A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Monday, December 21, 2009

Being Fat

Over the last few months I have continually heard:

"Oh Amanda, you are getting so fat."
"Look how fat you are Amanda!"
"You are a little elephant on the compound."
"I saw you walking over there and you are so fat."
"Amanda, you have grown so fat."

Ugandan's like to tell you how fat you are. This is usually a compliment. To them, being fat equates with having enough food or a surplus and thus you are rich. A good thing to them. When they tell you you are fat it is a good thing to them. I have told my Ugandan friends repeatedly that American's don't like being told they are fat and that it's an insult. However, this doesn't stop them from saying it. So, I've stopped trying to explain and instead extend my thanks for their appreciation of my weight gain.

When you hear, daily, that you are fat you start to believe it. I even called my mom a few months ago and told her maybe we should order a bigger size dress for my sister's wedding. I was getting very concerned that I was growing exponentially and I had no way to measure this.

So, it was with great trepidation that I arrived home in the states and attemped to put on my favorite pair of tight jeans. I'm here to report, I have not grown fat and in reality, my jeans are loose!

I can only imagine what they will say when I get back...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Murchison Falls with the Wild Life Clubs

I was able to go to Murchison Falls National Park this past week. The Wild Life Clubs of Uganda hosted a camp for secondary students who were active in their Wild Life Clubs at their schools. Wild Life Clubs do reforestation, plant flowers to beautify areas, run community gardens, and sensitize others about wild life issues. Celeste and I attended as a chaperon with my friend Hellen's school. Hunter also brought two girls from his school. I'm hoping to get a Wild Life Club started in some of my schools next year and so took this opportunity to go and learn more about the program and meet some of the students who are conservationists in their communities. Here is how it went...

Day 1: We met in Gulu and boarded a bus. On our way from Gulu to Murchison we saw many IDP camps, the Nile River, Giraffes, and breathtaking savanna landscapes. Once in the park our driver went too far and we spent an hour trying to turn the bus around on a very narrow dirt trail. You are not allowed to get out of your vehicle once in the park due too the wild animals. My friend Hunter told the Ugandan in charge that it was o.k. and proceeded to get out of the bus and attempt to help direct the driver in turning around. When he came back in he did admit to feeling slight fear that a lion was going to pounce on him. We finally make it to the Education Center around 9 pm. Being thoroughly exhausted from a day of travel (I left my house at 6:45am) I went straight to sleep, skipping dinner much to the horror of the Ugandans.

Day 2: Ali, our Wild Life Authority guide took us on a nature walk. We learned how to distinguish different animal feces and identify their tracks. We followed some hippopotamus tracks and feces we found and gathered near the Nile River to see 10 or so hippos bathing away. They are huge and interesting animals. We also visited a Safari Lodge during our hike. The lodge is used mainly (perhaps sole) by tourists. It was a beautiful lodge overlooking the Nile. The students were enthralled with such a place. After our walk we had the afternoon to ourselves. Hellen, Celeste and I took naps. The students washed their clothes, bedding, showered and spent time together. Students in Uganda sure have different priorities than most American students at camp!

Day 3: We were awoken to a knock on the next door telling the students they had 2 minutes before we were leaving. Then the knock came to our door and we were given 1 minutes. This is at 5:15 am and the night before we had been told we'd leave at 6 am for our game drive. Being Americans, we jumped out of bed and got to the bus within minutes. We found Hunter on the bus and no one else. The students were getting their showers in and slowly trickling onto the bus for the next hour. The game drive was awesome! As the sun rose we saw buffalo, gazelles and antelope, giraffes, elephants, hippopotamus', warthogs, baboons, and lots of different beautiful birds. We bought fresh tilapia from some fisherman on Lake Albert and had that for dinner. It was delicious! After our morning doing the game drive we got back to camp and once again took lovely afternoon naps.

That evening we had a short program. The instructions were to come up with a story/skit/song etc. about wild life, you, and it should be humorous. I think the four PCV's were the only ones to follow instructions. We made up a skit about two tourists (Celeste and Hellen) who were at Murchison Falls and littered. Then a warthog (Hunter) came along and ate the litter. A nurse (me) rushed onto the scene and tried to revive the choking warthog but to no avail. He died. We then rewound and the tourists took their trash with them and the warthog had nothing to choke on. The students laughed and understood the message we were trying to get across. We went first. Then came the students who told riddles that didn't make sense, jokes that were not funny to Americans but somehow the Ugandans got them and laughed hysterically, and performed silent skits that had no point. Everyone had a great time:)

Day 4: We went to Murchison Falls where the Nile River crashes down into majestic falls. We hiked to the top of the falls and then to the bottom. My legs burned a little hiking back up the steep cliffs. Some of the boy students ran up and other teachers commented on their, “excess energy.” The girls on the other hand pulled over to the side numerous times taking time to, “recover.” The falls were on the South bank so we had to cross the Nile River and spent the majority of the day over on that side. As we were leaving the falls our bus had to climb a muddy hill. Unfortunately it didn't make it and we got stuck in the mud. Students and teachers got out to push the bus but that didn't work. So after more than an hour of using rocks, sticks, and bark to pack the mud the bus zoomed up the hill and we ran after it to take us back to camp. Everyone as tired when we got home.

Day 5: We were scheduled to leave by 7 so that all the people traveling far away could return home before dark. When Hellen, Celeste and I went to the dinning hall for breakfast at 6:30 we were informed there was no firewood so the cooks went back to sleep and were only just getting up and looking for wood. Oh Uganda... We finally ate and left at 9:30 am. I got home at 5:30 pm. What a day of travel. But all in all, it was a wonderful trip with great students and friendly staff members.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This was the week/weekend of graduations. After a quick (5 hours there on Wednesday, 1 full day on Thursday, and left at 5 am on Friday) trip to Kibale in the West of Uganda for Thanksgiving, I came back to site for important graduations. My neighbor Grace graduated from Nursery school. In Uganda nursery school is baby class, middle class, and top class. Grace passed top class and now will enter P1 next year. I arrived an hour late and it was still another 15 minutes before it actually started. The invited guest of honor did not show up and so I was asked to be the guest of honor. This is a common request and I accepted. If truth be told, I'm the guest of honor more often than not. Being the guest of honor brings many advantages. You get to sit on nice chairs with a center view of the events. You are served soda's. You get to eat first and it's usually brought to you so you don't even have to leave your seat. I did have to march around the field and salute the graduates and then later give a speech. But don't worry, I am an expert public speaker after these 9 months in Uganda.

Graduations is tedious, often boring, and long in the States. Now imagine that times at least 5 more hours. Grace's nursery school graduation lasted 8 hours! Yes, 8! There is the marching, the prayers, the lunch, the games, the speeches, the awards, and finally the cake. And did I mention it is all in Luganda minus the little speech given by the guest of honor who only greets in Luganda then quickly switches to English? Oh, and I was up before 5 and on a bus for 5 hours. Needless to say, I was falling asleep during this graduation. I am glad I went. It made Grace and her mom Annet's day. I definitely went home and feel into a deep sleep till morning.

When morning arrived I began to get myself ready for another graduation. This graduation was for the Technical and Vocational School I had a Life Skills club at. The girls there had been asking me to attend their graduation for months. I couldn't miss. This graduation seemed it would be even longer since it started with a full mass. However, I was only there a total of 6.5 hours.

Here is a text message conversation I had with my dear friend Celeste regarding this graduation:

Me: I'm getting a big head. When I'm not the guest of honor I get offended and want to say, “Do you know who I am?” Not good.

Celeste: Oh man, I know the feeling. I get irritated when I'm not fed first! What do we do when we're not superstars anymore?! Look out America.

Me: O.k. They just performed a song and dance about Life Skills and dedicated it to me. I feel better. And anyways, I was up against the bishop for guest of honor:)

Now my weekend of graduations are over. The next one will be in January for my friend who's graduating with her masters. I can only imagine how that will go.

Christmas in Uganda

There is a secondary school behind my house. I had never been over there until last week. It is a really good school and they don't really need my services so I never made the time to go and visit. I was invited to their Christmas Carol program and decided it was time to make an appearance. Everyone was so happy to have me there. They sang songs in both Luganda and English. Many Christmas songs I knew. Near the end of the program I was invited up to give a few words and then was asked to share an American Christmas carol with the school. I am definitely not a singer and singing for secondary students is not my idea of fun. I insisted they had sung all the Christmas songs I knew and I'd have to work on one for next year. Somehow, they went with it.

