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...