Thursday, November 15, 2012

It’s The Little Things…

                I would have never thought while living back in good ole Wisconsin that I would miss so many things and not only from Wisconsin but from America in general. I have done many travels across Europe, Central America and China but I was only in those places for a short period of time and the majority of the places I visited are much more developed than Africa. After being in Africa for only a couple of weeks I realized this experience was going to be nothing like those trips and nothing like I had thought it would be like. I know many PCV’s had warned us not to have any expectations before coming to Uganda but let’s be real here, everyone still has some expectations. I knew this experience would be challenging but I didn’t think leaving my family and the comforts of America would be so difficult to live without. I think I was so ready to get away from Wisconsin and live in another country that I’m not sure I really appreciated what I had and what I would be living without.
                Now that I have been living in Uganda for almost 6 months I have come to appreciate the little things in this country that make me happy as well as the little accomplishments I’ve made. It is amazing how some of these small accomplishments motivate me to do more and achieve as many goals as I can before the end of my service. Sadly, a big comfort is when I get a chance to eat muzungu (western) food. Thanks mom and dad for the AMAZING packages full of America :) A majority of the time this also means that I am around other muzungu’s cooking which is another huge comfort. Sometimes being surrounded by Ugandan’s for weeks can get to be a bit much and I get a need for muzungu time.  Also, it’s a great break away from speaking Uganglish. Uganglish, as many of you may be wondering, is Ugandan English. Uganda was a part of the British Empire and they have many remnants of this still present today which is especially noticeable in their language.  So in order for Ugandan’s to understand our American accents we basically have to pronounce each word and speak with a hint of a British accent. Some volunteers have a hard time switching their Uganglish off even around all Muzungu’s. You all know who you are :)
                 While living in Omungari I have gotten to know the fabulous family of Asian Muzungu’s living there as well. The children have become like my niece and nephew. Not replacing my four nieces back home but definitely filling a bit of that void. They are great kids and visit me every day. The mother and father are just as fabulous and I have begun to really appreciate the times I get to vent with them about Uganda and Ugandans that tend to drive us a little crazy sometimes. For the most part Ugandans have been very welcoming and overall just curious about us but there are some that make it frustrating just trying to do every day things. I am very thankful for having them around and for them adopting me into their family. While I am still quite new to my village I do not really have many Ugandan friends besides my staff so it is wonderful having them there.   
                As of recently LICHI has begun to receive volunteers through an international volunteer service which has been great having more muzungu’s around. Many of the volunteers are helping LICHI at the health center and assisting at the secondary school in Engari. I hope to collaborate with some of them on various projects LICHI is working on while they are here. Although many of them are short calls (only here for a short period of time) they are helping to make LICHI a stronger organization and I have already noticed an increase in patients at the health center which is amazing! The first two months I was living in Engari, the health center had maybe 10-15 patients a day and sometimes even less.
                The other day I went to go talk to the director of the secondary school in my village and I was blown away by how many of the students remembered my name from when I did a health talk there last month. Since there are now many muzungu’s living in Engari I kinda figured they would blend us all together and call me one of the other ladies names but they remembered mine. I think many of them are still amazed that I know a bit of Runyankore because they greeted me in four different ways trying to see if I wouldn’t know one of them but of course I’m awesome and knew them all! One of the girl students came up to me and began to pick off all the loose hair I had on my shirt. I have always shed hair like crazy even back in the states when I took a shower I would put the hair that came out on the side of the shower so I wouldn’t clog the drain. I know other people do this too so I’m not totally weird :) All I could do was giggle that this Ugandan girl was deshedding me and yes I know that’s not a word but is sounds good to me :)
                Other little simple things include cold ANYTHING! Water, beer, pop and the list goes on! A little extra room on a taxi or matatu is heaven. Being able to make it to the bathroom in the morning without peeing on myself means it’s going to be a good day. Washing my clothes during the rainy season and having my clothes dry before the rain sets in also means it is going to be a good day. Making friends with people in my village or learning a new Runyankore word (especially if it is one to tell creepy men to leave me alone).  Nowadays being able to sleep through the night without my kitten attacking me in my sleep makes my day.  Oh a big one is having a small bit of access to internet or electricity. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like doing the Peace Corps 20 years ago without phones or computers to use for resources. I definitely give props to all Returned Peace Corps Volunteers that make it through their service without using internet or having phones. Although I think nowadays it is a requirement to have a phone.  I’m sure I will think of more little things to appreciate in the coming months and year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

