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

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Japanese Film Festival


The Embassy of Japan in Uganda hosted a Japanese Film Festival in Kampala this weekend. They provided numerous showings of three different Japanese films. This was a free event and you received a free pencil to write your comments after each film. Who can resist this unique event in Uganda?

There were many PCV’s in town and it was even my friend Mandy’s birthday so we ventured forth into the world of Japanese cinema. Our limited knowledge of Japanese film had us convinced we’d be watching an animae movie. Much to our surprise and delight we saw an extremely cheesy yet sweet drama called, “Ping Pong Bath Station.” It was about a woman who is discontent with her housewife life in Tokyo and sets off to find purpose. She organizes a ping pong tournament and through that her family comes for her and all rediscover the “work” needed to maintain relationships. It was cute.

I was very impressed with the Japanese Embassy and their pursuit of educating those living in Uganda more about their culture. Before the movie started there was a short segment on fan making and sushi making. It was informative.

I’m afraid many of the Ugandan’s present were not able to understand the film. It was in Japanese and subtitled in English. A few Ugandan’s left during the film and I suspect it is because they could not read the English fast enough to follow the film. Those that stayed were either able to follow along to the writing or to understand based on the visual. But what else could be done? They couldn’t dub over the voices into all 53 languages of this country now could they?

I do so very much appreciate this countries desire to be more than just an embassy alone in a building. They are ambassadors in many ways bridging cultural understanding to promote peace. Great job Japan!
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A New Year of School

A New Year of School begins tomorrow. Boarders are slowly trickling in bringing their colored trunks, mattresses, and buckets. They come in their uniforms and parents help them unpack then quickly get back on the taxi’s to take them their many distances back to their homes. Teacher’s are in the front of the school welcoming the students and their parents back. There is a smell of posho (maize flour and water) and beans in the air. There is also an excitement to see friends again, start a new grade, and get back into a routine many children know so well all over the world.

While all this goes on, Louis (my sweet little 2 year old neighbor) and I lay on a mat outside reading and playing together. We try to stay cool in the shade during this extremely dry and hot season. I’d forgotten how hot it gets - over 100 every day now with a burning sun! Louis and I are both excited for this beginning. It’s back to work for me. And back to having many playmates, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers for Louis. So, welcome New Year of School!

And yes, Louis is wearing Christian Dior sunglasses and holding a pair of Chanel sunglasses. You have to love dollar purchases in the taxi park!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Yet another Graduation

My dear friend Jen graduated with her BA in Education this week. Jen teaches at the primary school I live at. In Uganda you have two options in becoming a teacher. You can go to a teacher's college and get a certificate in 2 years or you can attend University and graduate in 4 years. Having a University degree means you are able to move up the education ladder easier. It also usually means you want to be a teacher. Those who attend teacher college's usually do so because they have no other option. Jen has been teaching for 11 years here and is a good teacher. She cares about her students and her job. With her degree she will receive a pay increase and someday may apply for a higher profession within education.

Jen has talked about her graduation party for months now and I was excited to celebrate with her. I agreed to go to the party with fellow teacher's. I asked Jen where it was and she just told me to go with the other teacher's. So, I followed along. We got to Kampala and marched around the taxi park trying to find the right taxi. Our only problem being no one knew which one to take. Annett decided to call Jen herself and find out where we should go. We were already over an hour late and calling Jen meant calling her in the midst of speeches and happenings at the party. Of course, she did not answer. Topher (a teacher) decided he thought he knew which taxi to take so we got into an empty taxi and waited for it to fill. The driver came over to move the taxi further up in line to leave and the teacher's all began asking him questions about locations. They decided we were in the right taxi and we left after some time. Along the way the driver decided he didn't want to go past the place we needed to get off at; he was going to take an alternative route to his destination not passing our stop. With rapid Luganda and many exclamations, the other passengers stuck up for us and convinced the driver to go our way. We get out of the taxi and Annett recognized the sites and lead us to the party.

It was a typical and and good Ugandan graduation party. Many speeches, introducing of the white guest (me), cake (Grace's favorite part), presents, and dinner. It was fun to attend with my neighbors. My favorite part of these graduation parties are when you present your gift to the graduate. You must dance up to the graduate and hand over your present. Everyone claps and of course laughs at the white girl dancing.

As always, my life is an adventure. I will continue to laugh and live life with my dear friends here in Uganda with all our idiosyncrasies.

Teachers and neighbors at St. Thereza Gayaza Girls Primary School: Josephine, Grace, Annett, Me, James, Topher, and Rebecca.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


A few days ago I started to feel weak and tired. By nightfall I had a fever. I haven’t had a fever in years. I can’t remember having one since I was maybe five. When you are sick it is easy to let your imagination run wild, especially when you live alone in a foreign country. I had visions of dying of fever in my bed all alone and no one finding me for weeks because they are all too afraid of the white girl.

So, I took matters into my own hands and knocked on Annett (my neighbors) door at 9 pm. She was very surprised to see me. I took her hand and put it on my forehead and asked her if she thought I was hot. Annett moved her hand away and pulled up my shirt. She placed her hand on my stomach and told me in Uganda that’s how they check for fever. Then very solemnly she sighed and said, “You have a little malaria. Go to bed and get treatment in the morning.” I assured her I didn’t have malaria. After all, I take prophylaxis and sleep under a treated bug net. Still, just incase I was going to die that night, I left my door unlocked and gave Annett permission to come into my house and check on me if I was not up by 9 am.

I took my temperature repeatedly and watched it get higher and higher: 101.1, 102.6, 103.4. Once it reached 103.4 I took it 4 times to confirm. This is a lot of times when you are using disposable thermometers. I have an old fashion thermometer but it reads in Celsius only and when you are delirious with fever who can read that kind of thermometer much less convert Celsius into Fahrenheit!?