As I walked into this school it was decorated for Christmas with streamers and paper cut outs of snowmen and Santa Clause. The Santa Clause was black and when I asked students what the snowmen were they didn't know. I tried to explain the concept of packing snow into a round mound and using coal and a carrot to make a face. Students were shocked we'd put our coal on snow.

It doesn't look like Christmas with everything green, steady temperatures in the 80's and 90's, and black faced Santa Clauses. Yet the joyful and excited children's voices waiting for Christmas, the pressured adults trying to save enough money for meat on Christmas and the familiar Christmas carols in English show me Christmas is coming.

Jesus Freak - the Bus

Amy and I traveled on a bus named Jesus Freak. When we caught the bus it was already packed with people. We found ourselves standing in the stairwell trying to keep our balance as it sped over deep roots and spun loose gravel as it creamed around a curve in the road. Outside of the capital roads are more and more likely to be gravel and as you travel into war torn areas they are likely to have not been maintained or even touched in 20 years. This was our experience on this bus. While we initially thought the bus couldn't fit another person in, it continued to pick up more people along the road side. Amy and I quickly became separated where I found myself near the front standing with my head in a man's elbow, my hand on the shoulder of a very sweaty man, my foot on a woman's basket with a chicken inside and due to the many pot holes, my butt was bumping along some poor man's leg. Amy on the other hand, was care free hanging out the bus door with the conductor, smiling as the breeze from the fast moving bus blew her hair every witch-watch-way. Despite the sardine effect, the accelerator happy driver and the lack of passable road Amy and I made it on Jesus Freak safely to our destination.

Going East and North

I took a whirlwind trip to the East and then North of Uganda for almost two weeks. I went to help run some programs and also to visit the new Peace Corps volunteers in the North and welcome them to Uganda and Peace Corps. It was in the East I met with the women's group doing the VSLA. I also visited a deaf school with Amy where we taught the students self-defense. Amy translated into Iteso what we were trying to say and then a woman translated that into sign language. We think things got lost in translation since during the question time we were asked, “What happens to the person after you've beaten them up?” and “Why would we hurt another person?”

Due to the cost of travel around Uganda, Amy and I chose to hitch hike as much as possible during our travels. This brought us into a nice air-conditioned truck with a friendly Chinese road construction man, a Danish agriculture man working for USAID, a kind woman driving a small distance, the cab of an empty dump truck and even a World Vision vehicle out on outreach. The dump truck left us half way to our destination one day and we spied the World Vision vehicle parked along the road. With our friendliest smiles we approached the vehicle and asked where they were headed. They were going to our destination but first needed to complete some data collection in an IDP (internationally displaced people) camp. We were welcome to a ride if we didn't mind going to the camp with them. This lead to an educational 4 hours with World Vision. This camp was one of the largest IDP camps during the insurgency in the North. For a while there were 76,000 people living in small grass thatched huts. Hundreds died each day due to sanitation. Now it is much smaller. They have dismantled a vast majority of it. Many people have gone home now that the war is over. There are still many who have not gone back and may never return to their villages. There is too many bad memories associated with their homes and/or they have no reason to go back. Where they are now water is close and clean, they have health care near, food arrives on a scheduled basis, and they don't fear a resurface of rebells. IDP camps are interesting places to find yourself.

One thing Amy and I were most aware of was our ability or inability to understand language. When hitch hiking we normally found someone who spoke one of our languages. People would get so excited when they found Amy spoke and understood Iteso or I could converse with them in Luganda. There were only a few times our driver and fellow passengers spoke only Lango or Acholi which left us out. Language is a bonding factor here in Uganda. The respect other's have for us raises as soon as they discover we have taken the time to learn one of the languages in their country. We're always told language is a big component that sets Peace Corps apart from other humanitarian organizations and the more I travel and even interact in my own community I understand the value and vital importance of language.

Coffee with PCV's in the North:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Women and Development

Today I went out into the deep village in Kumi District with my friend Amy. One of her teacher's wanted her to go to his home village and check in on a woman's group who is involved in a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA). VSLA's are a micro-finance group at the very root of grassroots. In this case, it is a group of women in a village who save money together and take loans from the money they save together. They gain interest and are able to make a profit after 9 - 12 months. Throughout the time together, they are also able to pick projects they want to use the money for. These women take turns every 2 weeks using the project money fund to buy dishes for their houses. They want to have enough dishes so that they do not need to eat in shifts with their families or when they have visitors. I think VSLA's are the best savings and loans option in the world!

While meeting with these women, and really for some time now, I've been contemplating the role of empowered women, specifically those in Uganda. When reading the newspaper or watching the evening news, there is always mention of some woman who is being honored for her entrepreneurship skills, her courageous fight to end stigmas against those with HIV/AIDS or her role in community development through local government. Uganda talks a lot about empowering their women and sings their praises in the media. Yet, with all the empowered women I know and hear about what are they really capable of doing in a male dominated country? The most empowered woman cannot really succeed when everything is controlled by men. The men control not only politically but also, most importantly, socially/culturally. How do you transcend that?

This post may seem strange after having just participated in a Girl's Empowerment weekend. I do believe in Girl's Empowerment and think it is very important to continue working on empowering the girls and women of Uganda and the World. However, I also think more emphasis needs to be placed on teaching and empowering men to be men. It is hard to know what the balance is of using culture to shape people in a positive direction and telling them their culture is damaging their country and needs to be changed. Where is the balance?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mwereerwe Secondary Girl's Empowerment Weekend

This weekend I went to the village Mwereerwe where my dear friend Lizzie teaches secondary Math and Physics. She put on a Girl's Empowerment weekend for all the female students in her school. Fellow PCV's Christine, Mandy, and Celeste also came. We each took a different topic and worked with the girls over the weekend. Christine taught the girls how to make paper beads so that they can adorn themselves but also as a way to create income. Mandy covered self-esteem, Celeste helped students make goals for their immediate and long-term lives, I taught the girls self-defense, and Lizzie tried to dispel HIV/AIDS myths and give out truthful facts regarding sex and this devastating disease that is growing world-wide.

The girls were so excited and happy to have us there. They asked some thoughtful questions, made some beautiful beads, affirmed each other, and gained some practical ways to keep themselves safe and defend themselves if need be.

Flower Garden

A few weeks ago I finally got around to planting a flower garden around my house. I had planted the seeds months ago and grown the flowers in basins until I was ready to plant them in the soil. I arranged them around the front and side of my house and was happy with the way it looked. I have a small herb garden on the side of my house too. Over the last week, several teacher's have come over and thanked me for beautifying my house. But they always give me strange looks when they look at my plants. Finally one of them told me that I had planted rabbit food. All my flowers are weeds, according to them. I tested this one theory out on other Ugandans who would stop by. I asked if they thought my flowers were weeds or rabbit food. Sure enough they all think my flower garden is weeds and only fit for rabbit food. I told them that in America we call these flowers sunflowers, chrysanthemums, daisies, and portulacas but they do not believe me.

Another problem I have with this flower garden is that it used to be a path for people to walk along. They don't like taking the extra step out to not step in my flowers and so I continually find footprints in the soil. I came home from being away and even found a small pair of unmatched flip flops which I know belong to my sweet little friend Francie. No one likes to be inconvenienced do they?

Primary Leaving Exam

Last week was the PLE (Primary Leaving Exam) for all P7's in Uganda. All these students, country wide, took the same test, started at the same time, ended at the same time, and had to have their exams sent in at the same time. It was a big stress. This exam determines what kind of a secondary school the students can get into. Secondary education is just starting to be covered under Universal Secondary Education meaning secondary education is open and free to all. Currently, USE is open to S1 – S3. If students do well on the PLE they have a chance of going to a good secondary school and them maybe University. However, if they do poorly on the PLE they will either go to a bad secondary school or stop their educational career here. A lot of pressure is put on these students at the age of 13.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Life Skills

This is from an e-mail I wrote a friend earlier.