White Water Rafting, Booze Cruise, Kapuss puss, and Abazungu’s

            So a lot has happened since I posted last. I had my In Service Training (IST) for Peace Corps in Jinja with the rest of my group. This training is basically to see how we are adjusting to being at site for three months. The first part of our IST training was broken up into our language regions. So my southwest group met up in Mbarara for a week and worked on language a bit but mostly got to catch up and hangout in Mbar. Many of us were trying to get our Halloween outfits together and I finally decided that I would be a punk rockstar! I really wanted to get a weave so I got purple and green synthetic strands weaved into my hair by my sweet Ugandan hairdresser Jennifer. She did a fabulous job and even though I definitely got over charged, I later discovered I still enjoyed it getting done and it looked pretty awesome! I even had Ugandan’s complimenting my hair. My counterpart, James, from my organization liked it so much he took a picture of me! After our language IST we all traveled to Jinja for the technical training with the rest of our group. The training was good but boring at times. Some things were still pretty repetitive from what he had learned at PST and the information about grants that I really wanted to know about was one of the shortest presentations which kinda sucked. Oh well. Anyway Jinja is definitely a fun town and a whole lot of muzungu’s visit, volunteer, and work there. Probably the best thing about Jinja is the food and the MILKSHAKES!! Yep that’s right they have legit milkshakes.  Pretty excited but I think I got a little over excited and had three in three days and felt the worst I’ve felt in country. I definitely had an overload on dairy which is sad because I’m from Wisconsin where we eat a ridiculous about of dairy products.
            After our IST trained ended about 20 or so people from my group decided to go white water rafting on the Nile River!!! Probably one of the best experiences I have had in Uganda. This is a definite must for those who come to Uganda. I was scared out of my mind at times but it was a blast. We actually only flipped once even though we tried to flip multiple times. Our rafting skills were just too good. There were eight rapids that we went through and a good part of the time it was like being on the lazy river. It was so beautiful out on the Nile. We saw a lot of birds and some monitor lizards on the shore. On the last rapid our guide told us that we would most like flip but if we don’t that we are to jump into the rapids. Of course we didn’t flip so she yelled for us to jump which was crazy but a blast. It was a little scary at first because the rapids kept pulling me under so I only had enough time to pop up for a quick breath of air then sucked back under again. So much fun though. I only thought I was going to die twice but other than that so much fun! The only crappy thing of the whole experience is the wicked sunburn I got on my legs and on my left should. We put sunscreen on like crazy too but my legs haven’t seen the light of day in a while so they fried to the point where I felt like I could fry an egg on them because they were so hot. Totally worth it though. Our rafting company has a campground too with dorms and tents that we stayed at and had a booze cruise the following evening. So as you can imagine the day after rafting I didn’t do a whole lot of anything cause I was in a bit of pain but that night I got my punk rockstar outfit together and went boozing on the booze cruise. The booze cruise was pretty much a double decker pontoon boat! It was all you could drink for two hours and endless snacks. I started with a single vodka sprite and somehow ended with a triple vodka sprite. Plus we got to take two drinks off of the boat. Needless to say we all were feeling really good once we got back to shore and stumbled our way up to the bar at the campsite. We did have a costume contest which I ended up getting honorable mention!! Totally because of my hair. It was a great way to end our two weeks of training.
            The day after the booze cruise I found out that Ibanda district was a no go zone for PCV’s because of the Marburg Virus. This virus is a form of Ebola and does a lot of the same damage. So far it had killed 6 in Kable District, 2 in Ibanda District, and I think 1 person in Kampala. To get to my village I have to go through Ibanda district so I was a bit homeless for a week. I actually stayed with a volunteer in Rukungiri and worked on our World AIDS Day event for the southwest region. I am the Coordinator for the event but am extremely thankful for the help I got working on it from the PCV’s living in Rukungiri. Candy and Meish are amazing!!!
            Before heading back to site I met up with a bunch of other volunteers and went on a mini safari on the outskirts of Queen Elizabeth’s National Park. We saw cobs, water buck, water buffalo, elephant, warthogs, and hippos!! It was super cheap to do it this way instead of entering into the park and we saw many of the same animals. The last thing I had to do before going back to site was to get my new kitten or kapuss puss as the Ugandan’s say. We are pretty sure it is a boy but either way it’s name is Busingye (peace) and Bu for short! The travel back to site was an adventure with a crying kitten stuffed into a taxi surround by Ugandan’s giving me dirty looks. It wasn’t a fun journey but I managed to get him home and he is adjusting quite well! He pope din his basin of dirt right away and eats what I give him although he is afraid of everyone but me. Hopefully he will adjust and be social but for now he only purrs and cuddles with me. I think he has learned quickly that I don’t like him sleeping on my face too.
            My last update is the arrival of abuzungu’s in my village. LICHI is now receiving volunteers from an international volunteer service. They have all been ladies from the US, Malaysia, Russia, and Australia. Many of them assist with various things at the health center while a few others teach some classes at the secondary school in Engari. They have all been great and are helping to make LICHI and stronger and better organization as well as Engari a better community. I hope to collaborate with a few of them on some of LICHI’s projects before they leave. The majority of them are short calls (only here for a short period of time). I will hopefully begin working on a Facebook page, blog, and website for LICHI. We want to get more volunteers to come and help out with various projects at LICHI or help donate towards the various projects LICHI is working on. Once I have these media’s developed I will post links on my blog so everyone can see what I have been up to and how to help out a great organization and village.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Amagara Omuri Uganda ~Life In Uganda~

