know that until those things are in place, fixing a ceiling that's collapsing is like putting a band-aid on a gunshot.  I can't imagine what it would be like to have the resources and energy of a short-term volunteer over the entire stretch of the 27 months I'm here.  I wonder how much either of us is actually accomplishing.

Last night I cooked dinner for my Irish neighbor girls, and I absolutely left the spread outside on the table when they all left and I went to sleep at midnight.  A dog got into my trash and the vodka and wine bottles were still on the table when 30 PTC students showed up to slash my grass and sweep my dirt at 9:15 this morning.  I grumbled and ate my oatmeal sitting on my bed so they wouldn't stare at me, most likely silently judging me for being such white trash.  I debated using my night bucket so I wouldn't have to walk to the latrine past all the girls who were in charge of maintaining my yard.  It was an awkward morning. Then one of my students showed up clutching his Peace Camp application and asked if I thought he'd be accepted.  I read it over and saw he'd been abducted by the LRA and was a child soldier from ages 10 to 13. All of the sudden nothing I've done here felt important, and I wanted to start over so I might actually be useful.  It gave me chills to type his application to email it to the camp coordinator. His brother and sister were killed during the war. He wants to start a peace club. He isn't allergic to any foods except poisonous ones. His education was interrupted. He went back and finished his education.

Most days here I read and clean and chat with the other tutors and formally greet 63 people. Occasionally I lecture and play games with the students if they're in class. I text other PCVs the silly things I see around me. Some days, however, make me rethink everything I know about the world and my own life. I have so little to complain about and so much to be thankful for, and I need to do a better job of conducting myself in a way that reflects that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

scabs, scalds, and snot

I'm extremely thankful that I know myself well enough to know when to say when.  I'm also thankful that my limit is so ridiculously stretched out from this whole ridiculous experience that my line rarely gets crossed.  I am infinitely resilient, but I absolutely admit to having my moments. Two weekends ago sucked.  I definitely felt down, and was disappointed to realize that the ups and downs of Peace Corps still exist 17 months into service. The roller coaster that volunteers will describe is so so real and can drop towards the ground with little to no warning. My crap ass weekend was capped off by a week of physical injuries which included falling off the sidewalk that runs the perimeter of my house, instantly followed by dumping my laundry basin on my head. The kicker is that cleaning generally makes me feel better so I thought doing some wash would help me get through the funk. I ended up with a nasty scrape on my knee that would rival that of a 6 year old boy. It still hasn't healed fully and I'm pretty sure I'm going to have a silver dollar sized scar on my knee cap.

I decided the next day (Monday) that I would no longer mope about the crap I'd been moping about and set out to have a fantastic week. It worked for the most part, I kind of established a girl's club with all my female students, sold a bunch of AFRI-Pads, and talked to my principal about writing a grant to host a reproductive health workshop. I started teaching a mini-class on how to make pretty posters for classroom walls. (This is a whole other story, but rest assured it ends with a quizzical facial expression and a sigh).  This high lasted until Wednesday when I rushed home to avoid the rain, failed to avoid the rain, and then decided to make pumpkin bread since the weather was cool, wet, and reminded me of fall.  I burned the crap out of all the fingers on my right hand lifting the steam filled lid from my dutch oven. Effff. I ended up sleeping with a bowl of rainwater (colder than tap water) next to my bed in which to keep my poor singed fingers submerged. They're not healed all the way either. Knowing that bad things generally come in threes, I was paranoid for a few days, sure that my bus would tip over or that I'd slip and fall into my pit latrine. You can't understand how relieved (and also miserable) I was when an upper respiratory infection took up residence in my sinus cavity and left me feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. Being sick sucks. Being sick when you're 8,000 miles away from home, in a place where you have to carry 20L jerry cans of water to your house if you're thirsty, where everyone stares at you and personal space is literally a foreign concept, where few to zero things are truly comfortable, and where hot showers are a maybe-once-a-month occurrence, brings tears to my eyes. Thankfully not a lot of tears, just enough to make my nose get even stuffier. Bother. I am currently sitting in a hostel room in Kampala, just having completed my mid-service medical exam and getting a ten-day supply of antibiotics. (The malaria test was negative). Back up to the village tomorrow, I'm seriously going to miss these hot showers, but at least I found some raspberry-echinacea tea to take back with me. 