I attended a Life Skills Workshop last week. It was a mix of Ugandans and PCV's. It is so interesting to see the differences in knowledge and opinions between American's and Ugandans. We talked about the spread of HIV/AIDS, Stigma & Discrimination, Peer Pressure, Self Esteem, Goal Setting, Assertiveness, Gender Roles, Culture, Sex Education, etc. There are so many myths out there and cultural taboo's that we got into heated discussions. These are the things I have learned from the Ugandans:

- If you wash yourself in Coca Cola immediately after sex, you won't get HIV/AIDS.
- You can't produce (become pregnant or impregnant anyone) if you ever masturbate.
- You can get HIV/AIDS from being bewitched.
- Women can't climb trees.
- Only men can ask for sex
- African men have a greater sex drive than any other men in the world

As you can see, we have much work to do here. But it is hard because they think we are inflicting American ideas on them and not simply wanting them to know the biological/scientific facts and also the importance of sensitization so that people can make informed decisions regarding their health and behavior. They are tricky topics.

Daniel, the Ugandan I brought to the conference, asked me to teach him how to put on a condom. Very awkward to say the least. He is also one of the more vocal Ugandan's at this conference and has no qualms with asking any question. He wanted to know, "exactly what is masturbation? Practically." He also told everyone when we were discussing the gender roles that men are more intelligent than women. It's a fact.

And so my job continues. Oh Uganda, may God uphold thee...

Rock Star Party!

This is a picture of Evanescence, Regina Spektor, some British 80's punk boy band member, and Mary from Peter, Paul, and Mary.

During a week long conference on Life Skills, we PCV's had a little costume party to celebrate being together, Miranda's birthday, and Halloween. It was a themed party titled, "Rock Star." From this picture you get a glimpse into the wide range of rock stars that chose to attend the party.

Also, thanks to our friends and family back home, we were able to share our precious supplies of candy and gorge ourselves throughout the night. Thanks mom for the leaf table setting. We put it on a table and spread our candy on top. Oh, and the candy corn was a hit:)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Safari Ants

I was visited by safari ants this past weekend. Safari ants are the crazy man-eating ants you may see on the discovery channel and not believe actually happen to people you know. Well, I am here to tell you they exist and they are not fun.

My friend Lizzy called me panicking a few weeks ago talking jumbled about safari ants in her house. They decided to march right through her house on their way to their new home. That's what safari ants do. They run out of food so go marching until they find a new place to call home and eat. In the process they march together and eat whatever they find along the way.

Lizzie was able, with the help of her neighbors, to kill the thousands if not millions of ants by spraying paraffin everywhere. She then spent hours cleaning up and to this day, still finds a stray dead ants when she cleans her house.

On Friday my neighbor children were crouched low to the ground looking at ants when I got home. I inquired to what they were doing and they said they were learning about the red ants. They then went on to tell me how we needed to start preparing ourselves because in the night they would come in my house and eat me. I quickly realized we were talking about safari ants and began asking around to my different neighbors what the situation was and what we could do about it.

We doused our houses in paraffin (and we had a storm that night which I was convinced the lightning would strike and our houses would burst into flames with all the paraffin we had soaked on them) and prayed the ants would stay away. The next morning there were even more! I couldn't even walk to my latrine without my feet becoming covered and bitten. My neighbors on a different block of houses a little ways away woke up in the middle of the night covered in ants in their beds! The ants were even trying to eat one of the babies. Did you know safari ants can eat a whole cow in 2 hours?!

I left to come to a conference this week so I'm not sure what is happening. I think they should have moved on by now but they were such a pain. I was glad to leave but a little sad to not be there to suffer along with my neighbors.

To all those who may still be confused, or really to everyone, you should look them up on-line. Try YouTube. I think you need to to get a full understanding of how crazy these are.

Oh the creatures and experiences I have in Uganda. The adventures are endless...

Friday, October 23, 2009

White Power

Forgive me for lacking on the Maria updates. Power has been lacking lately and internet down along with me not making the trip to Kampala to seek out an internet cafe.

A week or two ago I went to Mengo Hospital with Maria for the 3rd time. This was the first time where it was only the two of us and this time our hospital experience was very different. I think because there was a white woman alone with a black child they thought I came with power and money. We were taken much more seriously this time and saw 4 different specialists! Maria went through countless tests and the doctors took time to really ask questions and examine her. We even saw a white Dutch volunteer doctor visiting for a few weeks.

The conclusion of all this is that Maria is not going blind! She had a bacterial infection as long as a year ago that damaged the nerves behind her eyes. Through different medications the nerves will be healed though they will never completely regain their original aptitude. She will have to wear glasses. We both left feeling relieved and hopeful. Maria has been smiling more again and claims she can see better already! We go back in a few weeks to discontinue the medication and get her glasses.

Free Taxi Ride

Yesterday I received a free taxi ride. I was coming home from Kampala and a random man next to me told me he was going to pay for my ride. He wanted to show his appreciation for the work I am doing in his community. I don't know this man and he got out before I did. I was so touched by his appreciation. It makes me feel more integrated into my community and excited that people know who I am and know the work I am doing.

This also plays into a conversation I had earlier this week with a teacher at a school. He told me people in Gayaza are talking about me. Everyone was happy about Global Hand Washing with Soap Day and already have ideas for next year. Some people are disgruntled that I didn't work with their group and are wondering how they can work with me next time.

These instances make me know I am cared about here and my work is not in-vain. It is easy to loose sight of your purpose and it is nice to hear when people understand you and the difference you are trying to make with the partnership of their community.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Global Hand Washing Day at St. Thereza Primary School

P3 at St. Thereza Gayaza Girls Primary School performed a song on sanitation during Global Handwashing with Soap Day celebrations.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Global Hand Washing with Soap Day

October 15, 2009 marks the second annual Global Hand Washing with Soap Day. It is sponsored by UNICEF and encouraged all over the world to celebrate and focus on washing our hands with soap. This has been a big project for me over the last 2 months or so. I have taken it to schools, health centers, churches, and community leaders. I do a short activity on the transmission of germs which leads to the importance and implication of washing our hands with soap. I encourage schools to make a program for the Global day with the use of dramas, songs, poems, dances, and/or lessons. I then lead a tippy-tap demonstration. Students are encouraged to make them all around their schools (near latrines, kitchens, dorms, etc.) and also to take the knowledge home and make them for their families.

A tippy-tap is a hygienic hand washing structure with running water. We use local materials to fashion the tippy tap and I have the students or community members make it themselves so that they take ownership. A tippy tap is made with poles, jerry cans, string, sticks, and sometimes wire.

A few weeks ago I went to a school I had already been to but had been called back to make another tippy-tap. The teacher I was working with was late which happens often and didn’t bother me. He came rushing in and apologized for being late but he had been called away as a resource person to teach another school how to make a tippy-tap. I was scheduled to go to that school later that week. At first, I was upset about the school not waiting for me and going ahead on their own. I calmed down and acknowledged that this is actually exactly what I hoped and dreamed my service in Uganda would be. I am supposed to always be working myself out of a job. I train Ugandan’s who in turn go out and share their knowledge and skills and train others which hopefully becomes a cyclical sustainable cycle of development! When I went to that school later in the week they were so proud and excited to show me their work. I went to a few schools over the last couple months that had already set up tippy tap stations with the help of other schools and community member knowledge.

A final quick success story: I was helping my nun friends make Sunday lunch this past week. We over looked the primary school kitchen from where we chopped vegetables. The bell rang and students came flying carrying their plates racing to be in the front of the line. We noticed two lines were being formed and most were in the line away from the kitchen door. This is the tippy-tap line. They were washing their hands before eating! Yes!

This project came to life with the passion, excitement, and involvement of children, teachers, health workers, parents, business owners, church leaders, and really, the whole community. While washing our hands doesn’t stop, the culminating program in schools will take place this Thursday. My community along with communities around the world will be participating to various degrees. Let’s make our world healthier. Don’t forget to wash your hands with soap!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Peace Corps Qualifications

A very serious qualification all Peace Corps Volunteers must possess, at least in Uganda, is that of being clumsy. It is required that you trip and fall and make a fool of yourself in front of your community numerous times a week. I am one who takes this qualification sincerely.

