Saturday, December 25, 2010

Homestay Family 2.0 or Homestay Family 'not' 2.0...that is the Question..??

It is dangerous to join the Peace Corps with preconceived notions or expectations. Yet when one seemingly puts on hold his or her life for two years to serve a greater good, to abandon current luxuries and comforts in search of a greater purpose, to challenge him- or herself physically, mentally, and interpersonally, it is impossible not to start thinking ahead about the future and formulating assumptions about what one's Peace Corps experience may or may not be like.

(Before embarking on my two-year service to Uganda) I was certainly guilty of this.

One of my preconceived notions stemmed from the literature, narratives, and the first-hand accounts I read from prior Peace Corps volunteers about their experiences. Quintessentially, I imagined living in a grass-thatched house in a remote area, having to fend entirely for myself. I imagined having to 'toughen' it out. I imagined unwesternized customs in Uganda's capital city of Kampala. Most notably, I imagined living a quiet, independent lifestyle.

My "imaginations" could not have been further from the truth, hence Peace Corps's advice to come to Uganda without any preconceived notions or expectations.

Living more than two full months at site, my lack of independence and the semblance of a second homestay family (2.0) have most surprised me. Those who have read my previous blog posts know that I lived with a homestay family for my first 2 1/2 months in Uganda. I anticipated living solely on my own thereafter. I could not have been more wrong. The staff (Priests, workers, chef, friends of the organization) at Kachumbala Mission Dispensary not only eat, drink, and work together, but also live together. Instead of eating dinner by myself, for instance, I eat in a sitting room/common area with eight other people talking boisterously, watching T.V., and drinking "ajon" (local brew). Perhaps this shouldn't have come as much of a surprise, given Ugandans' familial and collectivistic tendencies.

It's as if I gained a second homestay family. What I lack in independence I gain in social and familial support. This is neither a good nor a bad thing; it's just 'different' from what I imagined four months back.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Long-Overdue Post

The title says it all.

I apologize that it has been nearly 1 1/2 months since my last blog post. Intermittent electricity, poor network coverage, among other things, have made it difficult to update my blog as much as I would like.

A lot has happened since my last post. I have officially been at site for more than 1 1/2 months. Whereas time seemed to move at a snail-like pace during training, it has seemingly flown by at site.

What have I been doing for the past 1 1/2 months? I have been meeting community leaders, officials, and residents in Kachumbala; observing and learning about the different issues that affect Kachumbala residents the most and the services that Kachumbala Mission Dispensary (my organization) provides them; brainstorming ideas for projects that I can implement once I start working in mid-January; playing soccer daily with the neighborhood kids; going to Church every Sunday; traveling to Mbale and Kampala; and celebrating the holiday season with fellow Peace Corps volunteers.

In all honesty, however, work has been slow and at times frustrating. I don't think my organization really knows what they want me to do yet. All I know is that I'll be teaching about malaria (prevention/treatment), typhoid, hygiene/health, nutrition, and english/math, and leading a number of life skills sessions. Also, I hope to volunteer at a local orphanage, school, or children's outreach organization.

There has been no progress whatsoever on my house. Father Joseph, who has been traveling in America since I've been at site and is responsible for the finances/the construction and repair of my house, is returning to Kachumbala on Wednesday. I hope that I will be able to move in before my 6-month, in-service training in mid-January.


- I have experienced many 'firsts' while in Uganda. These include:
* Sleeping under a bed net
* Dropping my phone in a 10 ft. pit latrine
* Taking Mefloquine so that I don't get malaria, thus having 'vivid dreams' as a result
* Experiencing rapid weight loss in such a short period of time
* Eating food such as jack fruit, atap (millet bread), matoke, and posho
* Drinking ajon (the local brewery in Eastern Uganda) and passion fruit juice
* Accidentally leaving my camera in an Indian restaurant, but being fortunate enough to retrieve it a month later
* Feeling that I can speak another language, besides English or Spanish, with confidence
* Being the 'guest of honor' at a Ugandan wedding
* Witnessing a Ugandan baptism
* Being referred to as 'mzungu', or white person, everyday
* Being given the tribal name 'Apollo', meaning development in Ateso
* Having to cram in a 20-person taxi intended to hold 14 people
* Living without electricity for five consecutive days
* Purifying my water so that it is safe to drink
* Listening to President Musevini campaign to thousands of people 300 ft. from my site

- I am appalled at how poorly animals, in particular dogs, are treated in Uganda. Last week, I had to tell kids to stop throwing rocks at a helpless dog. One of the kids replied, "Why? We are having fun."

