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

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Plot Thickens

Annet told me on Saturday that the man who wants to marry me came to her the very night she talked to me. I asked if she told him no and she said, "I can't say that, Amanda." When she saw my horror she went on to assure me, "I told him you need to get your life in order so not right now but that there is still hope." Again, I was horrified. We are fairly confrontational people in America so this hedging is not an approach I appreciate. I started to get a little short with Annet and was getting angry with her for dragging this on when she continued to tell me that not only can't she tell him straight out, she also doesn't want to yet because as the aunti she is given all the bribes. He's been bringing her food and money to be the aunti. For a women who hasn't been paid since November this bribing is very appealing and somewhat necessary to her current survival.

So, now, I'm gathering advice on what the culturally appropriate response should be because clearly it's time to take matters into my own hands. Most Ugandans tell me to just pretend for the next year and then leave and never look back. Gotta love the non-confrontational culture! I'm not sold on this appoach so for now, I wait for a good idea.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Annet called me over last night to give me an important message. She ever sent Grace away because it was very serious and she only wanted me to hear about it. I got a little nervous because what could she possibly have to say that was so serious. I began to imagine her confronting me over something I'd said or done that had offended her or someone in the community. In reality nothing could have clued me in on what was to come. With a very serious face she tells me, "Amanda, you can't laugh because this is serious. I have a message to tell you." Then she goes on to offer my very first official marriage proposal!

Men are always asking to marry me or calling out, "My wife," as I pass. I laugh these off and don't give them a second thought. This proposal, on the other hand, was done in the traditional Bugandan fashion and so I must take it seriously. In the Bugandan culture the man approaches an "auntie" to ask her to start the dialogue between the man and the woman he wants to marry. The auntie is used throughout the relationship being the negotiator of dowry and host of the introduction ceremony. The auntie is suppose to check out both the man's family and the woman's family. Because I don't have any biological family living in Uganda this man approached Annet whom he knew to be a good friend of mine.

The man, who I still can't remember his name, approached Annet twice before he got the courage to state his intentions. He told her he's witnessed my character over the last year and wants to marry me. He likes that I help others, know a little Luganda, and am not afraid to laugh with people. Annet told him that I want a man who will cook and clean for me (this usually quickly weeds out the Ugandan men and has been a successful put-down in the past) and he told her he was willing to do these things for me. She also told him I want someone who can support me both emotionally and financially. Again, he told her he would do his best to meet these needs and even informed her he'd been saving money to buy a plane ticket to America with me when I go back next year. This man has been thinking far longer than I had any idea.

This man is a local artist who I have had a few conversations with. I hadn't seen him in 6 -7 months until just recently when he was commissioned to paint a mural on the school wall here. Looking back I still hold that our conversations were platonic. Now the question remains in how I will respond. When Annet originally told me of this I seriously told her no but she said I need to have a better reply with many details. I'm even under the impression that Annet thinks maybe I should marry him. She told me, "he's young, handsome, and seems to care for you."

How do you reply to a serious marriage proposal that you don't even really take seriously yourself?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Follow-up on Bududa

The mudslides in the East will have long-term effects on many people. I was able to be part of the second phase team of PC volunteers volunteering in the camps a few weeks ago. While I am back at site now there are volunteers that continue to rotate in and out of Bududa doing whatever relief work is needed. Initially we were involved in setting up the camps, doing food and non-food distributions, digging latrines and garbage pits, and anything else the Red Cross asked us to do. Now, they have moved on and are addressing the education needs. A primary school is being set up and health education seminars are taking place. Recovery and reintegration will be a long process.

For more information on the landslides and PC's initial involvement the following has been written:


Peace Corps Uganda Responds to Help Victims of the Bududa Landslides

On the same day the global media outlets were mustering resources to cover spoiled super-model Naomi Campbell’s back-seat assault of her chauffeur, over 300 people lost their lives in a horrific landslide in a remote coffee growing region of eastern Uganda . More than 1000 people were displaced from their homes. As government officials chastised the survivors for settling on a flood plain and over-farming and deforesting the steep, lush slopes of Mount Elgon , Peace Corps Volunteer Nicole Fiol Molina made her way to the site to dig with her hands in search of victims and survivors in the now mass grave. As recovery efforts ended Ms. Molina distributed water and storage containers at the make-shift camp for displaced residents.

