Sunday, August 24, 2014

My teeth and ambitions are bared....be prepared!


So sorry that’s been a month, but things have been crazy town and then we lost power for a week and then I was tired and preoccupied. But whatever.

 

So when we last left our traveler she was going to Lira for tech week. I loved it! We lived with a current volunteer in her living room and it was great. We built a mosquito forest there, took turns cooking dinner, and watched Fargo. Fargo forced us all to speak in Minnesotan Uganglish and we couldn’t turn it off. We later went to Gulu to visit a WASH project and have a little nightlife. That was also really fun!

We went back to Kampala for swearing in and supervisor’s workshop. It’s nice to be a real volunteer! This trainee business was nuts…it felt like the freshmen orientation that never ended. I’ll never say that PST isn’t necessary, because it totally is. It’s long, it’s tiring, it’s repetitive, but it’s all important. You want the degree, you need to go to class.

Now I’m at site and have been here about two weeks. It’s strange. I’m in this weird limbo area where I’m not supposed to be doing anything really hardcore, just observing. But it’s hard to find a place for me in the mix of things. So I’ve really just been following my counterpart (Irene) around, meeting important people in the area, and working in the home. I cause a little bit of a stir when I go into the toddler area though. They get a lot of white visitors to tour the home, and they tend to give the kids a lot of attention. So when I walk in they all rush over to me, crying and demanding to be picked up. So I avoid that area a little, introducing myself mapola-mapola (slowly by slowly).  If I don’t have anyone to meet or things to see, I’m usually in the babies’ part of the house, changing diapers, feeding them, and refereeing the various squabbles. It’s hard doing things there. Like really hard not to go full American. Never go full American. I don’t think the caregivers like it when I change diapers. I make too much laundry for them because I wash the bottoms and dry them. It’s hard to not just do things the way I’ve been raised and trained to do. Much of what I do is leading by example, but I can’t be the freight train undoing and redoing everything that they do, especially during the first three months I’m there. I also hate how much I say “but in America”, “Oh well, in America…” It’s word vomit. I can’t stop. I don’t even realize I’ve done it until it’s too late. It usually happens when I’ve done something that the HCNs think is completely nuts, and it’s how I excuse myself. I still hate it.

So with the power outage I’ve been reading a lot by candle light. Pathologies of Power by Paul Farmer is exactly what I should be reading but it’s kind of a depressing read when you’re in a depressing situation. The water is also out right now so I’m rationing water, living in the dark, and reading about how big government in many countries has furthered its own agenda at the expense of the poor (specifically healthcare).  One of the babies in the home recently passed away from malaria and that just fuels the dismay. But I’m still in good spirits… haven’t been beaten down just yet.

On a happier note, there is this one baby that is just a star. She chirps and screeches (happy screeches). She hasn’t figured out crawling yet, so if she wants to get somewhere she rolls herself sideways. She never cries (unless she’s hungry) and loves holding other babies’ hands. It’s adorable. I tell the nuns and the caregivers that she is going to be president. Presidents love to hear the sound of their own voices and so does this little girl. The Ugandans laugh, and reply “Presidents can’t be ladies”.  My response is just, “She’ll be president.”

Speaking of president, we were in Mutoto for the festival to mark the opening day for circumcision season and Musevini was there. I’ve been closer to the Ugandan president than Obama….is that funny? That was trip btw. It helped if I thought of it more as a graduation ceremony. Seeing the traditional dances and garb was really cool. And we got on national Ugandan TV. Cool, huh?

So I’ve mostly been getting my house together, visiting babies, going to church, and trying to figure this whole African thing out. My house is coming together. Still looks like a homeless person is squatting in there but eventually I’ll get some decorations going. On a good day I have power and running water, which I wasn’t so stoked about initially. I really wanted to live deep in the village with a pit latrine and whatever. But I’ve come to realize that the biggest part of Peace Corps is going where you are called to serve. That’s the very beginning of being flexible because things are never going to go the way you wanted, planned or envisioned in that big wonderful full of liberty American brain of yours. That’s why I’m a little skeptical of the new Peace Corps application. People can apply to the region and the job that they want. Which sounds cool, you get to have some input on what you do, great. But what kind of volunteer are they attracting now? The kind that will go with the flow? Or the kind that when she buys a box of chocolates googles the exact flavor map so there’s never a surprise? The one that is confident in her ability to adapt or the one that freaks when things get hairy? I get that it’s been rough with people site changing all over the world because it just wasn’t a good fit. And that sucks too. And if you really hate your site you should change because two years is a long time.  But part of Peace Corps is accepting what you have and working within it anyway. "Here are my skills, where do you need me?" I think this new process is going to attract the wrong kind of volunteer.

