Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Wakened by the sound of a donkey again followed by the repetitive rooster announcing the sunrise. Hotter day today. We started the day off with Medical staff teaching us about Malaria. After a lunch of rice, beans, seaweed, and Irish potatoes I had my first Luganda language lesson. My small group and I learned basic greetings and responses. After a quick rest a few of us walked down the red dirt path to find the small bit of Lake Victoria that is visible from here. We didn’t take the most direct path but we got there in the end. We saw families sitting on their porches and under trees. One man outside of a tiny shack of a store was refurnishing a bed frame. Half naked children followed us down the path happy and amused by our presence. Jambo! we said to each other. There is something in the simplicity of the land that illuminates the brilliant colors all around. The bright green glow of the trees, the ambers, reds, and oranges of the ground, the purest blue of the sky, the blue black shades of faces, all fed by a reposeful sun. I feel so grateful to be experiencing all of this on a daily basis.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
We took a 2 hour bus ride to a guest house. Here we put things in storage, received our bathing buckets, pillow, blanket, and the ever important mosquito net. Then we were taken to the other side of the compound (yard) where we were introduced to our new family. I met my host mother who informed me that my host father was at home recovering from a traffic accident. Their oldest daughter was also there attending to him but they both wished they could be there to welcome me. We had lunch together and were driven to our new homes. Mine is quite far, almost on the other side of the village but it won’t be so bad by bicycle-once I get one. My host father and sister greeted me at the door and showed me to my room. Then we gathered in the living room and shared our family photographs. Since I slept so little last night because of the party we decided to have for our last night together as a big group I decided to take a nap which thankfully was ok with my family. Dinner was very good, my host mom is a great cook! We had sweet (but not the same sweet as in America) potatoes, a g-nut (ground-nut which is as close to a peanut as far as I can tell) cabbage and beans mixture, matooke (a staple here-unripened mashed bananas with no nutritional value) and rice. I am beginning to think that this is pretty much standard since I find the same items everywhere I go. After dinner I organized my room and bit and had a much needed sleep!
Saturday, March 17, 2007
It was a wonderful African day! We learned how to build a brick stone oven and garden. It was great fun mixing the cement and red clay with ash, carrying the bricks, and using the wheelbarrow to transfer our materials. Then in the room where we were building the oven the Africans were chanting, singing, and dancing traditional work songs. It was so heart warming and energizing to be dancing with them in a tiny room where it was even too hot to breathe comfortably. Then they wanted us to teach them some American songs. Boy, did I struggle to think of a song that would even compare to the spirited songs we just heard. Since it is also St. Patrick’s Day we spent a good few hours at the bar and I even enjoyed a Guiness. Although it tasted nothing like the drink in Ireland! I am happy I am here in Africa surrounded by nature and amazing people!
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
I saw a most magnificent night sky just now filled with so many stars of different size, brightness, and even color! I came back into the house and told my host mom our sky in America is not filled with such stars. She said “Ahh, then Africa is lucky.” That it is.
Monday, March 26, 2007
This is another one of those ‘only in Africa’ moments. Apparently my host mom asked a boy from far off in the village to bring a jackfruit (ffene) over so I could try it. Normal enough so far... Well, the boy brought it over, but he came unexpectedly in the middle of the night to deliver this fruit. So he stood outside, right near my window at 4:30AM calling “Maama” every 10 min or so. Finally, hours later I heard my host mom shouting to the boy through the padlocked metal door. She wouldn’t open the door because they fear the night here very much. So he left it on the doorstep and came around to the barred window at the front of the house so she could slip him the money. At breakfast she explained to me that he came so early because he needed the money to buy a new pen and get to school on time. Who delivers fruit at 4 AM to buy a pen I ask!?!? Ahh, Africa.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
“The Morning of the Enkoko.” At breakfast my host mom asked me if the 200 plus baby chicks were keeping me awake during the night with their cheeping. I told her they weren’t bothering me at all but the “cock” (as they only call it here) starts going off right outside my window at 4:15 AM. She replied “Ahh, then we’ll eat him.” WAIT!!! I screamed, “nedda, nedda, nedda, (No) it is ok, I will get used to him.” “No,” she said “we will just kill him.” Oh my!