Last week I was walking through Kampala with two PCV friends. We were on an uneven sidewalk and I stepped onto a loose brink. This brink turned over under my foot and I proceeded to fall forward down a slight incline landing sharply on my wrist. Of course there were cars and Ugandan’s everywhere watching the already strange Mzungu not know how to walk and fall on her face. Amy and Lizzie helped me up and tried not to laugh. They then tried to console me with their own stories of falling and everyone witnessing the knock to our pride. We quickly walked away from this fateful scene and as we crossed the street I noticed my toe was split open and bleeding. Amy, as a true Medic and PCV, wiped out her stash of band-aids and fixed me up.

It wasn’t until getting home that I realized my wrist really hurt. Soon I couldn’t move it and pain was shooting up and down my arm from my wrist. I took a Homeopathy remedy and dear paramedic Amy came to the rescue once again and wrapped my wrist. As can only happen when you are walking and fall off the sidewalk, I sprain my wrist.

Upon getting home once again but this time with a thick white bandage wrapped around my hand/wrist, news spread fast. A few girls were hanging around my house and wanted to know what happened. They guessed I was in a boda (motorcycle) accident. I thought about correcting them but really my story isn’t quite as exciting so I just went with, “I was in an accident.” The girls had to run off for evening prayers and I went about my business. Evening prayers ended and instead of running to the kitchen for their dinner as they usually do, about 50 children ran over to my house to see my arm and offer their condolences.

My favorite was dinner with my nun friends that first night. I was tired of the attention this injury was bringing me and hid my arm under the table. That only works for so long before someone notices and brings all the attention to you. They were very concerned and upset for me. I kept saying, “It’s o.k.” to which they very firmly said, “No, it is not o.k. You are hurt. You will get better but you are not o.k. right now.” I love my nuns. The best part is when they tried to guess what happened. The very first guess was, “Did you fall and hurt yourself?” Right on my dear sisters. Oh, how they know me.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Missing Link

The missing link in my current life was the lack of friends my own age. I realized this only this past weekend. It’s funny how there are things missing in your life that you are not really aware of until you get them in your life.

I spend most of my time with young children, middle aged neighbors with families, and older women nuns. I love all these people in my life but I’ve missed the ease of relating to people who are at the same stage in life. When I work at the Health Center the staff is around my age but we are usually so busy it isn’t the same as spending time with friends.

Last Saturday night I went to a graduation party for Suzan, a midwife/nurse at the health center. She just graduated from mid-wife school. I went with Margaret, another nurse, Charles, a doctor and Deo and Dan, two volunteer community health workers. Deo and Dan also have other full time jobs and volunteer for the same CBO (community based organization) that I do. We had a great time at the party just eating, dancing, and laughing together. That’s what friendships are all about, right? It was so comfortable and normal feeling. I felt 25 again.

A new goal of mine is to be more intentional about spending time with these friends. And I’m starting tomorrow with Margaret coming to lunch:)


BATS: Last week a man came and filled some of the openings in my house with cement. I’m still not sure why he left some of the gaping holes open. I told Sister Carol and she is sending him back sometime. Another man came and sprayed my block of houses with a strong chemical to kill any bats in the house and ward them off. The following morning I found two bats on my floor, one gecko, several cockroaches, many spiders, and an army of ants all dead throughout my house. I tend to be a naturalist and don’t like chemicals but in this case I am so thankful for those chemicals. I am now bat free!

MARIA: Thank you for all your thoughts, prayers and responses. We went back to the hospital this week and Maria does not have a brain tumor, cataracts, Vitamin deficiencies, or parasites (that they can tell). We spent 5 hours there, most of it waiting in the waiting room. Sister Carol was not able to go with this time so another teacher accompanied us. We saw a different doctor and he seemed to be more thorough and responded to all my questions and suggestions. In the end he thinks it is a nerve issue behind her eyes. I asked what can be done and he shook his head sadly and said, “We must pray.” Maria is continuing her steroid treatment for another 2 weeks. Then we will go back and if there is still no improvement, Maria will be sent to a specialist that works with low-vision children.

JOHN/LOUIS: I don’t think I have ever talked about John but he is one of my neighbors. John is a little over a year and, until recently, was terrified of me. He has grown so much in the last month I am always surprised to see him running around now. They tell me he isn’t afraid of me anymore because he has seen all the other children play with me and now he is able to move around on his own and he can run away if he gets scared, which he doesn’t. Anyway, I have been greeting John since I moved here. I am friends with his mom Betty and his ten year old brother Fred. This past week I found out John is not named John but his name is actually Louis! How does that happen? I’ve been calling Louis John for the last 6 months and no one ever corrected me.

It is a little like my friend Celeste who thought her friend named Monday was named Tuesday for a time. And my friend Amber who thought her dog was a boy for several weeks before she found out the dog was a girl. Oh the misunderstandings and lack of communication we deal with daily. Gotta love it!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Friend Maria

Maria is a 12 year old girl from Tanzania. She lives at the school I live at and has for several years. She won’t go home until maybe after she finishes P7. She is in P6 now. For the last month and a half Maria has been going blind. It came on suddenly and wasn’t discovered until this term when she was having other students read the board for her and teachers saw her bend over double an inch from her paper. Sister Carol took her to Mengo Hospital, the government hospital in Kampala, to be checked out and they told her they don’t know what is wrong but it looks like she is going blind. They gave her some steroids because they thought the nerves behind her eyes might be enflamed. It made her eyes feel better but her sight has not returned. She can barely see out of one eye and a little better out of the other. Maria needed to return to the hospital to be checked on this week.

Normally, I dislike having white skin. Sometimes I am taken more seriously and sometimes I am regarded as trying to bring in crazy ideas from the West that are not part of Ugandan culture and therefore not wanted or respected. It means I am treated differently, usually given preferential treatment. I am served meals first, I am given the best chair to sit on, and I am the guest of honor at events. It is a challenge to be white. With this situation with Maria it was the first time I wanted to use the power of my white skin to get some answers and hopefully push things along. So, I went to Mengo Hospital with Sister Carol and Maria.

The eye department has very rudimentary eye equipment. They see several patients at once and you all read the chart in front of one another. Maria could only read the first two lines; the ones with the giant letters. If you need to move on from there and see the actually doctor, you wait for what can be hours if not days to see the doctor.

I made sure I was very visible to all the staff standing with Maria and moving with her whenever her name as called. Sister Carol and I took turns inquiring about when we would see the doctor. It was much faster than I thought it would be. We saw the doctor just under 2 hours of waiting.

The doctor informed us that she didn’t know what the problem was. I asked very pointed questions and she just keep saying she didn’t know what is causing this and that it looks like Maria will go blind. She put her on more steroids and wants to see her again next week.

I am so sad and frustrated with the health care here. They don’t have the resources or availability to find causes so they just treat patients with lots of medicines and they never improve. I am so afraid poor Maria is going to go blind not because what she has can’t be cured but because they won’t figure out the problem. They seem so passive. But it is a nationwide problem – the lack of critical thinking skills! I am going to try and research possible causes and if any of you have any ideas please pass them on. Next week when we go back I want to be able to offer ideas that will hopefully be investigated. How can we give up on a 12 year old girl who lives in a foreign country without her family? How can we give up so quickly on anyone?

The Walk of Shame

The tin roof on my house does not completely meet my brick walls in my bedroom. So, it was only inevitable that one day I would receive bats. That day has come. My bedroom is now a bat colony at night. They swoop down, make really loud squeaky noises and defecate and urinate all over my house. It is gross and even beyond that, I have always feared bats so this is a terrifying experience.

The first night this happened I lay with a sheet over my head wide awake the whole night. Immediately the next morning, I went to Sister Carol (she’s in charge of the school I live at) and told her about this problem asking her what we can do about it. She said she would look into it. Nothing happens right away here so I went on to talk to other teachers and find what they do to keep the bats away. I can’t be the only one who has this problem. As it turns out, my whole block of houses (there are 4 of us on my block) have bat problems. Rose suggested we send some students out into the bush to collect thorns to put in the openings. Betty wants to have our houses sprayed with chemicals. I just want them gone.

That second night, I went to dinner at the convent and when the nuns asked me how I was I said in true Ugandan fashion, “I’m not all that well.” They rushed with their concerns and asked what were my troubles. After hearing about my fear of bats they laughed hysterically, largely because this is just a problem you always live with, and then told me I should move back to the convent, where I lived before getting my own house.