The next day Nicole was joined by three other Peace Corps volunteers who had registered with the Uganda Red Cross (URC) in the district capital of Mbale. They were able to hitch a ride with the URC rescue workers, to the end of a 45 kilometer dirt road. Leaving their vehicle, they hiked up the mountain for nearly two hours and then took turns digging in the mud-plastered slopes of the tragedy. By that evening, the Peace Corps country director and eight more volunteers had arrived bringing blankets, water purification tablets and shovels along with strong backs.

The first displaced persons camp set up in Bukaliso by the Ugandan military was fraught with problems. Too little open, flat land meant too few shelters. Sanitation deteriorated rapidly as the local supply of clean water was quickly overwhelmed. Large scale transport to the area remained difficult; food was scarce and the homeless had no way to prepare what little they had. When food did arrive, local leaders wanted it distributed to all the community not just to the displaced. The URC and UNICEF declined to allow such intervention as the effort intensified and so decided to focus on their second camp in the lower village of Bulucheke .

On Saturday, March 6, four days after the mudslide, the URC, UNICEF and Peace Corps Uganda coordinated their efforts to set up facilities in Bulucheke to shelter, feed and distribute supplies to over 500 people. URC District Relief Manager Kevin Matsumbe, a soft spoken woman of abundant patience and tenacity, provided overall direction. While the Ugandan Peace and Defense Force (UPDF) aided by regionally stationed US troops focused on the recovery effort, the three civilian agencies worked on the Bulucheke camp.

With remarkable quickness UNICEF responded with container truck loads of tents, storage cans, household supplies and food. As hundreds of hungry and injured watched in the rain, the trucks managed to get within only 200 meters of the areas designated to erect the storage and distribution tents. Peace Corps and URC quickly organized unloading supply lines as UNICEF and Peace Corps Volunteers helped erect the storage and distribution shelters. In less than one hour, two large tents protected supplies and workers from the steady rain. Next, the food, including maize flour, beans and nutritional supplements, along with bottled water were off-loaded and moved to the shelter. The URC asked the Peace Corps volunteers to organize the names of the displaced onto lists. From these lists, cards were distributed to assure those in most need received assistance. Distribution began by late afternoon and well before dark over 550 people received food for their families.

The following day, Peace Corps, URC and UNICEF once again teamed to off-load a large truck stranded in the thick, ubiquitous mud and pitched 34 temporary homes each measuring 24 square meters. UNICEF completed the construction of five multi-stall latrines that day, and water stations were established at the periphery of the camp.

Over the next week, the URC with Peace Corps and UNICEF will focus on the daily operations of the camp and the establishment of a second camp. Flooding and the potential for additional landslides are constant concerns for the people working the banana, coffee and cassava farms in the district. The URC is urging people of those communities to move temporarily from flood plains and from anywhere visible fissures in the mountain sides portend more disasters. This will likely mean larger, more long-term camps.

URC’s Kevin Matsumbe was thrilled with the unsolicited show of support and work from Peace Corps. “You came and did such strong work,” she told the PC country director. “And all so coordinated and organized. You helped us do in two days what would have taken four or more otherwise. I’m sure that alone helped us save more lives.”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Last night around nine, a terrified screaming came from one of the P7 classrooms where students were having night class. At first I thought it was a pig being slaughtered but it was too late for that and it continued for such a long time. I got up to investigate at the same time that my neighbors opened their doors to see. Looking out across the campus we see other teachers leaving their houses to check out the situation and so we too follow suit. Along the way to the classroom Annett keeps telling me it is the demons. Since she says many things are a result of demons I’m not sure what to think. I personally was guessing it was a student who didn’t want to be beat and was fighting back with screaming. We got to the classroom and all the nuns were there and were leading a girl away. The other students were being talked to by the teacher and all us on-lookers were asking around trying to find out what happened.

Apparently, the girl was possessed by a demon in the middle of class. The nuns came to take her away and pray the demon out of her. The other students and teachers also began to pray for the girl. No one seemed to be too surprised that this had happened. They all took it in stride and prayed for the girl.

