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

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My 26th Year Begins

Last week I celebrated the beginning of my 26th year of life. I wasn't expecting to start this year while in South Africa away from my friends and family in Uganda but I did and it turned into a great day.

When I went to breakfast the housekeeping staff were there with smiles and hugs wishing me a happy birthday. Two other medevacees wished me happy birthday and gave me a present full of candies, chips and a PEOPLE magazine. It was sweet.

For lunch we met up with my friend Thomas, a PCV in Uganda. He was here for the World Cup. We ate at a guesthouse down the road from ours and it turned out to be the Algerian base camp. Not really, but it was full of Algerian fans. We were the lone American fans and the Algerian fans let us know they believed they were better than us and going to win. We told them to just wait, they'd see who was the best.

After lunch we walked to the stadium in Pretoria and saw the USA v Algeria game. Our seats were 4 from the front and in the corner near the goal the USA won from! They were great seats and a great game. I was very happy to be dressed up and in the spirit of American pride. The crowds were cheering and American flags were flying.

Before we left for the game we got all dressed up and took pictures with the staff and each other.

Staff at The Rose and us - Go America!

Yes, Cherie got a vuvuzela to blow at the game.

Random Texas guy and flag behind us. But look how close we were to the field!

We ended a fabulous day with homemade brownies (made my Ellyn) and vanilla ice-cream cake with stawberries. They even had candles and sangria. It was wonderful!

After the American victory we considered going to the USA v Ghana game. However, our hearts were too divided. We now live in Africa and want to support the continent but we are also Americas. Since we didn't know who to cheer for we stayed home and watched the game. I painted the Ghana flag on one of Ellyn's cheek and the American flag on the other. Then she had a broken heart on her forhead.

Ghana won. Yah, Africa!

And that's how my 26th year began.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hospitalization in South Africa

Over the last few weeks I have undergone several doctor appointments and medical procedures such as a CT scan, ultrasound, colonoscopy and gastroscopy. After all these tests and procedures it was determined that I needed to have a laparoscopy where they inflate the abdomen with air and look at the organs that way. While they were doing this they were also going to remove a growth they saw on a scan that was somewhere near my right fallopian tube. It turns out I have a fibroid on the supporting structures, round ligament, of the uterus. As it does no harm they left it in tact so as to not weaken my uterus wall.

Looking at my other organs (digestive and reproductive) the doctor was pleased to report they are beautiful and all in fine working order. On one hand this is a relief - who really wants to find anything wrong with their organs? - yet on the other hand it was a little discouraging because the root of my pain is still not known. I am now being treated for a spastic colon (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and we'll see if that brings any relief.

Most of what I see here is what I would see in America: modern technology, paved roads, traffic lights, fast food restaurants, shopping malls, and a mixture of races, slightly more white than black. The hospital setting is not that much different as far as skin tone. It also showed me many white faces. In Uganda you know if it's a white face they probably don't know too much of the local language. You can assume they speak some semblance of English. Here in South Africa, they assume you speak Afrikaans. Every doctor, nurse and medical personnel would speak to me first in Afrikaans. As I was slightly loopy from being sedated or under pain killers for the majority of my stay in the hospital, I would usually appear to understand when they first spoke to me and even attempt to respond with body language. Eventually, one of us would figure out I don't understand Afrikaans and switch into English.

At times it's strange to think I am receiving medical care in Africa. It's so developed and I feel like I'm in America. The hospital staff is kind and sympathetic and there is a mixture of white and black faces. There is an order to the way everything is done. It's only when they try to speak to me in that harsh sounding language (keep in mind I'm an English speaker so take "harsh" lightly), serve me morning and evening tea, and give me maize porridge for breakfast that I remember I am not in North America, I'm in Africa. What a great place to be:)

p.s. Thanks for the beautiful flowers Family!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Being the Minority

As a white American I have not experienced being a minority for very much of my life. It wasn't until I moved to Uganda that I was the minority based on skin color. Yet even amidst a country of black faces I still have more advantages and resources because of the color of my skin and citizenship. I'm still loved and given preferential treatment because of the way I look. I still only have a small glimpse of what what a minority feels like.

This weekend I tasted being a minority is a whole new way. I, with three other PCV's, attended the USA vs. England World Cup match. I was surrounded by white faces, largely from the Western World, and I was not the favorite. England was favored by what seemed the whole world for this match. The USA is not known for having a great team and as a relatively new country who likes soccer/football we are still seem as the newbie's and not particularly liked. We rode to the game with a bus full of England supporters. Driving there and upon getting to the parking lot all we saw were white and red English flags. All we heard was the English accent. All we smelt was our own fear at being the Americans.