My college has five Irish girls staying for two months, they're students at teacher colleges and on a summer study program.  It kind of showed me how far I've come in country when they came to me asking how to catch the rats that began plaguing them upon arrival, and how to do basic house-holdy stuff that I've gotten really good at. Who knew that the skills I'd acquire and share during Peace Corps would include "how to be domestic as a westerner living in Uganda." 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

One of those days

In the year and a half since I've been here, I can probably count the number of times I've felt bored or disheartened on one hand. Being bored means you're a boring person, right? I'm usually perfectly content with myself for company and have a myriad of distractions to keep me occupied. The last three days I've felt bored and disheartened almost constantly.  Maybe it's the fact that power has been out, that's it's overcast and rainy, that my neighbors are gone so it's quieter than usual, or that my students were complete idiots at the last assembly and heckled me when I asked them to not be rude and interrupt the speaker. It's never a good sign when you get a text at 6:52 am already declaring it "one of those days." At least I'm not alone.

I filled out my VRF the other day, a tool we use to report to PC about our goings-on at site and what we're working on, and seeing it all down in writing kind of depressed me.  I'm not doing a lot.  Putting it down in writing here is going to suck too, but I'm hoping indulging for a few minutes in my little pity party will help me work through it.  Two out of the three goals of Peace Corps are cross cultural, so keeping a blog, talking about the differences between America and Uganda, posting pictures, teaching my friends here how to cook an American meal, all those things count as what I'm supposed to be doing. Sometimes though, it doesn't feel like enough.  My primary project is teaching at the college, but since things there are more disorganized than not and we really only teach one term out of three, I'm not nearly as busy as I want to be.  My counterpart is the head of the math department and I feel a lot of the time like I'm just a free teacher for him for a couple years.  He's a great guy, a hard worker, amicable, and dedicated to his job, but as far as working with me on anything other than "Here is your schedule for this term," he doesn't have time or interest.  We're encouraged to find other counterparts to work with if our assigned one doesn't work, so I've talked to some of the women at the college about a few different projects where their interests and my skills match up. (There are only three others, one lives at the college and two of them live in town and commute).  The one at the college is an awesome older woman who I enjoy chatting with and who has looked out for me, but she has a negative and seemingly inflexible attitude on getting anything to change.  She's from another part of Uganda originally so she still views the north from an outsider's perspective and says they have a lot to catch up on. The other two women live in town and have young families to take care of, so they're not around except when they teach, and then they leave again. Getting anything to even begin, let alone be followed through on, has been difficult and frustrating.

The men at the college ask me over and over why I focus on "the girl-child" in terms of talking about reproductive health and whatnot, that the boys deserve to be educated too, that they might have sisters who would benefit from this information. I get their point, but girls are so much more marginalized and at risk of dropping out of school because of reproductive health related reasons (i.e. getting their periods and not having sanitary pads, getting pregnant, getting pregnant then having an abortion that nearly kills them, getting pregnant then having an abortion that nearly kills them and then being made fun of in front of the school assembly by the administration for the experience...).  I'm all for boys having strong, positive role models that show them how to grow up and be respectful, responsible men, but I'm not dumb enough to pretend that I can be that for the boys here.  The phrase "you have to pick your battles" marries perfectly with what it's like to serve in the Peace Corps, as does "don't bite off more than you can chew."

It doesn't help that my yard is now full of the furry, sneaky, poisonous caterpillars that make their cocoons up the sleeves of jackets, and then when you go to put it on you get caterpillar stings all up your arm (true story, not to me though, thankfully.)

Obviously this is all me whining about it being hard here, which I fully expected, so I need to cut the crap. My goals today were to sew the armpits of a dress so the arm openings were smaller, to write a blog post, and to plan for a meeting with some girls tomorrow about making pads. So far I'm two for three and am feeling better than when I sat down to write this, so maybe today won't suck. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Thank the heavens I have a new modem!

I don't remember if I've shared this, but my modem was stolen back around New Years. I'd left it at a friends house in my hard-drive case. Her house was broken into and long story short, I've been sans internet on my computer since then.  I made due with my iPhone for email and facebook until April when I bought a modem off a COSing volunteer. Life is slower here, so it took a while to get airtime on it, get it working, plug it in to see if it worked, and then actually use it. Well, here I am, sitting in my yard with my feet propped up typing a new blog entry on my computer (the connection is much faster outside, and it's nice out.)

