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

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pauline, Celeste's neighbor
Valentino, Celeste's neighbor and Pauline's friend
There is no snow on the ground. The temperature still sits in the 80’s daily. Green vegetation and flowers abound everywhere you look. This is not the image my mind usually envisions when I think of Thanksgiving. But these are the images and feelings I now associate with Thanksgiving in Uganda. This was my second Thanksgiving in Uganda and after a wonderful time last year with Peace Corps friends, I was excited for another experience. Celeste invited me and some friends to have Thanksgiving at her site where we were to prepare Thanksgiving for her community.

We all worked together making different dishes: Stuffing, pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole, and green beans with cransins and pecans. The Ugandans contributed with matoke, a tomato sauce, the turkey, cabbage and a pizza. Celeste and Joe made decorations to hang around and remind us of holiday traditions we have from America.
Celeste making a wreath
Joe and Pauline cutting green beans
John cutting the turkey with his hands
All day we wished people a Happy Thanksgiving which led to many conversations about having a holiday for the purpose of giving thanks. The Ugandans really liked this idea and it caused us to step back and also remember the importance of giving thanks. Sister Valentine, the head nun in Celeste’s community, organized a Thanksgiving Mass for us. A priest lead mass from an American prayer book he’d found that was copyrighted in 1984. It was a beautiful time together and I am so thankful for this family we have made in Uganda who supports us and offers what they have to make us feel welcome and loved.

As is only fitting, just as we were about to eat the power went out. Sister Valentine said, “God can take the power when He wants and return the power when he wants. I think God knows we don’t need the power right now.” And so, our Thanksgiving continued without light. As is also customary, the evening could not end until speeches were made. Sister Valentine thanked God for bringing Celeste to their community and for Celeste’s hospitality in bringing friends to meet her Ugandan community. As frustrated and annoyed as I can sometimes get over the lengthy, usually lack of substance filled speeches, I was very touched by the words Sister Valentine conveyed and also of the words Celeste offered to her community. Celeste was able to express her thankfulness for the family she has been adopted into and how their generosity and kindness has shown her a deeper love in this world. It was a beautiful Thanksgiving.
Father Edward, Valentino, Pauline, and Sister
Sister Valentine, John, Joe, Celeste and Me
As we were leaving on Friday morning we ran into a Canadian nun who wished us a happy Thanksgiving and then asked if we were off to practice our consumer culture, it being Black Friday and all. We laughed and in reality that’s exactly where we were headed. Joe needed to get some gifts for his family at the craft market, I needed to go grocery shopping, and even Celeste had a few items she needed to pick up.

I am currently cat sitting for my Country Director who is home for Thanksgiving in the States. I have been able to enjoy his full kitchen and offer his house as a refuge for a few other friends. After our Ugandan Thanksgiving, we decided to utilize the big kitchen and have a dinner party making another meal that is close to my heart – Enchiladas! Thanks to my wonderful sister in California we had corn tortillas to work with. It was a delicious and fun filled dinner with good friends.

I am thankful for my life in Uganda. I am thankful for the opportunities to share special parts of my culture with my Ugandan friends and also for the opportunities to enjoy good food with American friends. As the Ugandans have reminded me, it’s important to spend time giving thanks for what we have, where we are and who we are. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Training of Counselors

28 of our 31 counselors showed up at Kisubi Girls’ this weekend for our Training for Counselors. The morning of, Celeste and I had stomach aches from nerves. What would these counselors be like? Would they catch our vision and make camp great? Did they have the energy to work 24/7 for a whole week? Were they going to get along with each other? These questions plagued us along with asking ourselves if we were ready to train them.

