Monday, January 21, 2013

Random acts of kindness

I forgot to put this up earlier, but it completely made my day :)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Part I: South Africa

I arrived home four days ago and met a newly built poultry/goat farm in my yard.  "Wonderful," I thought as the eau de goat wafted into my home.  After Stella and Jacque left the following morning, I was alone for the first time in over a month. It was nice.

From Thanksgiving to World Aids Day to Camp GLOW (I'm much, much to lazy to write an entry on this, check out the blog that I updated every day at camp) to finally leaving on vacation I'd been surrounded by people and on the go almost non-stop.  Being home and able to wash the eight items of clothing I'd been wearing over and over was a welcome event.  It's hard to think back on all that happened and put it into words, but that's what this is for so I'll give it a whirl.

Our flight out of Entebbe was typical in that we were on a 2 am flight and had to wait around till midnight to check in.  Of course traveling that late at night isn't the best idea, so we arrived at the airport  almost 12 hours early and sat around watching Modern Family on Jacque's laptop.  Copies of passports and credit cards were taken, frantic phone calls were made to family members back home who had booked tickets on behalf of the ones traveling. Ethiopian air HAD to see the physical credit card the tickets were booked with, and phooey on us if those credit cards happened to be in Pennsylvania or Colorado!  I had to quickly drink a liter of water as there was no where to dump it and god forbid I go through the third security check with water that I'd gotten after the second.  (This made for a very uncomfortable flight during which I had to get up despite the seatbelt sign signaling our descent into Kigali, explaining to the flight attendant that I would absolutely wet myself if she didn't let me use the toilet.)

After a long travel day, we made it to Johannesburg where the rest of the group headed to Bob's Bunkhouse and I sat around waiting for my little brother's flight to get in.  George arrived with few hiccups and we made it to meet everyone just in time to set our bags down and turn around to leave for dinner.  About an hour drive from the bunkhouse was a charming little place called Carnivore, where they serve you meat on swords until you literally wave a flag of defeat.  We dined on delicacies such as leg of zebra, kudu meatballs, antelope, warthog, and others I can't remember. It was delicious but I was nervous about my stomach since I'm practically a vegetarian at my house and I'm almost sure my body has forgotten what to do with meat.  All was well though and I made it through the next day's flight without any real discomfort.

We arrived in Cape Town the next morning after a short direct flight and quickly found taxis to our hostel, Atlantic Point Backpackers (if you go to Cape Town, stay here! Super nice, $20 a night, in the middle of a great neighborhood :) The first day was spent walking around, exploring a mall, eating delicious food (you'll see that was a common occurrence on this trip) and reveling in the fact that we were finally on vacation.  We meandered over to Long Street for dinner and drinks and then tried to find a decent place to go out. The first attempt, Space Bar, went just as well as the name would imply and we found ourselves on the street again after only a few minutes.  The second place was much more chill and we hung out there for a bit before I and a couple of the others retired, and the rest of the group continued to troll the streets for a place to dance.

Walking around Cape Town

My little bro made the journey! His perception of Africa is totally skewed now :)

Day two in Cape Town was supposed to begin around 8ish with a hike up Table Mountain, but the previous evening didn't end until 5 for some people so that didn't happen.  We didn't leave for the mountain until the afternoon at which point I decided to forgo the hike and instead take the cable car both up and down, a decision I do not regret one bit.  It was freezing and windy and gorgeous at the top, the "table cloth" of clouds being present that day but otherwise clear as a bell.  The views from the top were spectacular.  I got a haircut that afternoon, my first in almost two years.  The last time my hair saw the business end of a pair of scissors I was standing in the bathroom of my homestay family.  I allowed them to talk me into some conditioning treatment that was a fancy term for "extra head massage."  I was practically drooling throughout.  I'd seriously forgotten about blow-drying and straightening and all that, and what I look like with a decent hairdo.  I couldn't stop staring at myself.   I ruined it all a few hours later though when I plunged into the freezing waters of the south Atlantic at Clifton Beach.  Oh well.  How I missed the ocean! That evening was a barbecue at the hostel, and the most delicious yellow corn I've had in two years.  Not maize, sweet corn.  Mmmmmm.

Table Mountain with its "table cloth"

View of the beach

View from the beach later in the aftenoon

The next day brought us to Ganesbaii, where the Great White Sharks all like to hang out.  We had signed up to go cage diving, crazy though it may sound.  We had breakfast and a very brief introduction at the office, and were then thrust into life jackets and put on a boat headed out into the bay.  We wet suited up and then plunked down into the cage five at a time.  It was incredibly nerve-wracking as the sea was somehow choppy and freezing and it's really hard to stay submerged and hold your breath and listen to instructions and then all of the sudden be faced with Jaws.  When my group got in the cage there was a shark almost immediately so we didn't get the "this is how you hold onto the bars, this is what you want to do, etc" we just got "GET DOWN GET DOWN SHARK SHARK!!!!!".  It was incredible though, a lot less scary than I was imagining.  The sharks were attracted by bits of chum and were pretty much just swimming around to see what's up.  One of the coolest things I've done, by far.  That afternoon also saw our first trip to McDonald's, which I'm sad to say, tasted just as good as I remember.