The rainy season started one weekend while I was in Kampala for a meeting. I got texts from my friends back up north saying how hard it was raining and how they were pretty sure it was the apocalypse, given how dry and barren it had been for so long. Even just two days later when I was on my way back to Lira, I could see a change in the landscape and the air. Things looked clearer, as if the rain had washed away the dust that had been blowing around the lower atmosphere.  It was a wonderful relief and all of my neighbors hurriedly began planting the gardens that they had prepared in the weeks leading up to the deluge. I am noticeably behind the rest of them as I just planted my "garden" yesterday.  I just did some herbs and peppers and lettuce, so we'll see what comes up. I have a black thumb, but playing in the dirt and watching food appear from my blisters has been more fun that I'd realized, so I figured I'd give it another shot this time around.

A few weeks prior to this I had a fun experience with home break-ins. I came home one afternoon only to find that my outdoor kitchen was open (my fault, I hadn't locked it) and my main house was open as well (this was not my fault, I most definitely HAD locked that).  I did the opposite of what you're supposed to do in this situation and entered my house to peek around. Nothing seemed out of place until I realized that my camera was broken, my headlamp was missing, and a mango was gone. Bitches and hoes, that was the first mango of the season and I was really looking forward to it.  A suggestion from the Peace Corps Safety and Security Coordinator (Fred you are awesome!) led me to check the pictures on my camera and sure enough, some jerk of a child had broken in (still don't know how), taken my camera around the village all afternoon, had a ball from the looks of it, and then replaced it when it was no longer useable. Ass. I have almost 100 pictures of this kid's joyride, including one black and white of a cow drinking from a borehole drain or something. I printed that one and hung it up, it's kind of funny and I actually like it. I'm incredibly thankful that this was my break-in experience and that it wasn't much much worse.

I went home for a wedding and to visit a few weeks ago, and I got a lot of questions about my safety.  I really have never felt unsafe here. Granted there have been a few times where I've tread carefully; my first time walking back from Nikki's at night (literally less than 10 minutes), any time I've been in Kampala at night, during dry season when my yard is extra crunchy and any stray animal wakes me up... but I promise that I do not feel unsafe here. I find it funny, but also kind of sad, when people back home exclaim that I'm nuts for being here. Most likely they have no clue how it really is, but more importantly they're generalizing that Africa is unsafe, that it's different, that it's all around, inherently bad. I will be the first to admit that I complain about things here, that things are slow moving, that customer service is non-existent, and that public transportation makes me want to cry occasionally. However, my experience here has been that most people most of the time want to go out of their way to make sure I'm ok. They are kind and generous, they smile and laugh, and they seem genuinely happy to see me and hear how I've been.

Going home was an adventure in and of itself. By the time Nora and Emmy picked me up in Jacksonville, I had been awake for 48 hours and was still 2 hours away from getting into a bed. That is far, far too long to be awake.  The wedding I went home for was the next day, and somehow I was not only awake for the whole thing, but I was coherent and even lively in some instances.  Spending that day with my friends was priceless, and I knew there was literally no where else on Earth I'd rather have been.  America was amazing, it's incredible how my perspective has changed while I've been in Uganda. I didn't have any freak-outs in the cereal aisle, but I think part of that was that I was preparing myself to completely feel like a martian, so the small things that threw me off were more humorous than anything else. I stood staring at a wall of running shoes, not sure where to even begin selecting a pair to try on. I eventually had to leave the store, giving my apologies to the clerk who'd offered to help me only to be told "um, I don't know..." I walked around target (TARGET! best store everrrrr) for two hours and marveled at things like employees working hard rather than sitting in a corner slowly wiping the dust off of anything in arms' reach, the quiet radio playing rather than some sort of foreign (to me at least) music blaring, how nothing really smelled of anything in particular, how clothing hung on a rack, ten of the exact same dresses so you could find your size... I could go on forever. It was amazing. A lot of my readjustment worries were alleviated, things I'd had in the back of my mind for the last 16 months. Would my dog remember me, and more importantly, want to be my dog again? Would my cat? Would I remember how to drive? Blow dry my hair? I feel like having these questions answered (yes, yes, yes, yes, no) will make it a little easier to relax this year, knowing that going home again won't be as hard as I'd built it up in my mind.