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
And now I present the day of the bat. After being awakened at 1:15AM by flapping and high pitched squeaks I realized something even worse. I thought it was coming from one side of my bed-the side where there is a lot of space between my bed where I lay and the wall, but it wasn’t. It was coming from the side of my bed where there is no more than an inch between my bed and the wall. So, this unknown animal is somewhere within a short distance from my face! Quickly turning on my headlamp I scour the room for the source of the noise. A half hour later I am without an answer and had it not been for the Tylenol PM I had just taken a few hours back I would not had allowed myself to fall back to sleep. 6AM, it is not yet light and I am dressing by the light of my headlamp carefully checking everywhere I step and everything I touch for the animal. Then by the window I see a motionless bat lying on the ground. I call my host sister to come with a broom and just as she touches it with the broom it disappears out of the beam of light from my small headlamp. Searching all over again and its nowhere to be found. 7PM, I walk cautiously into my room along with my host sister armed with a flashlight and a broom. No luck. Maybe its gone, after all my host sister says she hasn’t heard any noise all day. I leave and return to my room a few minutes later and I see it clinging to the side of my bed net! The bat! The bat! I scream and my host mom and sister run in as I run out. Host mom grabs it with a cloth and proceeds to take it outside where she without hesitation, whacks it against the ground with her fist. It squeaks and squeaks still. So she winds up and whams it against the concrete. I am in the house now humming as I plug my ears. She comes in, takes it out of the cloth and proudly shows it to me. Bat #1-gone.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
This past weekend shall be called “The Weekend of the Goat.” My fellow trainee, Amy and I visited a current volunteer who has been in-country for a year now. I myself have had very little practical experience with goats until this weekend. Incident #1- After meeting the current volunteer in the Capital, we rode in a matatu (taxi-bus) to her site. We stopped several times as they do to let people off and stuff even more people into the bus. At one stop there was a lot of chaos and debate. I asked the volunteer what the trouble was and she said they want to put some goats on the matatu with us. “Where?” I exclaimed, because we already had an over-packed vehicle. Well, UNDER the seats of course! So, I had 2 goats jammed under my seat. They were however, surprisingly well behaved. They only cried out when we went over a big pothole. Goats crammed in a taxi, who knew? Incident #2-the volunteer we visited has a goat-as a pet...a pet goat, in Africa. As usual, she tied it up and left it for a few hours to graze at a grassy nole just down the street. Then a neighbor girl comes over and informs us that another neighbor has taken the goat hostage and won’t give it back until she gets money. She claims the goat ate her crops. When asked to show us the eaten crops the story suddenly changes to something where the goat went into her house and either unwrapped packaged food or ate some food that was left out. Ahh, Africa. She eventually gave her money to diffuse the neighborhood dispute over the goat.
Monday, April 9, 2007
It was quite a wonderful long Easter weekend. To start, Saturday we took a field trip to Jjinga-the source of the River Nile. But on the way we stopped at Ssezibwe Falls which were beautiful and just enough to remind me of Niagara Falls back home. There was a cave there and with what I could gather from our guide it seems like a possessed person may come with an offering of eggs, crawl to the back of the cave and be cured. And I do have to add that on our hike down we passed a man…carrying a bag of eggs. Who knows? There was also a tiny hut there, barely big enough for a small child to fit in. One can go to this hut and ask for things. We didn’t see anyone doing that but the path did indeed look well pressed. We also stopped at Mabira Rainforest and took a 45 min tour. We didn’t see any animals but it was amazing how dense it was. So many plants, vines, and trees that there was hardly space between. The air was thick with a humid green smell
unlike anything I’ve experienced before. There were a few great big old trees. There was one that had strangled another and grew all around it. Survival of the fittest is no joke here! Then we were off to the Nile. I was surprised to see how fast the water rushed by as my group and I sat on a broken-down dock with old metal beam connecting the 3 concrete bases. So easy to slip and be carried away...
On Easter Sunday I went to church with my friend Deborah, it wasn’t that different from what I can remember in America. We went back to her host home and attempted to make hot-cross-buns which turned into scones that wouldn’t bake. Oh well, at least we tried. Then we introduced her family to the idea of decorating and hiding eggs. HA! This was quite difficult for them to understand as they find it a challenge to find the egg and take it away from the chicken in the first place! Then when we proposed the idea of a giant bunny it only got worse. Then they wanted to know about our other Holiday traditions...so there’s a fat man in a red suit, flies in a sleigh (which they had no idea how one can ride in something with no wheels), puts toys in your hanging socks, he lands on a fire pit...as we told the story we ourselves realized how strange it is! Anyway, we showed them how to decorate the eggs using crayons we brought from America but we also improvised and made a flour-water paste to glue on shapes we cut out of banana leaves! The adults shrieked with delight as they searched for the eggs we hid and when it was over they asked if we could do it again tomorrow!