                Alright off my soap box and getting in a taxi to Jinja and then Kampala for an all volunteer conference tomorrow!

P.S sorry back on the soap box for a hot second….theres a missionary giving a dissertation to a poor Ugandan waitress on how to cook over medium eggs. They don’t do those here…order rice and beans and shut up like a normal person. I don’t care that you used to be a short order cook or that you're here in the name of Jesus.

Monday, July 21, 2014

You've got a friend in me

So I’ve been back from my future site visit and have had a few days of training at the group training site in Entebbe. The future site visit or FSV was great. I finally had some down time to do important things like scrub all the red dust off my feet, organize my stuff, and watch a movie. I was up every morning early, had breakfast with the convent, toured the facility, had meetings, more food at the convent, then into bed by 8pm. It was magical. Now we're back in the giant group which is nice-- I missed everyone! 
St. Kizito has a ton going on and I’m so excited. It is located on Gangama Parish in Mbale district, about a 25 min walk from the city. In addition to the babies’ home there is a toddler home, an older child home (mostly elementary aged children), a school, a health center, a garden, a piggery, and a poultry farm. There are a ton of opportunities here. I’m very excited to work with the agriculture volunteers to improve the garden so that the children will have access to fresh vegetables year round. We’re focusing on increasing their vitamin A and iron intake. I really want to focus on the orphanage at first and then take the practices that I’ve worked on with the orphanage and branch into the village. Sack gardening sounds really interesting and it’s a direct overlap between the health sector and the Ag sector so that’s cool. It’d be really interesting to have a “Mommy and Me” type group and work on sack gardening/nutrition, hygiene/pressure sores, and malaria outreaches with them. It’s incredible how everything really is everyone’s problem. Like I can talk to the caregiviers at the home or the mothers in the village about proper nutrition until I’m blue but if they can’t afford it or don’t have access to it then it really doesn’t matter. I foresee a lot of gardening in my future and that’s totally cool.  I feel like I have all these projects that NEED to get done and I can’t wait to start. I’m overwhelmed, but in a good way, if that makes any sense.
It’s nuts how short my time seems here. The more people talk about the future and what’s going on in the coming months I feel like my service is almost over and it’s barely started. Like by the time I start to make real progress they’ll be chirping about my COS (close of service). Most of you probably think I’m crazy but it’s true. It might be because I’ve met a bunch of PCVs who are getting ready to COS.
I love love love the group I’m stationed with in Mbale. We all get along really well and all have something completely different to offer. We’re in a good spot too. Not so close that we’ll be up in each other’s grills all the time, but not too far away that we can’t sneak into town for a cup of coffee and a support session. The current PCVs in the area are pretty awesome too, but we’re losing a bunch of them in December.
So we still don’t know where we will be for our tech week, but rumor has it that it’s somewhere in the North. Hopefully Arua where the cool kyetengue is! Obv I should blow as much money on dresses and fabric as I can. Who needs to eat?


I miss cold milk. And real coffee. And pens that work. And the dog. But I love it here! Couldn't imagine being anywhere else!

Friday, July 11, 2014

running on sunshine

So I just shoo’d four boys under ten out of my room so I could write this, so enjoy. There's probably tears because they have to wait 10 min to watch Sleeping Beauty. 