Countryside on the way to Ganesbaii


Day four held one of my favorite activities of the trip; the wine tour.  Our driver, Bruce, picked us up at the hostel in the morning and took us to five different wineries where we tasted countless varieties and ate delicious cheeses.  At that point I wished I hadn't packed and been traveling so light because I really wanted to buy about a third of the wines we tasted.  I learned how to drink brandy, saw what it takes to de-sediment a bottle of champagne, and fell in love with wine country.

love love love

The next day was one that Jacque, Nikki, Stella and I had been looking forward to for I don't know how long.  Tattoo day! We each got a tattoo of our own design that will forever remind us of our time here.  Mine is an outline of Africa with the words "iwot kwene?" which means "where are you going?" in Lango.  It's part of the greeting, so it's one of the phrases with which I'm most familiar. I like the idea of it too, where am I going? It reminds me not to be stagnant in my life, not to let myself fall into a rut.  While the other girls' tattoos aren't identical to mine, they have similar elements.  Jacque's says (in Lango) "Where are you going? Infinity and beyond." Nikki's is an outline of Africa with "How far will you go?", the Peace Corps slogan.  Stella's is an outline of Africa with a bible verse that means a lot to her.  That afternoon brought one of my more ridiculous stories from the trip; my stomach was somehow  not there and while walking around a street market with Jacque, I found myself frantically looking for a restroom.  I found one in an internet cafe, but I realized only too late there was no tp.  There was none in the men's room either, so I thought "I'm a PCV, I'm resourceful, what do I have that will do the job?" my undies were the only thing that came to mind, so they were called in for duty (no pun intended).  If I had a purse I would had washed them out, but I didn't, so they got tossed behind the toilet because this bathroom (and the men's room) also lacked trashcans.  Seriously?  With their understanding of what makes a decent public restroom, they're asking to find surprises like mine.  Of course I was wearing a short sundress that day, so going commando was a bit nerve-wracking.  I ducked into a clothing store and bought a new pair tout de suite.  Crisis over.

final product pic to come

Our last day was one of the best, Cape Point.  We rented a minibus and drive down the penninsula. This is more challenging than it sounds as they drive on wrong side of the road in South Africa. (It's a testament to how long I've been here that I no longer remember which side is our side and which is the "other" side.... they both seem weird and comfortable when I think about it...) I took a million pictures as this was a tour that my parents had also done when they visited 30 years ago.  I got some good ones of the same places my mom and dad had seen.  The weather was absolutely perfect and it was an amazing way to end the trip.

St James Beach

Boulders Beach - swim with penguins! 

Cape of Good Hope

The Coven (Lira girls) Me, Nik, Stella, Jac, Rach

Andrew, Nik, Jac, Rach, Stella, Galen, George, Jen, Me, Jin

Looking out towards Antarctica 

Cape of Good Hope


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

World Aids Day

In Africa, every PCV is an HIV/Aids volunteer, regardless of our primary assignments.  I'm living in a country that was once considered a success story within SubSaharan Africa in terms of its fight against the HIV epidemic. Recent years have seen the numbers slipping back up, and whether it's from a sense of complacency due to past achievements or a shift in the culture to be much more conservative (thus driving behaviors that transmit HIV underground where they are less likely to be talked about and more likely to keep the virus around) no one is absolutely sure.  WAD was on a Saturday this year, and the week leading up to it was spent preparing information to be shared at a booth walk, planning with members of my college's PIASCY club (President's Initiative on AIDS Strategy Communication to the Youth... basically an AIDS awareness club that's at almost every school in the country), and figuring out the logistics for how the day would run.  Matt, Mary, Stella, Jacque, Rachel, and I were all gathered in my tiny home the night before hoping and wishing that some last minute items would arrive from Kampala.  Taking an idea from Pinterest, we'd created two sided cards with information on the major drivers of the HIV/Aids epidemic, one side in English and the other in Lango.  We attached these cards to key rings and handed them out the participants.

We started the day with a 5K run again, this time we had double the participants than last year - 100! They were almost all students at the college, fewer community members, but we weren't complaining. It was incredible.  After the race, however, the tutor on duty decided that there needed to be the typical Saturday morning assembly followed by general cleaning since there was to be an event held later that day.  The good-bye ceremony for the retirees was supposed to be held the weekend after Thanksgiving, but it was postponed a week due to lack of funds.  This put it the same day as our WAD event... We had planned to hold the awards ceremony directly after the race, and then move into the complex hall to do the booth walk.  We had six booths prepared, each with four PIASCY members teaching the information.  They centered on STDs and Sexual Health, Being Faithful, Condom Demonstration (and subsequent relay race), What is HIV?, Women's Health, and Truths & Myths.  The students doing the teaching were ready to go, they were excited, they were taking the lead in getting everything going... and then it just flopped.  The assembly and general cleaning meant that everything dispersed and that the health fair didn't really pick up until almost two hours later.  It was frustrating knowing how much work we and the students had put into the day only to see it be derailed so quickly.  Eventually people did come back and sign in and walk around the booths to learn about the various drivers of the epidemic, and just like the race it was more successful than last years.  Jacque and I sat chatting at the front table discussing how happy we were with the way things were going (with obvious exceptions) and how much better we could do it again if we were given a third year.  Then we both laughed at the prospect of extending simply to do a WAD event again.  It's strange being so far in my service and looking back to see all the things I would have done differently.  It would have been amazing to get something like this organized and have my PIASCY students do a traveling health fair of sorts, instead of just focusing on one day out of the year.  Afterwards, we talked to the club and told them we'd be handing over all of the materials we'd used in hopes that they would put on the event the next year.  They seemed beyond excited about it all, so hopefully it'll happen.  

Thanks Mike for designing our shirts again this year! 

Mary & Matt registering race runners

Taking off for the loop around Boroboro

Coming into the finish! 

Jacque registering a participant for the health fair

"Knowledge only grows through sharing"

Participants wrote down things they'd learned and attached the links together

Teaching about proper condom usage, then participants got to practice themselves in a relay race

PIASCY member teaching about how HIV destroys the immune system


Couldn't have happened without you guys!!