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.