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

Thursday, July 29, 2010

You Will Be Missed

For the last 2 ½ months my sister Angela has been living and interning in Uganda. She started her time in Africa as my travel companion taking a bus through Uganda and all around Rwanda. Then I left for South Africa and she stayed behind living parts of my life in Uganda. She made friends with my neighbors, teachers at school and children in Gayaza. She volunteered as a Communications Intern for Child Fund International in Kampala. And she traveled around Uganda making new friends and learning more about the people and places of Uganda.

Since I came back she was busy learning to fetch water, went white water rafting on the Nile River, attended a rousing party with priests, nuns and a seminarian, coached the yellow team for Sports Day, and hung out with good friends.

But now her summer is over and she has left to return to university in the good ol' United States of America. Daily I am asked, "How is Angela?" "When is Angela coming back?" There are even strangers on the street who call me Angela. She made an impression on my community and she will be missed.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why I Got Sick: Possibility 1 of Infinity Reasons

I have two quick stories to share. The first happened last week. I was sitting in front of the school entertaining baby Maggie while her mom was busy. Mildred, Maggie's sister, came and sat next to me and together we played with Maggie. Maggie was not wearing a nappy (diaper) at this moment and she soon had to relieve herself. Mildred took her little wet shorts off and put them on the table next to us. Pretty soon after this Maggie's nose started to run. Without missing a beat Mildred grabbed the urine soaked shorts and used a "dry" part to wipe Maggie's face.

My next story happened this weekend. I went to the latrine and when I came out I found a little girl squatting on the walk-way into our row of latrines where she had finished urinating and was about to defecate. I sternly told her in Luganda to get into the latrine. She looked a little ashamed and quickly moved into an empty latrine.

I see these unhygienic moments happen and say to myself, "And they wonder why I got sick!"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Proud Moment

I've done a lot of work with sanitation during my service. Last year when I was working on Global Hand Washing Day I really wanted to learn how to make soap. This past May a fellow PVC, Hellen, found someone to teach us how to make soap and set up a workshop. I talked to a fellow Gayaza community volunteer with the CBO (Community Based Organization) I work for about learning with me and then teaching the widows group how to make it. However, I got sick and never made it to the workshop. I then went off to South Africa and haven't given it a second thought.

Today, I was invited to come to a widows meeting by Joan, my fellow CBO volunteer. I found 7 brown-leather-skinned widows bent double over a large bucket making soap. Joan had found someone to teach her and she in turn taught the group. They have been making soap for one month now and are even making a profit. They almost have enough money to buy color and fragrance to add and after next week they hope to have enough to make labels.

Peace Corps is all about empowering your community to be successful and self-sufficient. We are to constantly be working ourselves out of a job. I am so proud that Joan took the original idea and went on to make it happen on her own. I'm proud of these women for meeting faithfully and making the soap. And I'm proud to be part of a community that works together to help one another make money.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fetching Water

We are in the dry season once again which means our water is scarce. I can't count on putting my buckets out and catching rain to fill my jerry cans. Daily or every other day I have to make the trek to the borehole. This is a task I have not enjoyed in the past. But somehow now, I find myself wanting to make this journey and fetch my water. Maybe it's proving to myself that I am capable of pumping water and carrying it back to my house that appeals to me.

The other day Angela, my sister, and I walked out of my house with our empty jerry cans with the intent of going to the borehole. However, I was stopped by several neighbors and friends who informed me I was not allowed to carry any water and Angela must do it all for me. They are all afraid I am going to bust open my surgical wounds and as one neighbor says, “I don't have money to send you back to South Africa when you get sick from carrying water.”

So we went to the borehole and I showed Angela the ropes. This was her first time getting water. She's not used to carrying 20 liters of water in awkward containers for long distances. So, I chose a stretch of road where I thought the prying eyes of my neighbors wouldn't be and I took the jerry cans from her and carried them. When we neared the school I gave them back to her. But as sneaky as I thought I was, they saw me. Now, not only did they chastise me for carrying my own water but they really went into Angela for allowing me to carry the water. They didn't think she was being a good sister at all! With all this harping Angela got a little bit defensive and replied, "Yes, I want Amanda to get sick again and go back to South Africa!" It was mostly under her breath and I don't think anyone heard.

This was all a few days ago. Today, we ventured out again. This time we were accompanied by Annet, Grace, and Rose. Everyone had 2 - 4 jerry cans except me. I had none. I was along for the walk and they made sure it stayed that way. This trip allowed for Angela to shine! Grace is small and unable to carry much water. Annet and Rose are older and have health issues which also slow them down. So Angela would scurry a few jerry cans down the road and then come back and take jerry cans from one of these women and scurry ahead. She did this repeatedly all the way home. Now I was the one who had to listen to, "That Angel, she has the energy." "Blessings to Angela." "Our Angel is so good." "I'm so impressed with our Angel." Yes, they now call her an Angel. How did this turn around so quickly?

Angela is only here another two weeks. Then I will have to figure something else out for fetching water. Maybe by then they will realize I'm not going to fall apart. And maybe the chore will still be exciting for me. I can only hope.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Welcome Back to Uganda!

