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!