- For the past week, I've been having symptoms of nausea, fatigue, and lack of appetite. Thinking that I contracted Guardia, Worms, or had food/water contamination, I went to the Peace Corps Medical Office (PCMO) in Kampala for treatment. It turns out that eating pizza, steak, and chicken in Kampala was the only real treatment I needed.

- I am still viewed by many people in my community as a funding source instead of a volunteer.

- Even though I am a continent and ocean away, I am still keeping up with my Boston sports. I was extremely pleased to see on ESPN's webpage that the Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford. For me, some things will just never change.

- Market days in Kachumbala are on Tuesday and Saturday. You can buy pretty much anything you want for cheap.

- I am celebrating Christmas in Wakiso with my homestay family. It will be great to see them all again.

With that, I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season and New Year. I am celebrating with you all in spirit.

Until next time,

Saturday, October 30, 2010


- I am constantly amazed at the number of people that can cram into a matatu (Ugandan taxi van). I've rode in a 14-seat matatu that was able to cram 20 people. If you come to Uganda and ride in a matatu, be prepared to sacrifice your comfort.

- Conversely, I am constantly unamazed by the meat sold in Uganda. If eating fat is your thing, come here. But I am unable to stomach it.

- I am debating whether or not to get a dog. Is the companionship and security that a dog provides worth all the costs and care? We shall see...

- My house will not be ready until the earliest. It is a good thing that Peace Corps training taught me how to be flexible and patient.

- I am seeing first-hand just how vital learning the local language is to community integration.

- Despite wearing long pants and bug repellant, mosquitoes are biting me. A LOT.

- I am grateful for the invention of the belt due to, in large part, all the weight that I've lost in the first 3 months.

- Being called "fat" in Uganda is actually a compliment, meaning 'good physique' or 'healthy'.

- When Ugandans ask me where I am from in America, and I tell them Northern Virginia near Washington D.C., it is assumed that I am either related to or friends with President Obama.

- Hidden Passion, a Mexican soap that airs at night on NTV, is my replacement for the American shows/sports that I am unable to watch in Uganda.

- Living in Uganda is like experiencing two separate worlds. Uganda's rural countryside has some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen, yet its cities' streets are filled with trash.

- If you are a football fan living in Uganda, you will either root for Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, or Liverpool.

- Driving (not that I would know) or riding as a passenger in Uganda are experiences in their own. There is no such thing as give-and-take. Speed limits, if any, are not really adhered to. Boda Boda (motorcycle taxis) accidents are one of the highest causes of death in Uganda behind malaria.

- I mentioned this in one of my previous posts, but it bears repeating: Ugandan women are some of the most hard-working, resourceful people I have ever met.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Last Week of Training & First Week at Site

Here is a summary of my past two weeks - last week of training and first week at site.

Friday, October 15th: We were tested on how proficiently we learned our target language over the past 8 weeks. My Final LPI (Language Proficiency Index), taped for 30 minutes, consisted of a series of questions asked in Ateso about greetings, food, market/shopping/costs, and travel to our future site visit. In order to pass, the Peace Corps requires volunteers to score an "Intermediate Low", which is what I scored, meaning that I don't have to test my language proficiency again at the three-month, in-service training in Kampala. I still plan on hiring a tutor in Ateso so that I can become fluent in the language.

Saturday, October 16th: We had our homestay thank you event at RACO, which consisted of performances (dances, songs, skits, introductions) by each of the language groups, speeches by a couple of the volunteers, and lots of food. All of the homestay families attended, including my homestay mother (Ms. Betty), sister (Joan), and brother (David). It was a great conclusion to the end of training.

Sunday, October 17th: I packed up all my stuff, thanked my homestay family for their gracious hospitality, and bid farewell. It was bitter-sweet to say goodbye not only to our families, but also to the town of Wakiso. The town and residents of Wakiso have been incredibly welcoming to the 45 'mzungus' that moved in 8 weeks ago.

Monday, October 18th-Wednesday, October 20th: Volunteers and our site supervisors/counterparts met at the Rider Hotel near Kampala for a series of workshops on community integration, the expectations/responsibilities of volunteers and supervisors/counterparts, foreseeable issues and challenges, and safety & security training. On Tuesday, we visited the U.S. embassy. A number of the embassy officials who spoke with us were not only Peace Corps alumni, but also Foreign Service Officers. Hearing them talk about their work sparked a new career interest for me. The Foreign Service exam is ostensibly the most difficult exam to pass, but still a career in international relations (e.g. working at an embassy) or global marketing and living overseas are things I see myself doing in the future.