Late last week I boarded a plane in Johannesburg. As I walked on the plane I heard exclamations like, “banange,” and “bambi.” My heart swelled and I couldn't stop the smiles that came to my face. I was going home to a place where I knew some of the language, where strangers greeted each other openly and where common sense wasn't always common sense.

I was sitting a few rows from the emergency exit rows and overheard the stewardess ask a Ugandan if he was able to assist in the case of an emergency. The man looked at the stewardess dumbly and she repeated the question. He then pretended to understand and nodded his head. She asked him another question to which he replied with an affirmative nod however the nod didn't answer the question. So she asked him if he understood English. The man said no. The stewardess told him she was going to have to move him to which the man quickly said he didn't want to move and the charades began again. Finally, the stewardess turned to me and asked if I spoke English and then if I could sit there and act in the case of emergency. I agreed and became the translator to the Ugandan man sitting in that seat. I was the only one around who understood South African English and Ugandan English and so I became the emergency exit specialist. Again, I couldn't help but smile because this scene was so typical Africa.

My plane began the descent into the Pearl of Africa and my heart began to race. I looked down at the lush green vegetation, the red brown dirt paths, dug-out canoes with fishermen and the bright red round sun as it sank beyond the shimmering silver Lake Victoria. My grin couldn't be taken away. The man next to me asked if I was happy to be landing in Uganda. “Oh yes!” Then he asked if I was scared to which I replied, “Oh yes!” He was taken aback and tried to reassure me but he couldn't understand my fears.

We landed and I received several “kulikayu,” - welcome back's. I went through the resident line at immigration and was welcomed back. I went to get my suit case and the power went out. Welcome back Amanda!

I was in South Africa for almost 2 months. I had 2 months of hot showers, flush toilets, any variety of food I desired, clean living conditions and most any comfort I wanted within a 10 minute walk. Now, I was going back to a place without all those comforts, a place that seems like mass chaos and a people who have a hard time with critical thinking. I didn't know if I could do it again. I didn't know if I wanted to do it again.

I've been back for several days now and I'm so happy to be here. I know it comes with its difficulties and there will be adjustments but I also know this is where I'm supposed to be right now. I didn't tell anyone I was coming back so it was a surprise for everyone. The children at school ran to greet me and my neighbors came out with arms outstretched and tears coming down their faces. I drank 2 welcome home sodas in the first 5 hours of being back at site. All the priests in my town called to welcome me back. Everyone on the street stopped me to talk. Word spread quickly and I had more calls and people stopping by to welcome me home. It was beautiful and very touching.

Most everyone knew I went to South Africa but as for the reason it was mixed knowledge. Many asked after my health but a few think I just went for the World Cup. It makes me laugh.

With all the joy of being back I also am thrown back into Ugandan life. I've learned of 2 people who died while I was away. The constant presence of death is something I had sadly, gotten used to and must face again. Annet was so happy to have me back primarily because of our friendship but she also told me she was happy I came back because she was afraid people would think she'd poisoned me. Neighbors poison one another here over little disagreements. These daily present thought patterns must become part of my life here again.

One “improvement” I found that made me smile was this title written on my latrine door using charcoal: “This Is Amanda's Toilet.”

I'm back in Uganda. Still working on healing and recouping from surgery, parasites, colon issues, and whatever other havoc was/is played on my body. It's going to be a process. Adjustment is rarely easy. But I'm here to make a go of it. Bring it on Uganda!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

4th of July

All my 4th of July memories involves warm summer nights, shorts, bbq foods and fireworks. Even last year I was at a bbq at the American Club in Kampala watching fireworks on a hot Ugandan night. This year I found myself in the middle of winter in South Africa. I wore several layers topped with a sweater, jeans and even wool socks.

I was happy to be here with other Americans and we made the most of our home country's Independence day. As Pretoria has wonderful grocery stores we were able to buy skin less boneless chicken breasts (read it and weep my Ugandan friends), bbq sauce, fixings for a pasta salad, sweet corn and ingredients for an apple pie.

We borrowed the guest house's small grill and Cherie got a chance to pretend she's back in Zambia lighting her charcoal clay cooking facility. Jill took advantage of a craving and made the pasta salad she's been dreaming of for months while living in The Gambia. Laura and Jeff boiled real sweet corn, not the field corn they normally eat in Tanzania and South Africa. You ask what I brought to this cooking party? Well of course I was the one who kept everyone's wine glass full.

It was a lovely cold bbq. With an American flag in the middle of the table we were as festive as any American could be. Happy Independence America!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Things I Love About South Africa

I love. . .

- when you thank a person they reply with, "it's a pleasure."
- high pressurized HOT showers!
- game parks in the middle of the city
- numerous diverse ethnic food options
- my medevacee friends

While I miss life in Uganda I am also trying to soak up the beautiful things of South Africa. At times they may be superficial but who that's lived in the bush before not appreciated the finer comforts every now and then?

I'm still in South Africa. Yes, 6 weeks later. But things are looking up. I'm almost done with some nasty medicine that's suppose to kill everything once and for all. I still have a long road of healing ahead of me but I should be back in Uganda soon to work on that healing.