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."