My life for the past 4 months in Uganda has been anything but a walk in the park but has already been fulfilling in so many ways. It would take me hours to write out everything that I have experienced thus far so I will try to hit the highlights/lowlights that I think are most worth sharing.
First off, sorry it has taken me FOREVER to get a post out but with the lack of internet and my net-book giving me issues, on top of the other craziness occurring in my life, posting a blog was kinda last on my list of things to do. 

So here I am standing in one of two laboratories at my organization (LICHI-Life Child Initiative, Engari Community Health Center) in Omungari Village, Kiruhura District Uganda while my laptop is charging from the two solar panels on top of the health center’s tin roof and taking in the hundred or so children playing outside at the Sya Bright Future private primary school that is just behind the center. I am in Africa…..WHAT?!  It is still hard sometimes to wrap my head around the fact that this will be my home for the next 2 years. I remember before I left cheese loving Wisconsin I thought “2 years will be nothing, it will go by in a flash,” hmmm cheese….sorry I get distracted easily by the delicious foods that are hard to come by or nonexistent in this country. I would kill for sushi, cereal (Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms) in ICE COLD MILK, ice cubes, Starbucks coffee, prime rib and burger from my dad’s restaurant, seafood of any kind, Jimmy John‘s, Chipotle, salad of any kind and nachos. I know there are lots more but that’s all I can think of at the moment. So anyway, I think my prediction will be true in the long run but as of now it has been the longest 3 months of my life!!! I feel as though I have been in Uganda for almost a year already. Let me explain a little.

The first couple of weeks in training are kinda like being a freshman back in high school. Who’s gonna be my friend, where do I sit at lunch, and what should I wear…okay well not really that bad just basically your all the new kids with no idea what you’ll are getting yourselves into. It is kind of scary, nerve-racking, and intimidating. It quickly becomes easy and fun to get to know people who all have a common interest of serving people in a foreign country.  I have found there are 4 fabulous fellow Wisconsinites in my group although they are all from the Madison/Milwaukee area. I’m more of a Wisotan because I live next to the border of Minnesota and have the strongest Minnesotan accent which many have taken joy in mocking :) There are actually a large group of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV’s) Wisconsinites serving in Uganda that are from different groups or classes and all of whom are equally as awesome. Since our group/class is the newest we are the freshmen and the group ahead of us sophomores and so on. Also, there are 4 lovely ladies I’ve bonded with whose original placements were also for Guatemala which just means we were meant to be friends. 