I have survived the armies of gecko’s, spiders and ants that live in my house. I deal with the cockroaches that inhabit my latrine. And, I let the sparrows keep their nests in my bathing house. I cannot handle the colony of bats that think they have found a new home. So, I have moved back into my old room in the convent at night. Each night I make the journey across campus with my pillow, sleeping bag and toothbrush. Each morning I make the journey back across campus in my pajamas, wearing my glasses, and greeting the students who are busy doing morning chores. I receive many, “Amanda, why do you sleep there now.” To which I reply, “It is because I fear the bats in my house.” And they say, “You fear your house?” I affirm this question and am greeting with laughter and shots throughout campus, “Amanda, she fears her house. She fears the bats.” Oh, the walk of shame each morning.

And so, it has been a week since I moved back to the convent and I am still waiting for something to happen. Sister Carol tells me she has requested someone from town come and spray our houses but as of yet, they have not come.

Hierarchy and Its Look for Me During the Riots

I recently wrote an e-mail to a friend trying to convey my sense of guilt and frustration in relation to the recent riots in Kampala. I decided to post it also as a blog:

I had never been in such a volatile place much less alone as I was during the riots in Kampala. I had it easy and had Peace Corps behind me helping me get out immediately. Even in the midst of it I kept thinking about all those who must face these instances alone because they either don’t have an organization behind them, their government/police don’t really care about protecting innocent people, or this is a daily reality. After the whole adrenaline rush of emergency and once I have calmed down a little I thought about it more and it really bothered me. You see, I came into Kampala with Sister Carol. We attended a meeting together and then she needed to visit someone and I needed to go home. So, we split ways just before the park. We were both there for the riots but not together at that point. I called her immediately to warn her but of course she was also in the midst of it. She told me to get out and we would see each other later. Once I was safely out of it I called her again and she was hiding at a priest’s house she knew in the city. We were both safe and unharmed. But I felt awful. If we had been together PC couldn’t have picked her up and gotten her out of there. Only me. This is even true if there ever needs to be an evacuation – all Americans are assisted out of country by national staff and then if there is time and availability Ugandan staff will be helped out. What makes being an American so special? How are we of more worth than everyone else? This is not just isolated to these issues of safety and security but also to everyday life here in Uganda. I am given preferential treatment to most everything. And during these riots, Sister Carol was so relieved that PC had picked me up and was keeping me safe in an undisclosed location to her. I know that she cares about me as a person and so is glad that I was safe but it goes deeper than that at times. She thought it was right that I was taken care of by PC. On one hand Ugandan’s seem like such a humble people, putting others (whites) above themselves. But at the same time, this is extremely unhealthy and unrealistic. They are stuck in these hierarchical mentalities that keep them trapped in falsehoods and unable to develop and progress in the ways they are capable of. The honestly believe others are of better than them. Even within their own peoples.

Do you ever grapple with these big life issues? How do we reconcile being white and living in this unfair world? This is an issue I always come back to. In college I went through the hating being white phase and I think I am a little bit back there. I’m not sure how to appreciate the extremely easy life being white affords me.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Going Home!

After living in a hostel with 18 other Peace Corps Volunteers for the last 5 days, we are finally free to go home! We are at the PC office doing our paper work and gathering our money.

Uganda is calm once again. There are minor disturbances over those who were arrested but it seems life is back to normal.

Thank you for your calls, e-mails, and prayers. I am happy to go back to site. Have a beautiful day!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Alive and Safe

Due to lack of internet I will make this brief. We are safe and healthy. Peace Corps has us staying in a safe location. Things in town and Kayunga are still troubling. Guns are still being shot and beatings are taking place. The "action" is taking place in very Ugandan areas so the areas that are foreign dominated are safe. The President is making a statement and many are hoping it dies down quickly. It sounds like things will continue for another day or so.

Stay safe!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Close Shave

First, I need to start by saying a) I am safe and alive and b) this is abnormal - Uganda is usually safe.

With that being said, I almost got killed today. I went to the District office of the Ministry of Education for a meeting this morning and had to travel back through Kampala to get home. I was changing taxi's near the taxi park when it all started (to be dramatic).... A huge riot started, there were gun shots everywhere, and then the police came with tear gas. Everyone started running and a nice man grabbed my arm and pulled me along telling me to run faster. We ran up this giant hill and my heart was beating like crazy and it was the first time I was scared in country.

I ran behind a building and called Peace Corps and they told me to get on anything I could and get away and to Peace Corps office that second. Traffic was stopped, people were running everywhere, gun shots are going off like crazy, and tear gas was seeping all over the city. I managed to get on a boda-boda (motorcycle) which we are only allowed to ride if our lives are in danger. My life was in danger. Fred, our safety and security director, met me on the road and I got in the PC vehicle. Another volunteer was also in the midst of these riots and we had to go get him out too. Now, we are all at PC - about 9 of us are stuck here - and they are telling us we may not go for a few days. All traffic has been stopped in and out of Kamapala. PC is trying to figure out where to put us for the night(s).

The story on why and how is still very unclear. Apparently the King of Buganda (the tribe I live in) wants to go to another area where there are a mix of other tribes and the government doesn't want him to because they think he is getting too powerful. Kings in Uganda technically only have social power and not political power. So there was this big mess today. Tribalism at its finest. The King is supposed to go there on Saturday so the next few days may even be worse than today.

From this dramatic experience, I have the utmost respect and appreciation for Peace Corps Uganda. They came immediately and make our safety a priority. I feel safe and cared for with PC on my team.

Well folk, just another adventure in Uganda.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Garbage Heap

There is a garbage heap near my house where we dump our rubbish. It is burned once a day. We then use the ash to clean our latrines. The children love going through the garbage heap and finding treasure. Treasure can be almost anything. I am always surprised at the things they want to keep. This morning my oatmeal box was taken. I usually try and time my garbage dump to when it is lit and burning. However, even that has not always stopped children from grabbing my garbage off the burning heap.

On Saturday morning I awoke particularly early and couldn’t fall back asleep so got up and made a coffee cake to eat as my breakfast with my coffee. I must say, it was a pretty good coffee cake and only took me one hour to make. I had a piece in the morning then covered it and went about my business. I came back to the coffee cake in the late afternoon and when I uncovered it, it was crawling with tiny ants. I was horrified and my first reaction was to brush them off. However, this only got them crawling all over me and I ran out of my house swatting and flicking ants off all parts of my body. I’m sure this was a surprising site for my neighbors to witness. I went back into my house and waited a few minutes to make a dash for the burn pile with this coffee cake. Usually I keep a pile of food scrapes near a tree in my backyard. A teacher friend has goats that she feeds the scrapes to so I save them for her. This time, I just wanted to be rid of the cake so made a quick trip to the burn pile. After depositing the cake, I wandered back to my house still picking ants off my body. It was only a few seconds later that a crowd of children came up behind me with coffee cake in their hands and mouths. They then thanked me profusely for the cake that was, “soooo sweet.”

In a panicked rushed voice I told them it was bad; that there had been ants on it. I switched to Luganda but couldn’t think of the word for ant. They all just gave me big smiles and kept thanking me and telling me how good it was.

I wanted to throw up.

But hey, it’s protein right?

The Long Month Of Training

I am back! I was away for training over the month of August. It was a long time to be away from site and I am happy to be back and starting a somewhat normal routine of life again.

We spent time near Kampala going through technical training with or Ugandan counterparts. Mine neglected to show up so I joined my friend Celeste and her counterpart Humphery. We work out of the same college so it was beneficial for us to work together.

Those of us who live in the Buganda region of Uganda and speak Luganda went to Mityana, a few hours West of Kampala, for further language training. This was a more low key training where we were able to focus on the language issues we had. It was nice to have things clarified and learn a new key vocab and phrases we actually need at site. This is a picture of our Luganda group and Irene, one of our language trainers.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Lately, I have had new experiences. Hard experiences. The first happened last week. I attended a birth. Let me tell you, I never want to give birth; at least not in a developing country. Ugandan’s can be overly dramatic at times and perhaps this women giving birth was a little dramatic but I would venture to say she was expressing the truth the way she was experiencing it.