As you can imagine we were also four die-hard football/soccer fans which made our fitting in that much easier. One girl may have mentioned looking forward to seeing David Beckham play for America (he's not playing in the World Cup and he sat on the English bench!) and another started talking about stars when the conversation of Galaxy came up (the US Los Angelas team is called the Galaxy). Having had an illustrious career as a soccer referee in high school, I felt a little more prepared. At least I knew the basic rules.

No one can fault us our team spirit. Dressed in red, white and blue with our faces painted with the American flag we clapped, cheered, and waved our small American flag with as much enthusiasm as any English fan, at least for the first 20 minutes. Keep in mind we are all still here for medical reasons. Despite all our excitement at being at the World Cup and our desire to make our illnesses mind over matter, the stomach aches came back, the teeth had shooting pain, bodies shivered in cold and our heads bobbed in sleepiness. We quickly became the easiest group of medevacees to identify. We still reacted to each close goal attempt and chanted U - S – A but our passion no longer rivaled the English. We may have looked like the biggest duds in the stadium yet if you ask any of us this game was one of the most fun things we've done since being in South Africa.

The match ended in a tie. The English were devastated. We were ecstatic!

For our adventure of getting tickets (finally on craigslist) check out Melissa's blog: http://mperry421.blogspot.com/2010/06/world-cup-usa-vs-england.html

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Game Treking in Pretoria

While on medevac in South Africa, PCV's work with an American doctor who sets up all your appointments with specialists, fills your prescriptions, listens to all your aliments/complaints/observations and helps answer any medical questions (or non medical questions) that come to mind. Our doctor is a very kind man who checks on us and wants the best for us. On Sunday he took us to a Game Reserve in Pretoria (the town we're staying in). It's a small reserve and you either walk or mountain bike around. It was a beautiful day and we were able to see all the main animals: zebra, giraffe, various types of antelope, and guinea fowl.

As with being on medevac we didn't exactly have the appropriate hiking gear with us and we are also a mixture of those recovering from surgery and those whose ailments are still not defined. This made our trek slow going, something none of us PCV's had a problem with but our poor doctor who is fit and healthy seemed to have a few moments where he forgot who he was with. All in all, it was a wonderful outing and a treat to get to see so many animals close up. It was also wonderful to be out and come back knowing I was exhausted for more reasons than just being sick. I had a great nap as the sun shown down on my bed:)




Kindness and History


One thing I love about traveling is meeting different people and seeing the kindness they bestow on others. Another thing I love about travel is getting to learn more about a places history and gaining hope for people because of that history.

There is an American foreign service worker staying at the same guest house as me. He is on temporary assignment in South Africa to help with the influx at the embassy because of the World Cup. We have very little interaction with this man but have had a few good conversations about US foreign policy, the role of Peace Corps, being in the foreign service and marrying a non-American (he's married to an Ethiopian woman).

South Africa is in the midst of hosting the World Cup which starts at the end of this week. Most teams are already here and have been playing friendly warm-up matches. As is common as a Peace Corps Volunteer, we are the last to find out information and so heard about the US playing Australia is a free match the day before the game. Though it was free, because of security you needed to have a ticket and tickets could only be obtained from the embassy of the countries playing. To make a long story short we got the information at the end of the day and were only able to obtain two tickets.

Our new friend, who is temporarily working at the US embassy, heard about our plight and was sad he didn't know of it earlier as he could have gotten us all tickets. Feeling bad for us he pulled out his wallet and gave us a wad of money. He thanked us for the work we do and told us to use the money however we wanted. He's meet PC workers all around the world and is amazed at the work and dedication they give to the countries they serve in. He thanked us for representing the United States in such a great way.

We then drew names and two girls got to go to the game (Alice and Haley) while the rest of us used the money to go to Johannesburg to the Apartheid Museum and back in a rented car with a driver.

The museum was beautiful and incredibly well done. It covered Southern Africa's history for the last 2000 years focusing on colonization and apartheid. South Africa has come through a lot. I never want to down play what a nation or a people have experienced that have brought them to the place they are at now. It's hard to read and watch film clips about apartheid and say I see how horrible it was when I wasn't actually here and I am still only a visitor living and moving in a very white part of town. Being here now, almost 20 years after, and seeing the advancements that have been made is truly amazing. While apartheid is technically over, there is still a lot of racism in South Africa. I've heard a number of comments about, "the blacks," "whities," or, "those people." As an American who views these comments as pure racism and takes offense when hearing them, it is hard to step back and remember South Africa is only 20 years from apartheid. As I see in Uganda everyday, change takes a long time. I have hope for South Africa. They are a nation who desires equality and is making advancements, though small, to bring further racial, sexual and religious equality.