Anyway, getting to know everyone has been great and the first couple weeks of training were slow only because we had to sit though long sessions that tended to be redundant but soon enough all 45 of us were separated into our language regions (mine being the Southwest and THE BEST!) and motored off in an extremely squished matatu (which is a van that miraculously fit 14 people plus all of our luggage) to our host families in Kabwohe for a month. Our homestay involved having language training everyday for hours on end with time at the end of the day to mingle with the villagers and stop at the local bar for a beer or three. Did I mention that Uganda has the 2nd highest rate of alcohol consumption in the world…yeah it’s gonna be an interesting next 2 years. So anyway, most people enjoyed their homestay with the few exceptions of some people placed with some cray cray families just wanting to show off their mzungu (white/foreign person) or trying to expel demons out of them when they fell ill. I was lucky and had an amazing host family and I not only have remained close with them but I feel like I now have a family here in Uganda. 

After homestay, we all headed back for more training for another week and then we were sent back out to our language regions to visit our future site and home for the next 2 years! While being extremely exciting it was definitely overwhelming as well. It was an adventure just to get to my site. After almost missing the Post Bus ( a bus that starts in the capital city Kampala and has routes that go in various regions of Uganda dropping off people and the mail) I sat on the bus filled with unrecognizable smells, some of which causing my gag reflux to kick in, for four an half hours until I reached Mbarara. Mbarara is a pretty big city with paved roads and muzungu food!! It is a little over 2 hours from my site. So I had to take a taxi that I could barely move in while sitting next to a mother who whipped out her breast every couple of minutes to breastfeed for another hour to Ibanda  where I finally met one of the workers for LICHI that drove me the rest of the way to my site in the middle of nowhere. Don’t get me wrong my village is in a beautiful location surround by rolling hills of plantains but it is the definition of rural right down to the dirt road and mud houses. My village is about the length of a block with not many shops (dukas) that sell basically the same items but in varying quantities. I finally got to see my house (which has slightly changed due to some unfortunate circumstances) and I learned quickly that I would have no electricity, no running water, and would get my very own pit latrine with a pit cover included! This is actually really beneficial and important because it stops the flies from hovering around the hole and going up where they’re not suppose to (if ya know what I mean). I used to have a living room with two bedrooms and two bathing areas but I have since been moved into my neighbor’s house, a fellow PCV, who was unfortunately forced to leave due to the strict boda regulations which I understand are for safety but there should definitely be exceptions. I still have a living area and bedroom with a bathing area but now my front door locks and the window pane is not broken… that’s another story.

So after that 3 day future site visit everyone traveled back for more training and for our LPI (language proficiency test) which I am proud to announce I passed the first time!!!! I am intermediate low in Runyankore/Rukiga! Actually our class had over a 90% passing of their LPI, the highest it has been for the past couple of groups that came to Uganda. Soon after our LPI we were swearing in as official Peace Corps Volunteers on July 26th!!!! We were all extremely excited and definitely ready to be done with training!!

I have been living at my site in Engari or Engarisya, apparently it used to be called this, basically since swearing in so almost 2 months! This is when time seems to have slowed down because now you are all alone in a village with not a whole lot of direction to go from other than get your house set up and get to know your organization and village. At times it was easy and fun and other times I just wanted to be a home with my family and friends. I am also used to working two jobs, volunteering, and socializing with friends. So to basically have nothing to do and not a lot of people to talk to easily with it can bring your spirits down a bit. I had a bit of difficulty figuring out exactly what I was going to be doing at the health center for the next two years as well because my supervisor was leaving it up to me to decide and I had no idea where to even begin. Plus, the other PCV in my village had done so much already that I felt there was nothing left for me to do.  This hopeless feeling that had overtaken me for a short period of time made me question if I had made the right choice in joining the Peace Corps.