Other things that blew my mind about America: Driving... alone, in my car, going to where I want to go to do things that take however long, that is a freedom in and of itself. Well done. The wastefulness of packaging... everything does not need to be surrounded by three layers of plastic. Bottled water? Really? You know the water is safe over there, right? (for the record, water fountains blew me away, too) The diversity... I was expecting to be surrounded by a sea of white people. Not so! It was really awesome, considering that the homogenous-ness of Uganda is one thing that really bugs me. How we still can't get gay rights right... why am I on the other side of the world sharing our culture and trying to teach people "a better way" of doing anything if my home still hasn't gotten it right. It makes me want to come home and work for that instead (or after, I'm almost done here anyway) My family & friends... I knew they were awesome, but it was beyyyyond amazing to see everyone again and be reminded of all the positive influences in my life that constantly push me to be better. If I saw you while I was back (and unfortunately there are a couple people I didn't get to see, too, you know who you are) you are one of the ones whom I truly value and miss and appreciate!

After going back to the states, I got to take a trip to Jordan to see Petra, the Dead Sea, and the Red Sea, all of which were incredibly humbling. Being in a place with the history that it has (well documented, far-reaching history I guess, everywhere has history) made me feel very connected to civilization as an entity. That sounds weird, sorry. In simpler terms, it was really, really cool.  We floated around in the water-so-salty-that-it-was-oily, smeared black mud all over and laughed about how people pay hundreds of dollars for that crap in spas. We drove on a highway that has been a trade route for thousands of years and is mentioned in the Bible (it was beautiful and completely understated.) Those will be some of my favorite memories for a long time.  Thank you Claire for hosting us!

Now I'm back, settled back into my routine of brushing my teeth in the yard and trotting out to the latrine (which smells of margaritas since I just opened the second air freshener that Laura had sent last summer!)  I'm back to eating my one plate of beans for lunch, unfortunately the beans have been also coming with a side of little worms recently.  It's incredible the things you can get used to...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A year in

Life on the equator is still trucking along. This should be some poignant seminal entry about how changed and amazing my life is, but the truth is that my "normal" now is more mundane than not, and it would be disingenuous to tout my life as more than what it is. Basically it’s hot as all get out and my feet are filthy. Most days I try not to make too many faux pas. Some students have shown up but there’s not teaching going on yet. I laugh a little to myself when the other tutors talk about needing to make a timetable for classes so the students know we’re serious. Hmm.

I spent last weekend shuttling back and forth around Northern Uganda. I had gone to Iceme to stay with Jacque a night before heading to Gulu, but got a call from my principal that our staff meeting was scheduled for the next morning (after having been put off for two weeks and no one knew anything about a new time for it) so I jetted back to Boroboro to attend the meeting and then zipped back up to Gulu to celebrate the close of our first year in Uganda. We layed by the pool, ate lots of Ethiopian food, got super dirty on transport to Stevie's house, and drank "non-alcoholic celebration drink". <3 magical.

There are screens on my bedroom windows now, as it is too stiflingly hot to close them at night, but I’m still freaked out about malaria and little hands reaching in to take my shit. Not that screens offer much protection against the latter but at least I’d wake up and be able to scream something (or lay there in a terrified silence…)

Not much else, I’m just trying to be better about writing consistently. Xoxo.

Monday, February 6, 2012

You have some pulp in your hair

School is supposed to start today, but somehow, like everything else I’ve experienced here, things aren’t going as planned. At the end of last year my students took tests set by the ministry; the first years took promotional exams to determine whether or not they can go on, and the second years took certification exams, to determine whether or not they can become teachers. The ministry is in charge of grading the exams and then giving the PTCs the results so we know who among the first year students is allowed to come back and continue, except that we are still waiting on the results.

It’s funny when people back in America swoon over things I’m doing here and the life I’m living… yes, it’s an adventure just buying vegetables sometimes, and yes I’m pretty stoked to be able to say I did this, but when it comes down to it, my days are very slow and I read a lot of books. I have acclimated to the laid back lifestyle, probably better than I care to admit, so when I walked up to the college last week and meandered around and chatted with people, I wasn’t too surprised or disappointed to hear that no one knew what was going on. This morning, the first day of school, I guessed that I could take it slowly getting to the college, so I went for a run and ate a papaya off my tree before worrying about going to work. However, when I finally walked up at 9 and found the college empty, I was a little confused. (Teacher friends in America, can you imagine?) Only Bensy and Jasper – the school secretary and assistant – were there so they alone reaped the benefits of my boredom last weekend (read: some effing delicious banana bread that I’d brought to share at tea time) It tickled them to be the sole recipients of something Liz cooked, Liz who can’t cook to save her life, look at her, there’s no way she can cook Skeris. Oh ye of little faith, just wait till you taste that bread.