It turned out that every evening Celeste and I went to bed with big smiles on our faces thoroughly happy with how things were working out. We have some of the best woman in Uganda working at our camp! There will be 16 PCV counselors paired up with a Ugandan counselor. We let the PCV’s find their own co-counselor and they brought truly inspiring women. Some are teachers, administrators, midwives, secretaries and NGO workers. They were so enthusiastic and ready to learn all we had to share with them. They participated in all our activities and games. We even had weave-wearing women playing Drip Drip Drop (like duck duck goose but with water)! And let me tell you, American’s should not challenge these natural black gazelles in any kind of running games. They were made to run!

Some of the topics we cover are heavy and can be controversial. One of the activities we will be doing with the girls is condom demonstrations. While we were talking to counselors about this I looked in front of me and saw Sister Rose nodding her head saying “yes” over and over. Afterwards, she came up to me and said, “This veil makes it so I can’t say some things. But you are doing the right thing.”

As with any gathering of people, you find minor complications or annoyances. When you mix two cultures those can become apparent quickly. After the first night we asked if there were any issues that needed to be discussed and addressed. Immediately, the PCV’s brought the issue of cell phone talking up to us. The cell phone networks in Uganda offer different prices at different hours. It is the cheapest to call in the middle of the night. So, Ugandans call and talk in the middle of the night! Typically, Americans value sleep. Ugandan’s do not! Several Ugandan counselors received or made calls throughout the night. While the Ugandans are used to this and able to fall back asleep, that is not true for Americans and the PCV’s lost their much cherished sleep. In this instance, it allowed for a good cultural exchange talk about the differences in phone etiquette between our two countries. We hoped after this talk it wouldn’t be a problem the following night. It was.

Camp is less than 2 weeks away. We are getting closer and closer to being ready. Though there are still cultural differences we will have to work through, at least after this weekend I feel our staff is united and ready for the campers!


Sanyu and Renee making a poster for their group

Playing a song game

Human Knot

Trivia Night - working in teams

Nature Walk

Working together to find a counselors missing glasses - they were found!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Moving On

I attended the graduation of some dear friends from Pere Cadet, a vocational and technical school in my community last weekend. The school offers a two year program in the following programs: catering, hotel management, tailoring, nursery school teaching, and hairdressing. The girls who just graduated are the ones I have been working with for the last 2 years. We’ve been through a lot together. I let the hairdressing students practice on my hair, I tasted the food the catering students cooked, I accepted crooked stitched dresses the tailoring students made for me, and I observed some teach nursery students. A group of us met once a week to learn Lifeskills. I’ve talked with these girls about every subject imaginable: friendship, gender roles, assertiveness, STD’s, sex, menstruation, vocation, HIV, nutrition, boys, etc. I would say some of these relationships are the ones I’m most proud of during my time in Uganda because of the authenticity and depth I have with them.

Knowing that, I was excited to attend graduation to cheer them on for the accomplishments they have achieved. I am so proud of these girls. But I had no idea how much it was going to hurt to see them graduate and move on, without me. It was also my first public event that really hit home I too am about to move on. I’ve watched these girls gain new skills and confidences but they have also watched me grow and learn more of who I am and what I want to become. I invested myself for 2 years and now it’s getting closer to the time for me to move away and start another life, just like my girls. This breaks my heart.

Ugandans do not cry unless it’s for a funeral. When I was going home to the States for my sister’s wedding Sister Nabasumba told me I couldn’t cry because I’d wreck the wedding. So, as I sat at graduation I told myself to hold those tears back. But I just couldn’t and I found myself sobbing at one point. Most of the Ugandans looked at me in horror. They didn’t know what to do with me. But my girls looked on with sympathetic smiles and funny faces trying to make me laugh. They knew those tears were for both of us. They were tears of joy, pain, accomplishment, loss and so much love.

My girls have packed their trunks, rolled their mattresses, hugged their friends goodbye, taken their certificates and left Pere Cadet forever. I may never see them again. I still have several month of my service left but I can already feel the pain my leaving is going to inflict upon myself and my dear friends here in Uganda. How am I ever going to leave?

Girls fanning themselves - HOT day!