I’d been taking some homeopathy remedies and took some more and went to bed. I sweated for several more hours fading in and out of sleep. During those conscious moments I convinced myself I really did have malaria. I knew that in the morning I would get up and prick my finger and make a blood slide with the slides Peace Corps gave us for such a time. I would slowly walk down to the health center with what little strength I would have and ask Maureen, the lab technician, to read my slide and confirm my malaria. Then I would call PC and have them take me to the hospital in Kampala for treatment.

The only problem with this plan was that my fever broke around 2 am and I slept the rest of the night. It was only a flu bug. Those few hours of fever and sweating made it all the more clear to me; I never want to get malaria. So, I will continue to faithfully take my anti-malaria meds, sleep under a treated net, not leave standing water anywhere near my house and not spend time outside from 1 am to 4 am. Good luck malaria mosquitoes!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Uganda, Round Two

After spending a few days at my friend Celeste’s near Entebbe trying to adjust, I finally made it back home on Sunday. My friend Lizzie and I were dreading taking public transportation with all our luggage so at the last minute decided to spend a chunk of our monthly allowance and hire and car to take us to our front doors. This was the best decision I could have made. Instead of arriving home utterly exhausted and frustrated from battling pick-pocketers, rude men, thick crowds, and limited space on matatu’s, I arrived smiling and ready to be social.

The car pulled up to the gate and a number of students were playing here. There are several students who are orphans or whose parents neglect to pick them up due to finances that must live at school year-round. These students opened the gate for my taxi and as they saw me in the car window because to call out my name jumping up and down and clapping ecstatically. They then ran after the car to my house where they hugged me and welcomed me home taking my luggage into the house for me. It was a beautiful and heart-warming return.

Soon after getting to my house, other neighbors began coming over to welcome me back and bring me gifts of food. I received maze, posho flour (maze flour), matoke (plantains), eggs, and onions. This has continued over the last few days. Those in town hear I am back and come by to extend their welcome. I feel such a stunning sense of community here. I continue to be surprised and blessed by it.

My nearest neighbors, Annett and Grace have been in the village during this holiday and just returned a few nights ago. It was really fun for me to be on the welcoming side this time. I stood on my front porch as they came across the compound and welcomed them with hugs and much laughter. I sat in their house for a while and heard about their journey then wished them a good night.

Everywhere I go people want to hear about my trip home to America and see pictures. I carry a small photo album around with me of pictures from the wedding and a few of me sledding and spending time with my sister’s. Everyone thinks my mom is my sister in the pictures and they think I was so fat in America. They accuse of me reducing now that I’m back in Uganda and tell me how white I’ve become. The white comment is my favorite and makes me laugh because I am always told I’m white here. They call me mzungu (white person) for goodness sake. But now, after seeing all the tan I lost while home they tell me I am truly white.

On Monday I was supposed to work at the health center but I was so tired when I woke up I really had no desire to go. I slowly made my way there and was greeted enthusiastically by the staff. I told them I couldn’t stay because I had to settle in again and rest. Before I left I agreed to show them my pictures and tell them my stories. Then a mom and her baby came in and I couldn’t resist; I went straight for the baby and started work. I stayed the whole day.

Upon return I had to fetch water since I left with my jerry cans empty. I only filled two because I was hoping to get someone to fill the rest for me. However, today Annett called into my house, “Amanda, let us go fetch water.” I grabbed by jerry can and headed out to the bore hole with Annett. As I came out the door I asked if it would rain. The sky was darkening and there was thunder in the distance. Annett assured me it would not and since I am awful at predicting weather here I continued without caution. Of course, as we neared the bore hole it began to sprinkle and by the time we’d pumped our water it was a full out down pour. I grabbed my jerry can and one of Annett’s and hurried my way home. Since Ugandan’s walk so slowly and for whatever other reasons, Annett was many minutes behind me and when she returned she accused me of being so young and full of energy and perhaps I should take over getting her water and mine since I am so fast. Let me state for the record, I HATE fetching water. There is no way I will be taking this job over ever. I think I will be conveniently busy or away the next time it looks like she needs water.

And so, life continues for me here in Uganda. I am happy to be back and living among people who care about me and desire my company. Round two, here we go…

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Winter Holiday

I had the opportunity to be back in the States for a short time to enjoy Christmas with my family and my sister's wedding. It was a wonderful time to enjoy life in MN. Here are a few photos to capture my time there:

I was able to get back to some of my Scandinavian roots and visit the "Day Fish Company" where they make pickled herring and lutefisk. I was also able to embraced the MN culture of flannel.

I bundled up with good friends and hit up the great Dalbo sledding hill. It might be true that I spent more time in the warming house than actually hitting the slope but it's all about perspective, right?!

I team hugged an engaged girl during Ash's bachelorette party. I also got to spend good time with the whole family - grandpa, aunts and uncles, cousins, parents, sisters, brother-in-law's, etc.

And I also got to spend good quality time with many dear friends. Paul, Abby, Dilan, Trisha, Pat, Ashley, Bart, Sarah, Jeremy, Treva, John, Heidi, Jake, Becky, Lauren, Erik, Dave, etc. It was great to see you all. It was also really great to talk to many of you on the phone. Thanks for the messages and phone talks. Sorry to all those who I wasn't able to talk to.

Now, I'm back in Uganda. I'm busy waking up at 4am and not being able to fall back asleep, racing to finish my quarterly report in time for Peace Corps, and catching up with other friends who had the opportunity to travel around this holiday season.