One of the campaigns my health center is promoting is encouraging women to give birth in a health center. This birth was only the 5th since the center opened last November. Women trust the older women in their lives/communities who they believe know birthing and therefore can help them give birth. Women think the young nurses and doctors can’t possibly know what they are doing since they are so young and so trust the older women they know to assist them in birthing. They also don’t want to spend the money at a clinic (many are free).

Since it is rare for a woman to go to a clinic to give birth, it is even more rare for a woman to let a Westerner attend the birth. I think this woman was too fried by the time she got to the clinic and me being there was the least of her worries. The nurse encouraged me to stay and so I stayed. Skipping all the horrifying details, the woman gave birth to a healthy baby boy. She named him Emmanuel and calls him Emma.

My second hard experience also happened at the health center a few days later. I witnessed my first HIV positive discovery. A woman had come in for HIV testing and her results came back positive. She was devastated. She crumpled to the ground and sobbed. She believes her life is over. With testing, patients receive counseling before and after. Even with the counseling, it was several hours before this woman was able to walk out of the health center.

Development work always seemed like such a romanticized job in the movies, in books, on the news, and in my mind. Now, in the midst of it, I realize how heart breaking it is. I am so limited in my abilities. It is easy to go around telling people they need to get tested and that it is important to know their status. I even tell them I have been tested and know my status. But there is nothing you can do when someone finds out they are HIV positive. That instant is the most shattering moment. Fidelity is a big problem here specifically in the men. As with this women, she thought she was with a man who was faithful but he wasn’t and gave her HIV. Now, not only does she need to deal with a disease that will completely alter her life forever, she also must decide what to do with this man she loved and thought was faithful to her. There is so much more involved here: stigmatizing, abuse, ARV’s, counseling, etc. But I am too tired to get into it right now.

The last experience I want to share quickly is what people refer to as, “dodgers.” At first this sounded very Vietnam draft dodgingish to me and it is as serious in a completely unrelated kind of way. “Dodgers,” are parents who leave their children at boarding schools when they are supposed to be home. Many students board at school during the term and then are required to go home during the breaks. However, many dodgers don’t come for their children because they know they cannot provide for them and think at least at school they have food to eat and a place to sleep. My little friend Sanyu is 12 and her parents did not come for her this break. She doesn’t want to talk about it but her sad face lets everyone around know how hurt she is. Not only is there a whole country of children who do not feel loved because their families send them away to boarding school from the age of 6, there are also a large number who feel even less loved because their families don’t even come for them on holidays.

And so, once again, I am faced with my limitedness.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

5K With No Legs

As most of you know, I am a great runner. I hold numerous world records and am the envy of many a fellow runner. When I heard about a 5K in Uganda hosted by a PCV to raise money for a Life Skills program at her health center, I knew I needed to participate. Since it was a community outreach, I decided it wouldn’t be fair for me to usurp the Ugandan runners and so decided to participate in the race by pushing a disabled child in their wheelchair. What I didn’t anticipate was pushing a legless little boy without a seat belt in a beat up wheelchair on dirt roads in the bush of Uganda. This position was a thousand times harder than running a little 5K.

Robert was my little boy for the race. I blew up two balloons for him and tied them to his wheelchair. From the moment I wheeled him out of the home and to the start line all the way to the time I left him several hours later (through the race and following programs) he was grinning from ear to ear. As we raced along the dirt road and would hit a rock the wrong way which would send us swerving and heading straight into the ditch, Robert would squeal with delight. In the beginning, after having to slow down because each bump would almost send Robert flying out of his wheelchair, he looked up at me and asked, “Have you ever pushed one of these before?” I tried not to be offended and informed him I most certainly had just never on Ugandan dirt roads.

So, after conquering the loose graveled hills of Nkokonjeru, trying not to have a heart attack when watching a Ugandan down syndrome boy race a boy in a wheelchair and repeatedly let him almost fall out and dodging boda boda’s (motorcycles)who thought the sport was to run us off the road, Robert and I crossed the finish line 3rd of all those in the wheelchair heat.

Young Talk

I have an informal group that meets once a month to read Young Talk. Young Talk is a free newspaper geared for late primary school aged children that addresses reproductive health and life skills. Yesterday I made chocolate chip banana bread to celebrate the end of the term for my Young Talk group. The breads and cakes Ugandans eat are incredible dry, stale, and tasteless. I knew this banana bread was going to be a stretch and tried to prepare myself ahead of time to not have hurt feelings when they didn’t like it because it was going to be so different from anything they are used to.

Due to elevation, humidity, lack of controlled steady temperature, poor quality pans, and anything else I could possibly blame it on, my bread turned out moist and wonderful in the middle and hard as leather everywhere else. Of course, not one to waste anything and knowing I’d chalk it up to being, “American,” and therefore no one would question it, I still brought it to my group. It turns out, they love the hard leathery outsides with a faint hint of banana and chocolate and I was able to enjoy the moist normal inside of chocolate chip (crushed Cadbury bar) banana bread (Gluten-Free of course).

Friday, July 31, 2009

Happy Times in Uganda

There are countless times I feel completely content and happy with my life in Uganda. There are many times I don’t but let’s not talk about those right now. Many times those feelings of happiness, pride, and contentment overwhelm me when I do something that makes me feel very Ugandan.

Yesterday, I was riding on a taxi with my friend Lizzie. Lizzie loves Jack Fruit and is unable to get it at her site. She has had a craving for it and was determined to get some before going back to site. We scoured the market and all around the town we had been in. There was none to be seen. While in the taxi on the way home, we stopped to let some passengers out and I spotted Jack fruit at a small vender across the street. I tapped on the window furiously trying to get a ladies attention and then I motioned her over to us using the Ugandan come-here wave. This is the wave we use to say hello to little children in the states but in Uganda it means come here. The woman pick-up a giant Jack fruit and ran across the road to us. Lizzie then proceeded to buy the Jack fruit through the taxi door. This exchange is extremely common in Uganda and made me feel very Ugandan.

One of my favorite, and least favorite at the same time, conversations to have with Ugandans is when I ask for directions. They are incredible vague and will admit to being horrible direction givers. Earlier this week I went into the bush to drop off some letters from the Ministry of Education and invite teachers to a workshop on HIV/AIDS education. I have three schools that are relatively close together in the bush but I had only visited them once and this was my first time trying to find them again on my own. I made it to the first school and then asked the Head Mister (principal) to direct me to the next school. He walked me to the road and said, “You go that way (shakes his hand around so I am not sure which way that is) for some time. Then there is a tree somewhat far, turn there. Hmmm, there is a somewhat small path but you might get lost. O.k. o.k. Hmmm. Go that way (again shakes his hand in no apparent direction) for some more time. After the big mango tree you will look and see the school. Climb the hill and you will see. It is somewhat near.” So, I took off “that way.” The amazing part is that I followed his directions and made it to the school without any mishaps. Oh, to understand Ugandan directions. It is a talent, let me tell you.

Another Ugandan moment happened for me this week. I am working with a local health center on HIV/AIDS programs in schools. A program exists in Uganda called, “Education for Life.” I was told the program is working in Katikamu, a village an hour and a half North of where I live. I was asked to go there and find out more information. When I asked for a contact person I was told to just go there and ask around. I was assured people would know where to direct me. So, I packed up and went to Katikamu. After asking around the local trading center, visiting the health center, grilling the father’s at the Catholic parish, and trying to visit the LC1 (like the mayor of the town), I found no one had ever heard of “Education for Life.”

While this would normally frustrate me and I may make some grudging remark about it being very Ugandan, I found this experience very rewarding. I did not find the organization/program I wanted to learn about but in the process I was directed to other NGO’s and community based programs. I found a community that has an active Village Savings and Loans program, a health center that does both in-center care and outreach, and a Catholic parish that is working to promote quality education so that all their students qualify for higher education. I love learning about communities that are building themselves up and seeing how they are doing it.

Exorcisms Next Door

My dear sweet neighbor Grace, who I scared a few weeks ago, is having night terrors. Lately, I have been awoken around 3 am by her screaming, sobbing, and calling out. I even hear my name. She screams out prayers that include, “Mamma! Mamma! Mamma! (some Luganda) Yesu, my friend save me! (Luganda mixture) Yesu! Yesu! Amanda! Mamma Fred! (Luganda words) Yesu!” Then I hear claps and banging noises. Grace has dreams that men live in the corners of her room and come to abduct her and sacrifice her. Her mom, Annette, is clapping into the corners to show her there is no one there and also to ward off the evil spirits.