 Thankfully, I had some good chats with the other PCV in my village and he said that these feelings are totally normal and that things will get better with time. Also, after talking to other PCV’s from my group, many of them were going through the same emotions as me. Well, I am glad to say he was right even though it hasn’t been an easy couple of months but I think I can make 2 years work…mpora mpora…slowly slowly. It helps that I have some projects in mind that I am excited about getting started on and will possibly be needing help from friends and family so be on the lookout for my Facebook posts! So long story…sorry long this is why the past 4 months haven’t flown by but instead have been a great learning experience and I’m sure will continue to be until I leave in the summer of 2014.
So now let me list the highlight/lowlights of my experience thus far in Uganda:

  • ·         Gained 44 new friends!! Especially the PCV’s of the southwest I feel we will be lifelong friends for sure. Some of whom I already have travel plans to Egypt (which is currently on hold due to the violence going on in Northern Africa) after our 1 year mark and also plans to travel to South America after service!
  • ·         I have an amazing homestay family whom I visit frequently. They are extremely generous and always buy me soda and biscuits. Also, I plan to visit my four host siblings and they are going to take me to a zoo!!

  •  I have met President Museveni and Vice President. I even spoke to Museveni in Runyankore!!
  •   I have become the unofficial social (aka boneshaking) chair of the Southwest for my group!! Basically cause I love to dance and drop it like it’s hot like the Ugandans. Surprisingly Ugandan’s can get LOW!
  •   I think I have managed to get a females number every time I go out to a club…I guess it isn’t an odd thing here, they just want to be friends with a muzungu who knows how to dance ;)
  • Big women in Uganda are looked highly upon and are found attractive. So being called fat is a compliment. Well I thought I would come to Africa and lose weight…not exactly the case especially when their “tea” is hot milk usually with a lot of sugar and not the 1% kind and they drink it at least 3 times a day. I actually have grown to really like it and it is plentiful in my village. I began to notice that my bras were getting a little tight and then it was finally confirmed when I had a gentleman call me fat. Sad day. I know it was meant to be nice but kinda had the opposite effect. Ugh! Looks like I better pick up running again. I hear they have 5k and 10k races here too!
  •   I have been stolen from several times already. The day of swearing in I lost 200,000 shillings (roughly 90 bucks) plus later I lost my clutch that had only 10,000 shillings and 4 lip glosses. (Don’t ask why I had that many) Anyway I got back the clutch but of course it was empty. I’m mostly mad about my damn lip gloss! Take the clutch but give me back my damn lip gloss! More recently from my house I have had a bit of food and paint stolen. I did figure out that it was a village boy who was stealing from my house. They ended up “chasing him away” or telling him to leave which I feel horrible about because his parents are deceased and he doesn’t have a lot of other places to go. I wish I could have helped him in some way instead of them sending him away.
  •  Speaking of my house my front door did not lock, just the door to my bedroom, and one of the window panes in my front door was broken which explains how people got into my house. This is one of many reasons why I switched to the other PCV’s house which is connected to mine so not far.
  • I have seen monkeys and zebras since I have been here and lots of birds. Some fuglier than others. There is one pelican looking bird that stands about as tall as a 2 or 3 year old child and super fugly.  I guess the only good thing about it is that it eats the trash around the villages.
  • I have ridden an Ostrich!!! Super fun and terrifying at the same time. Those birds are beasts and should never be allowed to be ridden (especially since they treat the animals like s#@t) but it was kinda awesome getting to and now I have bragging rights!
  •  I have been swimming in shisto filled water well actually most bodies of water in Uganda have it. Two of the people I went swimming with already have confirmed shisto so I’m assuming I have it to….YAY! Shisto is a nasty snail parasite thing that makes you fatigued and pee blood. Basically makes ya pretty sick but they have medication for it here. Google it if you want to know more.  I plan to go white water rafting in the Nile River at the end of October so I was bound to get it anyway.
  •  So here is a little TMI: I’ve had Guardia twice (basically diarrhea) since being in country and haven’t really had a good long call (aka poop) in a long time. We are very open about our bowel movements especially since the majority of us are suffering from one thing or another. I don’t think anyone has pooped their pants yet from my group but it will happen sooner or later. I know I’ve come close…sucks when you have to unlock your latrine before entering, those are some precious seconds sometimes.
  •  I am getting a kitten in about a month!!! I have decided to name it Busingye (Runyankore for Peace, my host family named me this because I was peaceful in their home…I heart them!) and Bu for short. I thought it would be fitting for my kitten to have the same name. It is also the name of one of the LICHI drivers…hopefully he doesn’t come when I am calling for Bu.
  • Here are some places to Google that I have been to: Kabale-Lake Bunyoni, Fort Portal- Crater Lakes, Kibale National Forest, if you can Google King Fisher resort in Kasese do it cause the view from their pool overlooks Queen Elizabeth’s National Park and it is breathtaking and also the Crater Lakes in Kasese.
  •  I have Asian neighbors that are a blast to hang out with and have two small children. Apparently the 10 year old boy has a bit of a crush on me and comes to say hi every day after school. Only I would attract an Asian child while in Africa. 
  •   I believe that my patience and tolerance levels have increased immensely since being in Uganda especially while in taxis and matatu’s. As well as my ability to live with nature. I have a crap ton of spiders, geckoes, frogs, and bees frequenting outside as well as inside my house. My sister would definitely not be able to live here just because of the spiders. Many of them are daddy long leg looking things but there are a few that live in weird little dirt cocoons that are super scary when they emerge out of their home. Also, I have a family of spiders in my latrine that I keep forgetting to remove so I am currently watching the family grow bigger and bigger by the day.
  • I love taking pictures of the children here. They get so excited when they see themselves in the pictures. It becomes endless hours of entertainment for them and for me.
  •  On a different note, I think I am finally beginning to accept Ugandan time. I went to a meeting about child abuse in my village the other day and the meeting was suppose to start at 10 but in Uganda that means that it won’t actually start until 12. I showed up at 11 so I’m getting better but haven’t quite mastered their time system here.
I could keep on writing more and more but I think that is enough for one post. Hopefully I will be able to post more frequently since I should be getting internet to work at my site although who knows how well it will work. Oh Africa. It is sometimes so nice to be cut off from the world but at times it can make you feel so alone that I feel like I’m going a little crazy. Thankfully I live fairly close to other volunteers so I have the Southwest shenanigans to fill my weekends. Well that's all I have for now and hopefully will be posting again soon!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Journey Thus Far