Yesterday was spent sitting in the sunshine, reading a book, and trying to get my Florida on. I picked some limes from my tree, and figuring they’d make a decent substitute for lemons, squeezed them into my hair to try to speed up the blonde process that is already taking place. At about four, the flies were way too happy that I had fruit juice in my hair so I had to call it a day and go take a shower. I am super conservative with my water here and don’t usually shower except once every *grumble grumble* so I don’t really want to repeat the lemon-lime hair-do today and have to wash it again, two days in a row. Blasphemy!

On a closing note, my friend Ilse does a much, much better job of describing what it's like at the beginning of school here. Except that she apparently has some students and I still have zero.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I have less than 15 months left. I know this because the countdown on my wall tells me so. In two weeks I will mark my one year anniversary in Uganda and marvel at all I've done and how quickly this is really passing.

I got my iPhone unlocked back around Halloween (I know it was then because I was laying in bed with my umpteeth stomach issue and missed the party, I was supposed to have been a cat.) Since then I mainly use that to check facebook and email, so updating the blog got pushed to the back burner, as did almost every other internet related thing. I honestly can't remember what I used to spend hours upon hours at my computer for. I'm sure I'll remember when I get home and have wifi again, but for now it all seems like a waste. Both book and wish lists have been updated, so check them out if you want :) Anyway, tons has happened since my last update so I'll do my best to recount the last three months, by far my busiest in country.

Thanksgiving was spent at my house, my tiny, two room, 240 square foot house. Nine people were here and it was the best Thanksgiving I've ever had. The night before was spent drinking and laughing, as it should, but Thanksgiving was spent proctoring exams and fretting over lost packages. We decided to wait until Friday to cook, hoping that my mom's three (THREE!) boxes of traditional food would make it here in time. Knowing that there was cranberry sauce on the way helped make the decision. It was definitely a good one because for one thing it rained all day Thursday, for another power was out, for a third not everyone was there, and for the last, the packages arrived Thursday evening :D Friday morning began early, around 7, with the Ugandan greeting that replaces a knock on the door - "Kodi!" which translates to "Hi! I'm outside, are you home? Can I come in?" (The response is "Karibu" which means "You are welcome".) The assistant secretary at my school, Jasper, was standing there with another gentleman and a giant live turkey strapped to the back of a bicycle. We were elated to see that he had come through (Jasper, you rock!) and got to work on killing and dressing the poor bird. The askari (guard) who takes care of my compound helped us clean it out. The day was then spent eating pancakes, cooking pie, deep frying the turkey in my yard, and swooning over everything my mom had sent. The meal far surpassed anything we had been expecting; we had turkey, mashed potatoes (with ranch!), sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, beer bread, individual pumpkin pie jello pies, and apple pie that spelled out "Peace Corps" with the crust. With everything that we've experienced this past year, spending a holiday with friends and amazing food was all any of us could have asked for. It was delicious and we were thankful.

A week later a few of us reconvened to put on a 5k race and health fair in commemoration of World Aids Day. Rewind a month to a site visit by my assistant program director where he asked Jacque "so what are you planning for WAD?" Um. In the time it took him to drive from Jacque's site to mine, we collaborated on the phone and came up with an answer for me to give him when he arrived. "We're thinking of doing a 5k race and health fair, how does that sound? The grant was due a month ago? crap. Well, I am confident that we can do this." We wrote a grant for $500 and planned an event to take place at my college the day after term ended. We had shirts made, got a radio spot, advertised, and planned for a 7 booth health fair that was open to the public. 40 people came and ran, and at least twice that came to talk about issues surrounding HIV/Aids in Uganda. We talked about other STDs and how those can both increase your risk of contracting HIV (open sores!) and be ten times worse if your immune system is already compromised. We demonstrated how to use a condom on a "toilet paper holder" that we had made by my carpenter the day before. We gave a quiz to see how much people already knew, and we played a game to deomstrate how quickly HIV can spread through a community that has a "sexual network" like many in Uganda tend to have. Though there were definite things that we were like "oh, oops" about, it was a total success and I felt amazing at having pulled it off. Next year will be even better.