Lately, many of the teachers and community members have been taking about child sacrifice. It has made me so angry because they are scaring the children. Then, I found out that a little boy in the next town was abducted and sacrificed last week. So, poor Grace’s night terrors are founded.

Annette is at the end of her rope. She is very distressed and does not know what to do. She has taken Grace to the doctor, sleeps with her, and lately has brought in some Born Again’s (Pentecostal’s) to pray over Grace and the room each night. It sounds like they are having exorcisms to me.

For my part, I have given Grace Sleepy-Time tea and read, “The Berenstain Bears Bad Dream,” with her. Still, the night terrors persist.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sweet Child and Hiking through the jungle

Welcome to Kalangala and Riding in a Flat Bed Truck

Amazon Women on Lake Victoria

Sseese Islands

Last weekend I traveled to the Ssesse Islands in Lake Victoria with 6 wonderful friends. We arrived at the dock in Entebbe and camped out, ready to elbow our way onto the boat and in a seat. There are little to no rules about catching the ferry. They fill it until there are no more people and many must stand for the 3 hour passage.

We managed to be some of the first passengers on the boat and secured two benches with a narrow table between them for us to play cards on and rest our tired heads. We tried to ignore the fact that they squished more people than the boat should have been able to hold, there were no visible life jackets, no life boats, and only 3 staff members (the captain, the ticket collector, and a security guard). Oh, and did I mention there were cars along with passengers on this boat and they were held in place by logs? That too.

Despite the potentially dangerous ferry crossing, we made it to Bulago Island safely. We were greeted by 15 Islanders carrying signs representing their respective resorts. Being American, we had made reservations ahead of time and found the lady carrying the “Pearl Gardens Beach Resort,” sign and followed her down the beach some 100 meters.

Let me educate you on two important facts about vacationing in Uganda. Number 1 – there is no need for reservations. They don’t mean anything. Number 2 – resort in Uganda does not mean Caribbean Resort. You still have a bucket bath, the front door has gaping holes in it, and you sleep under a tattered mosquito net. At first these differences were a little disappointing, after all, we thought we were moving up in the world by going on vacation. But as we quickly adjusted, we realized it was refreshing to be in a place that has not been “Westernized.” It wouldn’t be Uganda without the bucket bath and lack of communication.

We proceeded to have a most excellent vacation that included hitching a ride on the back of a flat bed truck to “town”, hiking a nature walk through the jungles of the island, some quality beach time, a picnic near the beach, canoeing a giant canoe through Lake Victoria and jumping in and swimming in the middle of the cove.

It was a wonderful weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. But, I must admit, I never want to go back. Not because of the place but solely because of the ferry ride. 3 hours is a long time to fear for your life and I have not gotten as sea sick as I got on the return ride. There were moments where I was tempted to throw myself over board in hopes of settling my stomach.

And so, I am happy to be back on dry land and living life at site once again. I am refreshed and thankful for life. Next vacation will have to not include a ferry. Perhaps, rafting the Nile River?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Grace and Friends

Grace is the one on the left with a chalk smudge on her face.

The Tickling Game

My nearest neighbor is a 5 year old girl named Grace and her mother Annette, a teacher at the school. Grace and I play the tickle game. It is a cat and mouse game of her running and me catching her to tickle her and then let her run off and start all over again. Last week we were playing this game and she would not let me catch her. I was not in the mood to run all over the place trying to catch a child that wasn’t going to let me catch her so I was about to give up quickly. Grace took off around a school building and I drug myself to give one last ditch effort and hid around a corner of the building waiting for her to come back.

As Grace came back looking for me I jumped out, grabbed her and began tickling her. At first I thought she was screaming in delight but I quickly realized she was sobbing and utterly terrified and upset. I had surprised her so much that she had wet her pants in fear. I tried to apologize and calm her down but she would have nothing to do with me. She ran away.

Grace refused to come home until I was in my house with the door shut. The next morning she would not come out until I had left. I asked her mom to bring her out so I could apologize and we could be friends again but Annette told me Grace needed more time. I went away to visit my friend Lizzie for the next night and day and when I returned Grace would come out of her house but she would have nothing to do with me.

It wasn’t until Sunday morning, 3 days later, when I brought some sidewalk chalk out to our shared front slab of concrete and asked Grace to draw with me that she would finally interact with me. I realize bribery is not the best way to make friends but, I must admit, it worked very well. Grace and I have since colored all the concrete slabs on our school campus, performed cartwheels through the field, washed my floors, eaten an orange together, and played Go-Fish. Needless to say, we have not played the tickle game again, yet.

The Business of Religion

I am continually frustrated and saddened with religion being a business. Yesterday morning I noticed that a few of my students had the Bible on their desks with their other books. I work at a Muslim college and know that they have religious education but was still a little surprised to see students in their Muslim garb with the Bible. I asked a student later why she was carrying her Bible and she said it was for Bible study. I asked her if she was a Christian and she answered affirmatively. I then asked her if she was Muslim. She said no and at my puzzled expression explained that my Muslim college was the only one she could get into so she is Muslim while at school but otherwise is a Christian.

I had a conversation with Sister Kizito and Sister Stella about their families last weekend. I was asking why they became nuns and how their families felt about it. I asked if they came from Catholic families. This is when I found out that both of them have a brother who is a Muslim. I asked how they felt about it and they both told me they pray for their Muslim brothers but are not too concerned because the brothers only became Muslims for jobs. They needed to be Muslim in order to get a certain job and so they converted. They said it like choosing your religion was like choosing which pair of shoes to wear to work.

Even the other week a man approached me and ask if I would help him start an NGO. Here was how the conversation went:

Me: “What do you want to do?”
Man: “I want to start an NGO.”
Me: “That is great. What do you want to do?”
Man: “Start an NGO.”
Me, thinking he isn’t understanding me: “What kind of NGO do you want to start? What population of people do you want to be helping?”
Man: “I just want to start an NGO. I want a white truck.”

At this point I understand that it is me, who has been misunderstanding. The man believes, like most Ugandan’s, that NGO’s mean money and status. They drive around in Land Cruisers and big diesel white trucks with their NGO name across the door. They have a nice office in Kampala and enough money to feed their families. NGO’s, be them faith-based or not, are a business in Uganda.

Daily Life

Every day in Uganda is different yet the same. I rarely know if it will be a busy day or not. This is due to being at the mercy of other people who do not value time as I do. Some days I leave my house before 7 am and do not return until after 7 pm. Other days I may only leave my house/school compound for an hour total all day.

Even with the uncertainty of my daily schedule there are a few routines I have developed. Before I eat dinner with my nuns around 8 pm, I take a bath and wash the layers of dust and dirt off my feet and body. Almost every night, I fill a basin with water and laundry detergent and put my dirtiest clothes in this basin to soak and loosen their grime out. Each morning I wake up and go out to my bathing area and wash my face and hair. After dressing, I cut up a banana and passion fruit and let them marinate together in a bowl for my breakfast. While they mix I do my laundry and hang it up to dry in the sun all day while I am away. I always try to beat my neighbors in getting my laundry done so that my clothes can hang in the clearest place and not have leaves, fruit, and dirt falling on them all day from the trees our clothes lines are tied to. With this done, I eat my breakfast, put it in a basin of water to soak during the day, sweep each room and walk out the door. When I return from work, I wash my dishes and take my clothes off from the line. At this point there are usually around 50 children loitering around my house waiting for me to play with them. And so, I do.

Love my Ugandan life!

This morning I had finished hanging all my laundry and was over visiting with a teacher across the campus when it began to rain through the sunshine. I rain home and got my clothes off the line. I then quickly gathered all my pails and buckets and put them out to catch the rain. This will save me a trip to the water tank. I felt so Ugandan.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Advantages and Disadvantages

My class yesterday at the teacher’s college did not go so well. They changed the time table on me again and I had a different group of students for the third time this term. I have never had the same class since the first week. I had to start from the beginning and give the same lecture I have been giving. It is a very boring lecture on the history of social studies, different approaches, and the phases social studies has gone through in Africa over the last 100 years. I spent most of the class repeating myself over and over again and rephrasing my questions because the students did not understand my accent.