In 7 days it it will be 2 MONTHS until I leave for Uganda, Africa to serve as a Community Health Peace Corps Volunteer!!!! As many of you know it has been a LONG journey already and I haven't even left the country! With placement cancellations and moving of departure dates, I have come to realize that a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) needs to be flexible and extremely patient! I have met and talked with current and returned PCV's, having these two attributes are just as important now as they are during my actual service. Yeah, I'm thinkin by the time I leave in May I just may have them mastered!!

It seems like ages ago from when I first applied for the Peace Corps. To be honest, I think it will be three years this coming September that I first applied. Usually it takes an individual about a year to get through interviews, medical clearance, nomination, a placement and then finally leave. Well, I apparently like the long route, granted I was still in school when I applied and extended my graduation a semester to travel abroad Europe for 3 months. Definitely one of the best decisions I have ever done. If you get the opportunity to travel, especially Europe...sorry kinda biased, DO IT!!! I promise you will not regret it. I have been to places and met people I never thought I would and loved every minute of it. Okay, sidetracked there for a minute but my point is that school took me longer and when I finally got into more meaningful volunteer work it was already a year since I applied. Then, after the cancellation of my first placement to Guatemala and then movement of the departure date for my second placement....well time adds up fast.

I've had A LOT of time to think and look at where I'm currently at in my life....well I realized if I wasn't going into the PC I would have absolutely no idea what I would be doing! I probably wouldn't be working at the place I'm currently working, I only got the job for the PC. I love the people I work with there and enjoy my job! Also, I would not have met as many awesome people as I have volunteering at MN AIDS Project, nor would I have become so much more comfortable with public speaking since becoming a community educator with MN AIDS Project. The PC has already benefited me in ways I had not realized before and to think I'm not even a volunteer yet! I can't wait to see what is yet to come!!

The PC is my plan A and I have no plan here's to hoping my departure date holds true, that I make it to Africa, and can make a difference whether it be big or small. I'm going into this experience with no expectations other than I hope to leave Africa having affected something or someone positively. Every time I travel somewhere I always learn a lot about that culture and about the place I'm visiting, as well as a little bit more about myself. Living in Uganda for 27 months I'm bound to learn a TON about Africa and a lot more about myself. So, hopefully (*fingers crossed*) things go smoothly and I can finally start this blog about, what I'm definitely positive will be, the most epic adventure of my life!