What brought on this demon possession? I have no idea.


There is a new group of PC trainees. I was them a year ago! They are currently on their two week job immersion staying and working with current PCV’s. This past weekend 3 of them came with their PCV host to my site to do some work and be social together.

I set the 2 boys, Devon and Lukas, up with my P7 boys under the title, “Being a Man,” where they covered everything from male anatomy to sex to HIV/AIDS. They had an anonomous questions box where boys could ask any question and it would be answered. Some questions included:
“How does the body change to become a man?”
“What happens if a boy of 10 years plays sex with a women?”
“What happens when you get sex without a condom?”
“If I have AIDS and want to have a child how can I do?”

Lukas and Devon did a fantastic job of providing accurate and truthful knowledge and stories. P7 boys had a great time with these two and came away with concrete information and advice (delay sex, a man is much more than a penis and authoritative voice, and you can be successful and productive even when HIV positive).

We girls took on the P7 girls and covered female anatomy, menstruation and making of reusable menstrual pads. Girls will miss a week of class every month because of their periods. This leaves the boys with an advantage in academics as is evident in end of year exam scores and also the ratio of boy to girl in higher education. We teach girls a basic understanding of their own bodies and the importance of taking care of themselves. By allowing each girl to make and have her own reusable menstrual pad, girls are equipped to take care of themselves each month and not miss class. The girls had a great time learning and sewing together.

While we worked hard with P7, we also took time to have fun as PCV’s and trainees. We went to the pool, cooked good American food, played Cranium, had a dance party and enjoyed some fine wine from South Africa. By the end of our weekend we’d accumulated several bottles of wine. We washed them out on Sunday and I left them outside my back stoop to dry. While I am not ashamed of our drinking and we were not out of control or showing any inappropriate behavior, I was caught off guard when my neighbor asked me, “Amanda, do you booze?” Well, technically yes, but the word booze makes it sound so horrible and bad! I sheepishly said yes and received a, “Even me. I like to booze sometimes,” from my dear neighbor.

The words we associate with different emotional meaning are always throwing me off here. Just for the record, I like to booze!

Kasubi Tombs

Last week the Kasubi Tombs were burned. The Kasubi Tombs were the burial tombs of the Kings of Buganda. They also housed various Bugandan artifacts like spears, a pet leopard skin, and military metals. The loss of the tombs and physical representations of history have been devastating to Bugandans.

There is much speculation as to how the fire came to be. Some blame Kenyan’s trying to retaliate for 2 Kenyan students who were killed recently at the University here. The International community seems to think it was Museveni (the president) and the Ugandan government. Others simply blame lazy guards who let hooligan youth in. I’m not sure the truth will ever come out.

The Bugandan Kingdom declared this week a week of mourning. Some men wear the traditional long white coat and strips of bark cloth tied around an arm, waist or other appendage. Many go barefoot. Women should dress is black though I haven’t seen any. Friday has been made a public holiday.

I think about the States and how many people must be involved in making a public holiday (congress etc.) and how in less than one week a holiday was created here in Uganda. Another example of a checks and balance system that is not.

I am also reminded of how close tensions are to the surface. Every tension is intensified here, every reaction is extreme. We have a year until the elections and even when they are passed I am not sure when Uganda will learn to keep stable and not blow-up at every occasion.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Disaster Relief

Uganda is in the rainey season. A part of the East, around Mt. Elgon, has seen torrential rain and great quantities of it. This rain led to mudslides that covered whole villages. Villagers were forced to flee or were evacuated but not before hundreds were barried alive. Peace Corps Volunteers joined forces with the Red Cross and have been working at the disaster site ever since. I spent last week out in Bududa District working at an IDP (Internally Displaced Person's) camp for thousands who were effected by the landslides.

We registered people, giving them an ID card, and did food and non-food distributions. As I live close to the capital, I am not used to village norms. It was a surprise to me to have men register their families with 4 wives and 13 children. It was disheartening to ask them the names and ages of their children and for them to not know.

There are many politics involved in disaster relief and issues galore. More to follow at a later date...