When we were discussing the different methods of teaching social studies I asked them the advantages and disadvantages of teaching with those approaches. With every approach they told me the disadvantage was that it was time consuming for the teacher. I finally told them that was a stupid answer and I never wanted to hear it again because that is life. Teaching is time consuming. Get over it. When we were discussing the next approach and I asked for disadvantages the very first answer was that it can be time consuming for the teacher. I wanted to scream!

Even beyond that frustration, my students only give text book definitions and do not know how to think outside the box. When they give an answer I will probe them to go deeper but they are incapable and simply rephrase their first answer.
With a class of over a hundred students it is always noisy. I can’t get them to all be quite at the same time. A few take naps while others are doing homework for other classes. They only perk up when they get to ask questions.

These are the questions they ask:
How is Obama? Do you know him?
Can you get me a visa and take me to America?
Are you married? Will you marry me?
Can you sponsor me and pay my school fees?

It was one of those days where I left class and wondered what I was doing. The students don’t really want to be there. It is their only option because they didn’t get into University. My class seems like a pointless class – they only need it to pass their teacher’s exams. Who cares about social studies methodology? Am I really teaching them anything significant and that will help them in life? And I keep changing classes so I don’t even have the same students. How can I build relationships?

On a brighter note – I had a great creative writing club this week. We listed adjectives and came up with a wide variety of words to describe ourselves other than big, black, and fat (the three words they always use to describe themselves). We did some serious editing and critiquing of our poems and made final drafts. Then we hung our poems up for everyone to read.

Maybe the trick is working with younger minds that are still somewhat pliable.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Home Coming

I attended a conference for all Peace Corps Volunteers in Uganda last week. There were almost 130 of us all together for 5 days. It was a great time to meet all the volunteers and also to learn from one another. I left the conference excited about the possibilities. It was helpful to hear what volunteers are doing; how they started; how they failed; how they tried again, differently and succeeded. It was also comforting to hear how others are struggling with some of the same emotions I find myself dealing with: anger, spite, joy, excitement. It is always nice to know you are not the only one with extreme highs and lows when that was never your personality before.

I returned to site on Sunday and received such a warm welcome home I was humbled by the love my community has for me. My friend Felicia (Francie’s mom) met me on the road and took my heavy bag and escorted me home. I found out later she had walked into town 2 other times that day looking for me. It took us sometime to get home because everyone we passed wanted to welcome me home and hear about my trip. Everyone said, “Nalubega, you have been lost.” In Ugandan (referring to the whole country/culture) this means they haven’t seen you in a while. Many thought I had gone back to America and were so excited I was back.

The students I live with ran and met me at the gate. There was no time for a rest, they wanted to play. We had a week to catch up on. My nuns all greeted me with hugs and much exclamation at dinner that night. It is sometimes difficult to go back to Ugandan life when you have had a break and surrounded by other American’s. I love my life here but there is comfort and familiarity in being around those who come from a similar background. I came back to site with a little dread but upon getting back and received such a welcome home, I was touched and experienced a great sense of belonging. I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Education in Uganda

I attended a workshop for teacher development on teaching in English. The man leading the workshop would continually look to me after making a statement and wait for my affirmative nod that what he spoke was truth. A few times I had to correct him like when he told the teachers “mophology,” was the study of words instead of, “morphology.” I chalk that one up to the language barrier and Ugandan’s having a very difficult time saying their “r’s.” As the workshop continued on the man confused prefixes with suffixes, spelled a total of 10 words correct, misused his tenses repeatedly, and many other English mistakes. All while leading a workshop of teaching English.

Many PCV’s complain about the Ugandan education system and it really is a travesty. The ministry has good intentions and their curriculum could be effective. However, there are several factors that limit the effectiveness of the education system. One problem being the classes are too large. This seems to be a world-wide complaint but in Uganda, where many classes are 100 plus students, it is a real problem. Another problem is that teachers colleges tend to be where students go who do not make it to University because of their academics. This means the country is being educated by many teachers who do not want to teach, they just didn’t have any other option, and also by teacher’s who do not have the academic aptitude in the first place.

Monday, June 22, 2009


Manna Wange

Francie is the love of my current life. She is the sweetest bowlegged 2 year old you could meet in Uganda. Francie was named Francis at birth because her mom thought she looked like a boy with her high forehead. She is a little homely but over time I have come to find her the cutest African child. Maybe it is her enthusiastic greeting every time she sees me. Or, maybe it is the running waddle on her bowlegs to wrap her cubby little arms around me. When I walk away from Francie I hear her tell those around her, “Manna wange.” This means, “My Amanda.”

A few days ago Francie had an accident with her porridge. I think she was running with it, I haven’t gotten a clear story, but somehow she spilled boiling hot porridge on her face. It burned her skin and now she has a thick white line from her lips to her ear. It is completely rubbed raw and her once beautiful, flawless, black skin is now scraped and white and pink with blisters. When I asked if she cried some of the students told me yes, but not as much as when she was caned for spilling her porridge and crying in the first place.

There are many frustrations in Uganda. Discipline and corporal punishment is the one that breaks my heart the most.

I am constantly being asked for money or help. Everyone seems to believe white skin means big money. When someone says, “Give me money,” I have come to say, “Give me your shoes.” This usually quiets the person and I move on. Last week I was at a school signing in and when I asked the man at the gate how he was (which is part of the polite greeting) he said very poor because he needs money. I had never met this man before. We had no previous relationship. When this happens I become less friendly, express my sympathy and move away quickly. I then usually stew over being seen as money and not as another human being. At times it is very hard for me not to be upset with people when they see me as money. I just want to be accepted for who I am, not for what people think I can get them. After this particular incident, I tried to keep perspective and think if I was trying to survive and believed there was a race that had lots of money, wouldn’t I too take every interaction/opportunity with one of those people to ask for help?

I am trying to work on my patience and understanding with people and not let these comments and interactions get me worked up. Here we go . . . .

Thursday, June 18, 2009

All in a day's work

I dropped a new role of toilet paper down the latrine this morning. I never understood how it is possible for so many people to miss when they are using the latrine, leaving spoils around the hole and on the sides of the hole, and then perfectly aim their belongings down the hole. I am here to tell you, it is very easy. Toilet paper in Uganda is fairly available in many dukas (stores) though the quality is not so great. I try to buy a large stake of good toilet paper in Kampala. This was a brand new role and my last. This is my greatest disappointment of the day.
I teach a methods class at a teacher’s college in Kampala on Wednesday’s. Yesterday in the midst of my lecture on measurable objectives in lessons, four goats wandered into my open classroom. One very bold goat marched over to a student’s desk and began to eat the student’s paper. I had to just shake my head and laugh as some students grabbed the goats by their necks and dragged them out of the classroom. One of these goats was disgruntled with having been moved and stood outside the window bleating for several minutes after this incident.

After having grown up on the farm in MN, then living on the East Coast and working in the urban areas around Boson, I have experienced the juxtaposed position of socio-economic levels and grappled with the sometimes seemingly hopeless situations they provide. My time in Africa leads many of the same thoughts and struggles. Last week I went to 2 schools that met under mango trees. Both schools had a very small and dilapidated building that could not inhabit all the students so they were more comfortable meeting outside. In another school I visited I found that the majority of students did not have shoes. Many of the schools are not providing lunch for their students and if they are it is only a small cup of porridge or posho, a cooked maze blob. I found that even at the school I live at a little less than half the students do not receive lunch because their parents do not pay for it and the school doesn’t have the money to pay for all the students. A school I was at on Monday was in the midst of telling their students not to drink the water there because it was bad and they were almost out of water anyways, when I got there. They told students they needed to start bringing their own water. They know was well as I do, that students and their families do not have money to be purchasing water each day so these students will get bad water from home, if they bring any water at all, and the problem will perpetuate but the school will not have to take responsibility.

With that being said, I also visit schools that have secure locks on their gates, manicures lawns, weather-proof buildings, clean latrines, and even running water. They have clubs set up for students and provide field trips for optimal learning for their students. These schools are right next to the mango tree schools. Sometimes the need in Africa is so visible I know exactly what to do; sometimes the need is so immense I don’t know where to start; and sometimes, the need is hidden and again I don’t know what to do. So in the mean time, I visit and get to know people and let them take their sweet African time in telling me what they think they need.