I’m currently with my homestay family but I guess I haven’t written in awhile…ooops. The days are really long and by the time I get in a place where I could write something, I’m either sleeping or my mind is too full to really write a good entry. And I’d rather not just scribble something down just to scribble, that’s not how I want to remember these 27 months! Overall I’m just super excited to have my house and my space to really get a chance to digest it all.
So when we left off we were still in Kulika, our little American bubble. It was far enough away from the city that really just felt like we were in some college dorm somewhere in California or something. It’s weird, I keep calling it “home”, but I lived there less than I will live with my home stay family.
On June 13th (?) we all got “sorted” into our sites Harry Potter style. It was hilarious and fun. I actually was given my top choice which I was very very surprised about. I mean, I wanted to work in the Health Sector and in Africa and I thought it’d be too much to ask the universe to be allowed to work with my top choice site, but there you go. My site is St. Kizito Babies Home, but I’ll do a whole page of overview on that when it gets closer. I’m working with Nuns and there is a church right next to my house. I’m super pumped!
One of the other girls in my group met another PCV who is heading up a lacrosse league as her secondary project and she gave her my number! I’d love to be involved in that. I want to settle down first but once I get in the groove of things it would be great!
So  we moved to our homestay families on June 18th. I’m stationed in Mbale with a wonderful (huge) family! There are 7 boys and 1 girl, the parents, and various nieces and nephews who stay with them. They’re taking the “train the American” assignment very seriously which is great! I’m watching them cook, they speak Lugisu to me and expect me to answer back, so I’m really listening and trying to learn the language. It’s hard, I’m studying lumasaaba and they speak lugisu. Lugisu is similar to Lumasaaba but not the same, so some of the words get lost in the mix. I’m working at it though.
*REMEMBER THIS WHEN YOU HIT A LOW WEIRD POINT*
So I know things aren’t always going to rock, I get it, so when I’m sick of being called Mzungu, harassed, and sweaty, I need to remember last Saturday.
We had class in the morning and then spent the whole day roaming Mbale. We tried all different foods, had dresses made for swearing in, and really just socialized with the people. Every time someone screamed “Mzungu!” at us, we laughed and shouted back “Sndi muzungu ta!” Which means, “I’m not a mzungu!” Like, mzungu is not my name. Sometimes we’d introduce ourselves and chat with them, other times they just laughed and shoo’d us on our way. It was great exploring the city for the first time and learning what is expected of us at each stop along the way.
I’m convinced that Ugandan women were born at a 90 degree angle. They are constantly bent over, washing pots and pans, cooking, dressing children, washing laundry. It’s nuts. Nobody works harder than these women or these young girls. The girls are insane. They go to school all day, come home and clean, cook dinner, wash the babies, sleep, get up, wash dishes, dress the babies, go to school. So busy! So far Africa does not believe in sleep, mirrors, or hair conditioner. I have no idea about my hair situation ever, or my eyebrows, or weird chin hair. But neither does anybody else so that’s fine.
I’ve been letting the boys watch cartoons on my laptop and now they’re checking on me every twelve seconds to see if I’ve finished. I started doing it because the little boys kept sneaking in to watch action movies with their older brothers. They love the princesses which is awesome. I started handing out princess stickers to the girls and soon everyone had to have one. I’ve converted them to Disney Princess Mania and it’s hilarious.
The littlest child is about a year old. And I’ve never seen anyone so loved by so many people. The family adopted him, as if they didn’t already have enough to do! The younger boys call me “Sis-stah!” and the littlest one has adopted that, which is nice J.
                For the 4th of July we spent all day cooking with our Ugandan families. They cooked a Ugandan style meal while we cooked an American style meal. We called the kitchen “little America” and made roasted chicken, fruit salad, veggie salad, and potato salad. The Ugandans were just as skeptical of the American food as we were of the Ugandan food at first. It was really funny to see people afraid of potato salad. Which reminds me of our walks home from school. Every day we walk with armies of children and try speaking lugisu/lumasaaba with them. They tease us about our accidents and word choice. It’s very funny/ different to be in the minority here. Every child in America has teased an immigrant or a foreigner about their voice or pronunciation. It’s very new and weird to be on the other side of this. Very interesting.
                The following day we went on a hike to a nearby mountain.  Elevation and dehydration really kicked my butt. Sea dwelling beach bums do not do well in the mountains, but I’ll get used to it. We went with some of our homestay family members. I took my brother, Chris. I don’t think anyone really knew what they were getting ourselves into. It was quite the day. At one point there was this huge ladder made of bundles of sticks that we all had to use both hands and feet to climb. However, right behind us came two Ugandan women who scaled the thing barefoot, one handed, while balancing humongous bundles of firewood and rice on their heads. We couldn’t believe it. We took pictures at the top then jumped over a river and headed down the mountain. More like fell all the way down the mountain. We were so muddy by the end of it I was convinced my host mother wouldn’t let me in the house. It was a blast.
Grey’s quote to sum up our climb and probably most of Peace Corps:
"They take pictures of the mountain climbers at the top of the mountain. They are smiling, ecstatic, triumphant. They don’t take pictures along the way, cause who wants to remember the rest of it? We push ourselves because we have to, not because we like it. The relentless climb, the pain and anguish of taking it to the next level – nobody takes pictures of that, nobody wants to remember, we just want to remember the view from the top, the breathtaking moment at the edge of the world. That’s what keeps us climbing, and it’s worth the pain, that’s the crazy part. It’s worth anything”

