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

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Becoming a "real" PCV

When I first arrived in country I heard you were not a true Peace Corps Volunteer until you had pooped your pants. My friends and I always said we didn’t want to be real PCV’s then and that is wouldn’t happen to us. Well, my friends, I am here to tell you I have become a real PCV.

I have had diarrhea off and on for the last week but nothing unmanageable. It happens when you live in a developing country. Yesterday, it all started very early in the morning when I had to go to the bathroom. I jumped out of my bug net and quickly walked to the latrines. This was at about 5 in the morning and my whole school was up doing their morning chores. Ugandan’s never go to the bathroom. I never see them use the latrine. I think this is because they don’t drink anything, or so it seems. Well, I have discovered that they do go to the bathroom at 5 am. I currently share latrines with 700 primary school children. Only 2 of the 8 latrines have doors on them and of course those were in use. By the time I got to the latrines I knew I could not wait and so was forced to squat in a latrine without a door and proceeded to have explosive diarrhea for the next few minutes in front of the whole school. In the states, I would imagine this scene would bring much laughter and embarrassment from onlookers. In Uganda, I received many looks and every child said, “sorry sorry,” or “bambi” which means I sympathize.

After that morning release, I was fine, or so I thought. It was yesterday afternoon as I was riding in a matatu (taxi) that I got the immediate urge to defecate. As I neared my destination I tried to think of where the closest bathroom/latrine was and could only think of them far down the road. I got off the matatu and walked the briskest walk Ugandan’s have ever seen on Kampala Road trying to make it to the nearest restroom. It was becoming apparent that I was not going to make it and so I started asking the shop keepers alongside the road where a latrine was. I was directed back through some alleys and seeing the restroom door ran in. Of course, there were no doors on the stalls here either and I quickly pulled my dress up to pull my pants down but it was too late. I exploded both in my underwear and the latrine. This was also the moment where I discovered I was in the male restroom when two male post office workers came in and found me covered in my own poop. Quite embarrassing. Uganda rarely has toilet paper available and so I was forced to attempt to clean myself using some notebook paper I had in my bag.

Through it all, I have become a “real” Peace Corps Volunteer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Meetings and Life in the Southern Hemisphere

This was supposed to be the first week of the second term of school. However, the Ugandan Ministry of Education has not released money for the term yet. So many schools across Uganda did not open including the college I work out of. I attended a meeting there on Monday. There was much hemming and hawing over what to do. Someone kept calling the ministry but no one answered. Surprise surprise. Apparently this happens often. As in almost every term. While it is an inconvenience, people wait and school starts a week or so late. And so . . . I wait.

Ugandan’s follow protocol to the extreme. Meetings go for hours in what could have taken half an hour or less. Every discussion must follow the set agenda and you must speak in order after being called upon. My meeting on Monday brought a few interesting characteristics to my attention. First of all, there is an unhealthy affinity for taking notes. The other tutors wrote done every word spoken. They even wrote the agenda that was already typed out and in front of us. Secondly, the meetings include features that are completely unnecessary. For example, we spent a good 40 minutes reading over the minutes from our last meeting and spell checking the typed minutes. I was in the minutes from last month when I was introduced to the college and my name was typed: Amanda Rodrignes. All the tutors wanted me to bring this typo to the attention of the chair but I didn’t think they were that serious. Because, really, who corrects the typo in the minutes during a meeting? It was Celeste, a fellow PCV who works out of the same college, that brought up this problem. The other tutors nodded their heads and Mmm Mmmed her correction. Now, they think she is the brilliant one and I am not so smart because I couldn’t even correct my own name.

I crossed the equator into the Southern Hemisphere for the first time in my life last weekend. There was a very touristy place with swarms of Mzungu’s (white people) taking pictures with one leg in the North and one in the South. I saw it in a blur from my Matatu (public transportation) seat on my way to Masaka. I went to visit my friend Amber and see several other PCV’s. It was a great weekend of simply being together. We spent hours cooking our meals, just sitting in Amber’s house reading for fun, and discussion the great questions of Uganda such as, “Would Uganda collapse if all the aid money pulled out,” and “How would politics in Africa be different if European influences hadn’t broken areas into countries based on interest and instead based on tribe?” It was a great weekend.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I have been living in Uganda for several months now and decided, with my lack of internet access, that blogging may be the easiest way to express my experiences to a large community.

Just so you all know, my current address is:
P.O. Box 5835
Kampala, Uganda
East Africa

I love letters/packages and will write back if you write to me. The mail system is developing so mail may take longer than expected. This is not to discourage you from writing but to let you know my responses may seem sporatic.

Life in Uganda is good. I have been staying busy painting my little house and decorating. Due to a lack of options at my village paint shop, I painted my kitchen “Bermuda,” living room “Saffron,” and bedroom “ripple green.” Picture really bright African blue, yellow, and green colors. They are fun and only in Africa will I have them. I am still living in the convent with the nuns because my house has not been fixed up enough for Peace Corps safety standards. I still need bars on my windows, a door that reaches the floor, and a roof that doesn’t leak in when it rains. So, while I wait for those to be fixed, I do what I can there.

A few days ago my sister, Ashley and I walked into town to the local wood shop and I bought four boards. I am making bookshelves out of them. I don't have a lot of money and so didn't want to pay anyone to carry them when I am capable of carrying it myself. So, Ash and I hoisted these four boards on our shoulders and took off down my village streets. EVERYONE commented along our walk and many wanted to take them for us. Again, I didn't want to pay anyone so we continued on. They ended up being really heavy but I was happy to prove to my village that I am a tough girl who can work hard. Ugandan's seem to believe American's are incapable of doing any work and that we don't know how because we have machines that do everything for us. I need to break that stereotype now if I am going to get any work done here. So anyways, that night at dinner one of my nuns, Sister Nabusumba, came straight over to me and said, "Amanda, I heard you were carrying timber through the village. You cannot do that. Why didn't you tell us and we would have gotten someone to carry it for you?" I just laughed. Yes, the whole village was talking about us all day!

School starts next week and it will be different to have all the students' back and around all the time. Uganda has been on break for the last few weeks. So far, I have been working on getting to know people in my community. More and more people know my name now and I love walking down the street and being greeted by Amanda and not Mzungu. I make it a point to not respond to Mzungu and only to Amanda, Nalubega (my Lugandan name), Madame, or Sister. They are slowly catching on.

Much love to all my readers.