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Field trip! We traveled SW through Mpigi to the equator. In Mpigi we stopped at a NGO called ‘Aidchild;’ it is by far the most amazing organization I have seen as of yet. It is run by an American man who originally only came here for 3 months with his business. It was then that he got the idea to set up an organization to support orphans living with AIDS who in most circumstances would have no hope, left to die. He has two locations because he wants to keep each setting small, with only 35 children. A doctor comes and sees every child 2x a week. The children also receive academic tutoring and mental counselling. There are “mothers” who tuck each child into bed at night and there is a 1-3 staff to child ratio so that all may have a lot of attention. This entire location, including funds stored away to support a child to go to boarding school when (s)he reaches high school age is supported by tourist attractions he has set up on and near the equator. There is a (fast!!) internet café, art gallery, gift shop, bookstore, a sandwich and frozen drink café, and bookstore all as income generating projects. The children were beautiful beings. They danced, sang, and chanted to welcome us in both English and Luganda. A little boy who clearly didn’t feel well at all climbed into my lap as if he had known me all his life and we danced a gentle dance to the music. He had an open lesion on his arm and a nose that looked like it had been running for years though he was not yet that old. He rested his tiny hands on my upward facing palms that cradled his body and began to tap out the rhythm onto my hands. I am amazed that this small sign of life in this boy could fill me with such joy, more joy than I have ever known. When the songs ended, I picked him up and placed him on his feet so that he could go back to his life, whatever the life is for a boy barely one-year-old who must fight a battle fully grown men cannot win. And so that I could go back to mine-get back on the mzungu (Bristish/white person) bus to go eat lunch at a tourist destination...One more moment before I go-a sweet baby girl comes toddling over to my newly freed arms and lap and wraps herself around any part she could. I picked her up so fast and returned the gripping plea and gave her what comfort I could. I sent her back towards her “mothers” and she cried. Usually it is the other way around but things are different here in Africa, or at least different when you are a white person living with Africans.
Onto the equator...we had lunch at the Aidchild Café and wished we could purchase the beautiful art that hung on the wall. It was for such a good cause too, but quite out of our meager income as a volunteer. We took photos together straddling the marked imaginary line, practiced our Luganda bargaining skills in the shops, and then headed for our final stop-a crocodile farm. There were hundreds, all of different sizes kept according to age in half-walled cement houses. There was also one very old male and one fully grown female kept for mating purposes. The male we were told, had killed/eaten dozens of people before he was captured. All the other crocs will be kept until they are 5 years old when they will be killed for their skins. Enjoy that purse and shoes!
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
It is a day of lives lost. We began the day with news from home that a boy from Virginia Tech shot his girlfriend and then 2 hours later shot a classroom of 30 students before shooting himself. I can only imagine the news reports and papers in America. We are so isolated here, we would listen to the BBC but it is raining now so there is no electricity. So much grief, everyone on that campus surely knows someone that has been stolen away. School shootings are a constant now in America, how many more need to happen before something is done? It is out of control.
Next, as I lay in the front yard of the training center unable to take any more ‘training’ at the moment I hear the sound of pieces-of-metal scrapping against the pavement. I did not want to look, I did not want to look, wanted to blame it on another unfamiliar sound of Africa, one that just is. But it was not one to be ignored. A motorcycle going so fast, I remember hearing the sound of an engine going by so fast. He ran over a man on a bike carrying a woman on the back. People came so quickly, I wanted to help, but that was the last thing this situation needed-a mzungu being a distraction. Everyone stood around for what seemed like forever. Finally, they were each taken to a hospital in the back of passing-by trucks. Except as I watched I was stunned to see them take the victim who was most well first and the most critical last. Different than what I am used to. So much grief, his family and friends will be weighted down with such grief. Is life less precious here? That life is no longer, and no one even tried to keep it.
Then the news from Kampala: more riots today, only a few days after 3 people were killed including one who was stoned to death in riots over the Mabira Forest issue, now we have more. All of the international schools were closed down. There is so much grief today, so many lives needlessly lost.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
It is the first day of site visit and I find myself in an unexpected paradise with poverty just beyond the gate at the bottom of the tree-lined drive. There are tropical flowers blooming in brilliant colors and GRASS, yes grass covering the grounds! I can see Lake Victoria as well as where the edge of Lake Victoria used to be. I learned last week that a mere 2 degree rise in average temperature will kill 90% of Uganda’s biggest export and cash crop-the coffee bean. It will have a devastating effect here, I can’t even imagine. The students and the staff seem pleasant; the buildings are well constructed with ceilings, running water, and electricity too! But I must stress sometimes on the latter two. I wasn’t expecting as much but am thankful, especially for the beautiful sights all around. It will be an absolutely wonderful two years of service.