With term being over and my community basically deserted, I had few qualms about leaving for a week to be a counselor at Camp GLOW Uganda. We hosted 150 girls at an amazing school down in Entebbe. The sister (nun) who runs this school needs some kind of award or recognition not only from the ministry but from the international community too. Her primary boarding school is home to girls from 6 to 14 (roughly, some are older due to issues that prevent girls from starting school on time) and they are all treated as family. The compound is immaculate, the food is delicious and varied, and she treats everyone she encounters with an amazing amount of respect. The week was spent with classes and activities focused on empowering girls to set their own goals and make decisions that will keep them healthy and happy. We talked about gender roles and how biologically speaking, there is very little one sex cannot do that the other can (the exceptions being producing sperm, giving birth, etc). I talked about how sex is decided by nature (or God, for those more religious) but your role as a woman or man is decided and dictated by culture. We played team building games and did arts and crafts. The girls had questions to think about each day and were able to journal each night after group reflection. It was a really cool experience and I'm looking forward to doing both Camp GLOW Northern Uganda in April, and the national camp again next December.

After camp, I went hiking with some of my friends and got to once again experience how beautiful this country can be, when it's far away from the pollution and litter that plague many of the bigger towns. There were a couple time when I was on my own, some people ahead with the porters carrying the food, and some behind with the guides, that I felt absolutely tiny. There was not a house or a road or anything within a day's walk and the silence was deafening. From the peak we could see the ridge that divides Uganda and Kenya, and it was one of those moments where I had to pinch myself to see if this is really my life right now. After descending, with sore knees and even sorer feet (um hello blisters!) we spent a weekend in Kampala and stayed at the home of a guy who works in the embassy. I took a hot shower and (wait for it... waaaait...) did laundry NOT BY HAND. Amazing. I just sat there watching TV while my clothes were getting washed and dried, all on their own! Magic! We ate copious amounts of delicious food and saw what life might be like in the foreign service (minus the actual work part, we just hung out). Pretty tight, and I'm again rethinking taking the Foreign Service Exam.

Christmas and New Years were spent in the company of other PCVs, even though neither of them felt like the real holiday. It was stiflingly hot, and while we dressed up, ate a really good meal, and exchanged gifts, it felt nothing like Christmas at home. It was my first Christmas away from home (my older brother has spent many away from us, my younger brother hasn't yet) and I'm almost sad to say that I think it was ok... obviously I'd rather be with family, but having made such good friendships here I didn't feel at all down or sad that day. One down, one left.

That brings me back to home, and finishing up the break from school. In true fashion, I'm only partly sure what's going on in terms of starting the school year. I know students are supposed to come back on February 6th, but I haven't been told anything definite other than that. I'm looking forward to teaching again, but also trying to get more done with the projects I'd started to start when the school year ended (the school year here is the calendar year, not August through June) I'm hoping to get more involved with PIASCY (HIV/Aids), and hoping to go a little further with teaching reusable menstrual pads (and more importantly, teaching my students to teach it...)

It's dry season now, in full swing, and hot as all get out. It hasn't rained in well over a month so everything is brown and dead. The bushes around my house were somewhat burned (I think in an attempt to burn piles of leaves gone awry) so I'm hoping they grow back. I have tons of privacy at my place, but only so far as the bushes are there, I realized. My house and compound feel totally secluded, but I quickly realized that I am smack in the middle of it all. I bought a fan too, but oddly enough I haven't used it all that much. Power has been ridiculous lately, and I don't like sleeping with it on, so I've kind of gotten used to laying on the couch in the mid-afternoon just lamenting how hot it is.

In fun news, I have my ticket back to the states for Danielle and Blake's wedding! I get in around midnight the night before, so I'm crossing my fingers for smooth travels and nothing resembling the plot of a hairbrained movie. I'm visiting Jordan on the return trip and am incredibly excited about seeing the ruins at Petra and the Dead Sea. Also, Jamie and possibly her sisters are *planning* on coming to visit in August to go see the mountain gorillas! I feel like having people come visit makes this whole thing more real, because when I get back and am describing how utterly ridiculous/disgusting/beautiful/delicious/stinky/hilarious something is, someone will be able to back me up and say "yep, she's not lying."

~Happy 2012~