One of my favorite families:
Mama, Oliver, and Sister Kizito

Lydia, Me, and Immaculate - Lifeskills girls!

Saturday, November 13, 2010


As can be imagined when planning a big event, numerous details must be accounted for. I find myself waking at all hours of the night, grabbing the pen and paper I keep next to my bed and writing down the thought that interrupted my sleep. I will be in the middle of a meeting and another item needed for camp will enter my thoughts causing me to falter in the speech I am giving. It seems Camp GLOW is becoming an extension of my body.

While I am overcome with making spreadsheets, creating supply lists, visiting professional Ugandan women’s offices trying to get them to speak at camp, gathering permission slips and passing out packing lists, my girls are so excited they can barely contain themselves. A few nights ago, Zam and Rose Mary came to my door at 10 pm. They are both lame so I can only guess how long it took them to walk the short distance to my house. They brought the packing list with them and wanted to talk about the items listed. Zam doesn’t have a mosquito net. Rose Mary doesn’t have a pink or red shirt. Those were both small matters that they knew we could take care of. What really concerned them was that the packing list enlightened them to the fact that there are going to be sports at camp. What ensued was me reassuring them they would be able to participate and that we would accommodate for all differences in campers. I told them about 5 deaf girls who are coming. This seemed to reassure them a little and by the end they left with big smiles.

Teddy and Daphine came to my house during their lunch yesterday. “Madame Amanda, when exactly are we going to camp?” They have a paper with all the details on it and school doesn’t end till the end of the month so they know it’s not until at least that is over. I smiled and told them we will be leaving in the morning of December 5th. They grinned and ran off to play with their friends.

Beth, Solome’s mom, asked me just the other day about transporting the girls. I have had this detailed conversation with her twice already! Everyone is so excited for camp. I’m excited too but there is a lot that needs to get done before we actually have camp. I’m going to suggest to whoever takes over next year, that they don’t tell campers until the week of! Ha! That might just be a bigger stress than all this other stuff if they actually did that!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Traveling Compassion

Getting places in Africa takes a lot of patience and skill. Each country varies to some degree but most have some form of public transportation. Here in Uganda we have public taxi’s, “matatu’s,” and buses. You also have the option of taking a special hire that no PCV could ever hope of affording.

Matatus run from town to town and you get on or off as needed. To flag a matatu down you simply lift your hand slightly or if you are really skilled you raise your eyebrows catching the attention of the driver. If you are leaving from the capital city you go to the taxi park, a large area filled with matatus holding signs signifying the direction they are going. It is the biggest organized chaos I have personally experienced. There are men everywhere asking where you are going and trying to point you in the direction and even occasionally trying to get you to take their taxi, wherever that may be going.

The bus is the other option you have as a traveler in Uganda. While matatus leave when they have filled up, buses sometimes leave on a schedule regardless of how many passengers are present. Sometimes. Last week I went up to Apac and Lira in Northern Uganda to visit some friends. I left early in the morning to catch the 9 am bus to Lira. I arrived in town at 8 and was a little perturbed with myself for having so much down time before the bus would leave. I got to the bus park as the bus turned on and was about to go! A whole hour early! I managed to get on and made it to Lira with only a few extra stops along the way.

Traveling brings the best and worst out of you. With the constant bumps from a lack of shocks and bad roads, the dust that billows in through the windows, the cockroaches that crawl all over you and the heat radiating from the poor engine and beaming equator sun, patience and compassion tend to diminish. Yet, there are the redeeming times too when you look around and acknowledge the communal suffering. You smile and greet one another. And you commiserate over the terrible roads. Sometimes you even show the extra measure of kindness and share what you have with others. On my way home on the bus I bought maize for myself and my seat mates. Throughout the trip I received bottled water, a newspaper and a soda. There is beauty in human suffering (if you ever ride the bus in Uganda you’ll understand the strong wording) and it’s important to focus on the compassion and patience we are capable of offering to ourselves and to those around us.