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

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Future Looms

A few weeks ago I attended my Close Of Service (COS) conference. It was the last time my group would all be together in Uganda. Over the next several months we will begin packing up and leaving our communities. The conference was actually very difficult. I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster. We processed our last 2 years, talked about reverse culture shock, what America is like and going to be, how to get jobs, and how to keep Peace Corps alive in us as we move on with our lives. While it was all necessary, it was also very hard and scary. Who were we in America? Who are we now? How are we going to mesh those when we get back?

I still have no direction as to what to do next. I am considering extending my service for a third year but moving locations and jobs. I am also looking for jobs in Africa. I thought about grad school but am I ready for that after learning to be content staring at my cement wall over the last two years? And of course, there is always the moving back to America option. That is the scariest and least favorable option to me right now. But, who knows. I have a few more months to figure it all out. We shall see...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rwanda: Great Medevac Friends

Since we were so close to the boarder with Rwanda when we were at Lake Bunyonyi and Hailey and I had a good medevac friend there, we decided to cross over and visit Kigali. This was our smoothest travel day in all our days of travel. Rwanda is a beautiful clean country and easy to navigate. We met up with our friend Jacelyn in Kigali. Hailey and Jacelyn were able to go to a Radio and Weasel concert (Hailey’s new favorite East African group) one night and the rest of the time we simply hung out and caught up together. I continue to be impressed with the bonds that were made while on medevac. I am very thankful for these girls who supported me and I them, through our tumultuous days of poor health.

We only spent 1 full day in Rwanda and then it was back to Uganda. I took Hailey through our infamous second hand market, Owino, and we had a lovely sushi dinner before she flew back to Niger in West Africa. My Christmas/New Years break this year was a very special time seeing much of East Africa with a dear friend. The friendships and experiences I have gained while in Peace Corps are truly unique and they will shape my life for evermore.

Uganda: Lake Bunyonyi for New Year's!

New Years found us back in Uganda at Lake Bunyonyi in the South West. Lake Bunyonyi is the second deepest lake in Africa. We met up with 28 other PCV’s and stayed on an island in the lake. It was a breathtaking place! The island provided us with sturdy tents and good Ugandan food. Hailey and I took out a dug-out canoe one morning and attempted to navigate the lake. We didn’t make it far because the canoe was too difficult to steer. But we had fun trying.

On New Year’s Eve, the manager of the island brought over some Ugandans from another island to dance and sing for us. They would do traditional dances and take a break where we would then dance to Ugandan and American pop and hip-hop music. The last several hours were Americans and Ugandans dancing together. It was really fun to see.

Kenya Part III: Traveling by Train

After our leisurely time on Lamu Island, we decided to take the slower train connecting Mombasa to Nairobi instead of the bus. The train was scheduled to leave at 6 pm but in true African time it didn’t take off until 8:30 pm. We had a 2nd class cabin for two and were provided with bedding. Since we had traveled all day by bus to get to Mombasa we were tired and went almost immediately to sleep. While it was fun to say we were sleeping on a train traveling through Africa, I must admit the sleep wasn’t so good. The tracks are not the smoothest and so we found ourselves rolling around and moving up and down with the click of the tracks.

The next morning we looked out our train window at the Kenyan villages dotted across the rolling hills. We walked through several cars to get to the dinner car where we were served breakfast on silver platters. As we buttered our biscuits and sipped our tea we smiled at each other enjoying the feeling of the old colonial days. I’m happy to report it wasn’t completely a colonial experience since our entire car was black faces. Though, when the train slowed down at different stations, looking out the window showed Kenyans running and jumping on the third class cars and other Kenyans jumping off.

As we neared Nairobi the train passed through a national park. Giraffes, buffalo, wildebeests, zebras and antelope passed by our windows. There was a young teenage Kenyan girl outside our cabin who would alert us to animals on that side of the train. Again, Hailey and I just smiled at one another amazed and in awe of this “African” life we live.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kenya Part II: Lamu!

After Mombasa we boarded another bus and traveled 7 hours up the coast then took a boat to Lamu Island. A quaint Swahili island in the Indian Ocean. This was a beautiful and restful place. Many say Lamu is a smaller version of Zanzibar and without the tourists which was just fine with us. We ate fresh fish, crab and other seafood daily (almost every meal), enjoyed the empty beaches, played in the warm ocean water, went fishing, sailing and snorkeling and really just relaxed and enjoyed life.

Every day we passed a man on the wharf grilling fish. It always looked so good and we finally stopped to buy some. It turned out he didn’t have any that day but asked if we wanted to put an order in for the following day. Not wanting to commit ourselves when there were so many other wonderful fish options on the island, we smiled and gave half-hearted, “o.k.”’s. The next day we went back to the fish stand. No one was there. We turned around a bit disappointed but intent on choosing our dinner option. Then a man called out to us asking if we had placed an order. Surprise, we nodded in the affirmative and the man said he’d go and get Vincent, the fishman we’d ordered from the previous night.

Vincent came and took us up a few flights of stairs to a large refrigerator. Inside was a giant King Fish cut up. We picked our piece and Vincent went to work rubbing spices on it and grilling our fish on the boardwalk looking out at the Indian Ocean. We sat on a stone bench looking out at the ocean soaking up the evening.
After our fish was grilled, for less than a dollar, we went back to the roof-top of our hotel and made fish tacos. I make a bold statement in saying that fish was possibly the best fish I have ever had in my life! It was beyond delicious. We decided to go back the following night and do the same thing. Sadly, Vincent didn’t get any more fish while we were in Lamu. But at least we have that one wonderful evening to remember forever.

Lamu became our home for a week. We made routines that made us feel a part of the island to a small degree. Each morning we walked to a local hole-in-the-wall and drank tea and ate mandazi’s (like a dense donut). After our breakfast we’d walked to the market and buy ingredients for our lunch. We found the woman who sold limes for the cheapest, the man who had the freshest avocados and the man who’d give us a garlic clove for free every day. This morning routine was one of our favorite parts of our life on Lamu.

Kenya Part 1: Travel

My December and early January has been busy traveling around East Africa. My friend Hailey, who I met on medevac, flew in from Niger and we traveled around Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. I had a great time and got to see some pretty amazing places. Hailey was a fantastic travel partner.

We took a 20 hour bus ride from Kampala to Mombasa on the coast of Kenya. We paid extra for a large seat but discovered it wasn’t worth the money. It was too big! On the way back we decided to go with the regular seats.

The Kenyan visa can be obtained at the boarder which is how we did it. We were not impressed with their professionalism. They didn’t even write our full names on the visa!

We only had a day and a night in Mombasa and were not impressed with the city. I had heard such great things about the city but we found it hot, dirty and not too interesting. Later, we found out it was because we never made it to the developed part of the city and the beach.

Kenya was the country for robbery against us. I think we lost count of how many times we were robbed but it was usually just minor things like water bottles and food. However, in Mombasa $50 was stolen from me out of our hotel room. Hailey and I shrugged our shoulders and made sure we locked our bags to the beds from that night forth.

Mombasa did have great Swahili food. I found a fish dish I absolutely loved. It was rich in spices and had so many good flavors. After all the bland food I eat in Uganda it was a welcome change. There was also creamy and flavorful ice-cream! This was a real treat in the stifling heat.

I’m glad we stopped in Mombasa. We needed a break from our long bus ride to our next and it was fun to see the biggest port city on the East Coast of Africa. Also, it provided my first view of the Indian Ocean, a truly beautiful and warm ocean.