                So now we’re nearing the end of homestay. I really love my family, and I’ll be sad to leave them. On Monday morning I’ll be traveling to St. Kizito Babies Home on my “Future Site Visit” to make sure everything is in order. My house should be finished by then so I’ll take a look at that, make sure it has all the Peace Corps requirements. You can google St. Kizito Babies Home Mbale, Uganda if you’re interested. Then I make my way to Entebbe for a week of technical training, then I live with a current PCV for a week, then I swear in! PST sometimes feels like it’s dragging, but I still didn’t think swearing in was this close! I’ll try to post some pictures when I have down time during my future site visit. I’m really excited to have some time to myself to breath and get organized. Haha, whenever my host brothers are all over the place my host mother yells “ Organize yourselves!” which is exactly how I feel. I’m in 20 different places, my belongings are strewn all around Uganda, I’m nervous about my LPI (language proficiency interview) which we took today, and I hope my site likes me. It’s nuts! But I’m happy. I love it here and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else!


The greatest adventure is what lies ahead....

6/9/14

Step by step, day by day….
Sorry this is so late, I know I promised most of you that you’d hear from me. So I have been in country for a week already. 6 days, actually. I’ve noticed that I’m very Mzungu. I am lost and dizzy all the time, as many of you knew I would be. I’m surprised at the curiosity and the outgoingness that many of the Ugandans display.

After 3 full days of travel, we made it to Kulika at about 10 o’clock on June 5th. After we stepped off the plane (feeling a little like the Beatles because in Africa you get on and off the airplane on the tarmat), we went through customs. The customs agent was almost appalled that we all would be staying for 27 months. 40 Muzugus all staying for 27 months must sound pretty absurd. Once we got outside, a crowd of Peace Corps Luganda staff was there to greet us. I felt exhilarated and excited. I could not stop smiling.
Then next few day was spent at Kulika, where we got accustomed to food (you can get Irish potatoes here, I think I’ll be ok), sat through session upon session (the chairs are awful), and got to know each other. Then, on Sunday, we went to Kampala. Holy moly it was nuts. I get lost in Boston and Portland and I’ve been there a hundred times, but the chaos in Kampala is just out of this world. I focused on being very aware of myself (no one wants to get hit by a Matatu or a Boda Boda) and my group as we created quite the stir in the city. This weekend we are being sent into the city without a guide, which I’m very excited for. I learn much better if I have to find my way myself.
We’ve all been stressing about our site placement as well. We all had two interviews, one with the Health Team and one with the Country Director (all truly strong, lovely women role models). The process is called an advertise and bid system, which is pretty cool. It gives you a chance to plead your case, which most countries don’t get, so that’s nice. However, the stress of not getting a site you’ve fallen in love with is just gross. And the health sector has so many sites and so many possibilities. I’m hoping for a site that deals directly with women and OVC’s (orphaned and vulnerable children).
3 Fears I have: Will I make friends in country and in Peace Corps? Will I be effective at my site? Will I love my site?
3 Joys: Surrounded by good people doing good work. There are Irish potatoes. Independence!