Friday May 4th, 2007
May already! I can hardly believe it! It was our last week at the Guest House and a stressful one at that. Good news, rather great news-we had our L.P.I. today AND I PASSED! I achieved the “Intermediate Low” level according to the American Foreign Language Association’s descriptions. But let me back up…the language simulation on Wednesday went much better than expected and was made even better by the fact that we were given Shillings to buy actual food at “the market” instead of playing pretend. On Thursday Derek and I presented our Qualifying Project and actually received a perfect score from the entire panel! Today after the L.P.I. I got a package with wonderful, wonderful clothes in it. Next was the Talent Show that Deborah and I organized and it couldn’t have gone better! We performed by lantern-light strung onto a wire above and in a half circle on the ground surrounding ‘the stage.’ It was a full moon with a cool breeze floating into “The Big Top” as we like to call our meeting shelter. All this was started by an excellent meal made by some of the other PCTs consisting of macaroni and cheese, chapattis with rice and beans, salsa, and guacamole. I wish I had the words to explain how sweet the night was. I can only say the entire room was filled with kindness, support, and joy as we all performed. We just enjoyed each others’ gifts. And to top it all off we experienced the world premiere of puppet Shakespeare as Charlie performed a Hamlet monologue! It went much better than I ever expected, especially taking into account his obvious physical limitations and mobility restrictions. So tired, what a day!
Saturday, May 5th, 2007
Bill and I MC’d the “Thank You to the Homestay Families” celebration. Went just fine as well. Seriously the most unorganized event I have ever seen, but everyone seemed pleased nonetheless. It is my friends’ Wedding Day, I really wish I was there. I am finding it hard to realize it is happening. But anyway I called to wish him a happy day and I hope it was.
Sunday, May 6th, 2007
My last day in this village. Mixed feelings. There are things I will miss here absolutely, but also glad to be going somewhere less isolated. Certainly I will miss the company; seeing my fellow PCTs everyday and my host family too. It felt really strange to pack everything again. Everything I have been experiencing has been so temporary. I didn’t want to pack again-pack up literally everything I own into 3 bags only. And I am also finding it hard to believe training for the most part is over; it was so long and yet went by so quickly. Ahhh, training village, I can never again hear Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On” without thinking of you.
Thursday, May 10th, 2007
Today I am an official Volunteer. We had our Swearing In at the US Ambassador’s Residence. It began with one of our trainers singing the Uganda National Anthem and then Erin, Angie, Deborah, and I sang the US Anthem. Our Training Manager said a few words followed by the Assistant Directors introducing us to some Ugandan Officials. Then our Director spoke about our large group and acknowledged we were missing one who is home on family emergency but will be back soon. We stood up and said the Volunteer Oath and changed our initials from PCT to PCV! The whole process felt so much like graduation day minus our parents. One of the volunteers in my group even had a dream where our parents were flown in as a surprise on this day! What a disappointment it must have been when she realized it was just a dream. After that, two guests, one from the Ministry of Education and the other from the Ministry of Health, accepted us as volunteers in their respectful offices. Finally, Brett and Rishi gave speeches of thanks on our behalf to the training staff and the administrators. Both did a wonderful job. We had a late, more than two hours late, lunch then said our goodbyes and parted our separate ways. Taken away to various places around Uganda by our new soon-to-become families. Riding home I looked intently as we drove excited for what will be my new life. I felt like I was just adopted and was being taken to my new home. Quite an unexpected feeling.
Sunday, May 13th, 2007
Happy Mother’s Day (we are so far apart, two more Mother’s Days apart, wow). I had an adventurous weekend. There is a group of eight Ohio students here for the next week and a half. I have been going on some of their field trips. Friday we went to the Kisubi Tombs where the last kings of the Buganda Tribe rest. Their spears and medals displayed. Women take turns staying in the hut for thirty days as their duty for being a member of the tribe. They attend the Kings so they won’t be alone and weave mats that visitors must kneel on to show respect and leaving shoes at the door. One King had over 100 “wives” although it seems like they were actually muliahs-but a King would never do a disrespectful thing like that! So they call them wives. Then we made a quick stop at the Uganda Museum. Saturday we visited a local fishing village so we could see the different ways to fish, mostly using nets. We walked through the market and watched men building canoes. Best of all, today we went to the village Kisasi, just outside of Kampala to see the N’dere Dance troupe perform traditional tribal dances from various areas around Uganda. I also ran into people I know! Can you imagine? It made me realize I am here, in this community. The dancers were fantastic, thick grass skirts and a lot of wiggle in the hips. Drumming, singing, stomping, and hopping. Beautiful.