AMANDA, MELISSA, KHRISSY, and GLENNA Standing with Johannesburg to our backs while at the Apartheid Museum.

Friday, June 4, 2010


A friend recently brought to our attention the Afrikaans wording on our stool sample cups, which I have been using a lot lately. There are the random words for name, date and doctor. Next to, "specimen" in Afrikaans the word is, "monster." Monster! How appropriate is that? Now we meet for breakfast and check in with each other asking if we've got our monster ready yet.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Life WAY South of the Equator

Looking at this picture you must be wondering why Amanda posted a picture of herself in the U.S.A. some random fall or winter. Well it's not from the USA. This picture was taken a few days ago in South Africa. Hello from South Africa! Oh, and yes those warm clothes are extremely important because it is winter here. And let me tell you, their winter is cold! I was given a warm clothing allowance which I needed to use to buy a coat, gloves, sweater etc. All PCV's from warm clothed countries are given a little money to get appropriate clothes. Considering the fact that Uganda sits on the equator, I was in desperate need of warm clothes.

Over the last few months I have had continued gastro-intestinal problems from parasites. I live in debilitating stomach pain and lack of sleep from those pains. I went to doctors in both Uganda and Rwanda and nothing has brought improvement. When the medical facilities in your country have been exhausted the Peace Corps medically evacuates (medevac) African volunteers to South Africa for further investigation and treatment. South Africa has some of the best health care in the world especially for tropical medicine so I am at the right place.

I have only been in South Africa for two working days so far and thus still lack a diagnosis. But I did receive a full body scan, lots of blood work (my arms are so bruised I look like a heroine addict), stomach exams and so forth. I have been impressed with the hospitals, doctors, nurses, and medical everything. I have hope things will be figured out soon and I will be on the mend.

I am currently here with 6 other PCV's from around Africa (Benin, Niger, Rwanda, Uganda) with all different problems (dental, gull bladder removal, hernia, gynecological, cyst removal, gastrointestinal (ME!), etc.). I am the newest volunteer to come and potentially the last until after the World Cup.

It's been really nice to be with other “sick” PCV's. We walk slow together because someone is bound to double over in stomach pain or hit their stitches wrong. We eat long and slow meals because someones teeth will set them off. We take naps throughout the day. We listen and share in details our medical appointments. We visit each other in the hospital after surgery. We simply understand each other.

While we go through the horrors and embarrassments of invasive doctor appointments (cervix exams, colonoscopy's, surgery, etc.) we also have down time to explore and have fun in this new place we find ourselves in. Parts of South Africa are very developed. Where I am I feel like I'm in America or Europe. There are three malls within walking (or short taxi ride) distance and we find ourselves going there not only to buy warm clothes but also to go to the movies, get a hair cut and eat delicious foods we miss from America. The first two nights I was here we went out for sushi!

This past weekend we were able to visit a large game sanctuary that focuses on breeding and minor animal rescuing. I got to hold lion cubs and even feed them their bottles!

This sanctuary had lions, tigers (rescued), and cheetahs (rescued). The tigers don't get along with anyone else but the lions and cheetahs are sometimes kept together. It's truly amazing to see a cheetah taking care of a lion cub.

Now the week is back and it's time for being shuttled to various doctor appointments and trying new medicines. A few of the girls are being medically cleared and will be leaving South Africa to go back to their service. I'm hopeful the next few weeks will be ones of discovery and accurate treatment and then I too will return to Uganda soon.

Visiting Rwanda

May marked my PC mid-service conference. It also fell under the school holiday and so after my mid-service conference I, with a few PC friends and my sister Angela, took off for a week in our neighboring country Rwanda.

Rwanda is a very beautiful and clean country. They have stick laws about garbage, plastic bags, and roads. Coming from the chaos of Kampala and Uganda it was a breath of fresh air, literally.

We traveled by bus through Uganda and all over Rwanda. There were many squished, overheated, smelly, car sick, twisty and curvey rides through the beautiful country.

We traveled through one of the oldest rainforests in Africa and got to see different species of monkey's and other wild life along the way. It was a nice little vacation.