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

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!