First meet-up with fellow volunteers! Jacob invited me to go with him and his friends to the Entebbe Botanical gardens. Our resident botanist Jacob showed us the different varieties of banana trees, the rare cannonball tree, coffee, cocoa, cinnamon, mango, papaya, avocado, a giant tree that hung vines as thick as a thousand snakes (which we all swung on like Tarzan of course!), a giant umbrella tree, so many birds that vary in every color possible, and two kinds of monkeys- the Vervet which I have seen before and also a larger black and white one.
I fear the memories in my mind. Afraid to entertain the moments of my old life and the photographs in my head of an extravagant life. Aisles and aisles of food that I can picture exactly on the shelf where it stays in familiar Wegmans and Tops, getting in my artificially scent-filled car going anywhere I want, the comfort of knowing which street goes where, the forgiving couch in my home, the easy life of the backyard…
Two more adventures into Uganda’s community. Yesterday we went to the home of a local woman who used to be a teacher but couldn’t stand the overcrowded rooms and lack of necessary things like simple desks and chairs (which were carelessly destroyed by soldiers during the war here in the ‘80s). We helped the women as they showed us how to make a porridge powder from cassava, wine from pineapple and passion fruit, and a moisturizer lotion from avocado, petroleum jelly, and herbs.
Today we went to a large NGO called Meeting Point International. The director of this outstanding organization Rose, used to be a nurse but saw more need here outside the constraints of four walls of a hospital (if she was lucky to have walls that is). They help people live with HIV and AIDS, really live, not just survive. At the end I sat on the floor with these women and they showed me how to make paper beads which they string together and sell for their livelihood.
Slept over at ‘my sister’s’ site with a few other girls. They were all in the same training group working for PEPFAR. We had grilled cheese and salad and shared our stories of life in Uganda and our frustrations. This afternoon I met other PCVs and we saw Wildhogs at the Garden City Movie House. Poor screenplay, directing, and acting but quite entertaining nonetheless! I fear how low my standards will become in two years.
I have just finished reading “The Poisonwood Bible.” It has been a perfect book to accompany me on the beginning of my own African adventure. It is about a family with four daughters who move to the Congo in 1959 where the father, an evangelical Baptist attempts to save Africa through Jesus. The descriptions of life in Africa for this family speak true to my life right now even with it’s almost 40 years in difference. Each day beginning with the rooster’s call quite before dawn, lifting the cage of mosquito netting that surrounds my bed, slipping on the shoes that would prevent the hookworms lying on the floor just waiting to burrow into my bare feet and finally crossing the room to press the single switch of my lonely light bulb that will tell me if there is power today. The arduous task of boiling water to drink with and cook with and wash every piece of fruit and vegetable with-to which one must also add a drop of bleach to. All to save yourself from getting the numerous diseases that the locals gained immunity to as infants; that is if they were lucky enough to have lived through it. Planting gardens into mounds of dirt that resemble small coffins that exude feelings of death and life in the very same instance. But without these coffin-mounds the precious seed, which suddenly means as much now as it did when I was a small girl and every little thing was magical, would be washed away by a single fierce rain. Women, and children just barely old enough not to be carried themselves, with babies strapped to their backs at all times with nothing more than a simple piece of plain cloth. Then there are the cloths that women wear as pagnes and wrap skirts: on these cloths are the most random items and strangely paired things I truly have ever seen in my life. For example pirate treasure chests in neon colors, heating coils for water, blue hands and feet only, the Virgin Mary, razors, cell phones, and such combinations as umbrellas and shoes, corn cobs and shoes, and brooms and combs just to name a few. On a daily basis you can see a fully grown and otherwise masculine man wearing a ladies blouse or sweater.
To conclude I came across this passage: “Hunger of the body is altogether different from the shallow, daily hunger of the belly. Those who have known this kind of hunger cannot entirely love, ever again, those who have not.” I wonder...
I have found the BBC on my shortwave radio! And even though I have never regularly listened to it, it reminded me of home. Later, I had it on for background noise having already listened to it cycle through the same news clips two or three times and I felt like I was in my house doing the little things in life that keep us busy while the news on the TV was playing in the other room. Then there was a moment when I realized where I was, and my parents were not in the other room watching the news as they did. I am excited to be in touch with the world again. Or at least with what the BBC covers.