Thursday, October 21st: Our swear-in ceremony was today! Before we were sworn in as official Peace Corps volunteers, it started to downpour. Since Ugandans believe that rain is a sign of good things to come, it can be argued that it rained at an opportune time. All 45 Peace Corps trainees who boarded a plane together from Philadelphia in August were sworn in together as volunteers. We all stuck through the 2 1/2 months of training, and are now moving on to positive, sustainable work and development in our respective communities. Here's a facebook link about our swear-in ceremony:

Friday, October 22nd: I bid farewell to my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, and traveled to site to Kachumbala.

Saturday, October 23rd: I played soccer with secondary school kids in the village. It was evident just how out of shape I am.

Sunday, October 24th: To begin integrating into the community, I attended services at the Catholic Church next to my house. Father Paul, one of my work colleagues, delivered the sermon. My language skills were immediately tested when he called me up in front of the congregation of 500 people and asked me to introduce myself in Ateso. This is the translation of what I said.

Yoga Kere! (Hello all)
Ekirori ka Bryan, kede bukosi America. (My name is Bryan, and I am from America)
Arai eong eswaman atitai kede erionget lo Peace Corps. (I am a male volunteer working for the Peace Corps organization)
Alosi eong esisianakin aila kede aijar najokan, kede amusugun kede aimar toma osomero ko Kachumbala. (I will be teaching
good health and hygiene, and english and math in schools in Kachumbala)
Eyalama awunyun. (Happy to see you)

Members of the congregation found it hysterical that a mzungu could speak their local language. Afterward, I accompanied Father Paul to the nearby village of Chodong, where I witnessed my first Ugandan wedding and baptism. Ugandan weddings are very different from American weddings. Hundreds of people (the whole village) were crowded together in a small town meeting/conference center building. It was a very joyous occasion, with villagers singing and playing local instruments throughout the ceremony. I definitely got the Ugandan, cultural experience. Pictures are on facebook.

Monday, October 25th-Tuesday, October 26th: My supervisor, Rose, introduced me to a number of government, health, and religious officials in Kuchumbala, Bukedea, Sororti, and other surrounding communities.

Closing Thoughts:

1. I have yet to move into my house because it is still being worked on. I am told that it should be ready within two weeks. In the meantime, I am living in the guesthouse at my site.

2. In addition to the food, the constant, unwanted attention has been challenging. I clearly am the spectacle, the gossip, and the center of attention in my community. I sometimes feel like I am Harry Potter. Instead of being judged for my scar, I am judged on the basis of the color of my skin. However, I am fully aware that when a 'white person' moves into a small, Ugandan village, it is as much an adjustment for the white person as it is for the residents of that village. I am hopeful that as I integrate more into the community, the stares and cultural judgments (Americans are rich) will diminish.

3. I feel very fortunate to have such a great supervisor. To say that Rose is knowledgeable, resourceful, overprotective, and on-top-of-things would be an understatement.

4. I finally got a mailbox in Mbale. My mailing address is now:

Bryan Kobick
P.O. Box 1274
Mbale, Uganda

Hopefully, I will now figure out how to mail letters back to the States from the Post Office in Mbale.

Until next time,

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Site Visit

My site visit to Kachumbala couldn't have gone any better. I met my adviser (Rose), counterpart (Peter), and two of the priests (Father Paul and Father Joseph), who all work and live at the worksite in Kachumbala. Kachumbala Mission Dispensary is an NGO founded by missionaries whose aim is to provide clinical and health services to the people of Kachumbala. While it's still unclear exactly what my role will be, I will likely be working at the health clinic (HC II) and at the primary and secondary schools in Kachumbala, teaching english, writing, and math to students.


1. My house consists of two bedrooms, a toilet, and a bathing area. It still needs some work. The ceiling needs repair, window screens need to be installed, and the house needs to be cleaned (some staff are currently living there). Ruth told me that she would have it ready for when I move in on Friday 10/22. Furthermore, I do not have a kitchen because I do not have to cook for myself. Stephen, the chef, cooks for the staff (e.g. priests). I still want to do some cooking, though, once I move to site.

2. The people of Kachumbala were really interested in who the 'mzungu' was moving into their village. My first three months at site are particularly important for me to integrate into the community, assess community needs, and become comfortable living on my own.

3. Due to the daily morning Mass (the church is next to my house), I will have the privilege of waking up to the sounds of church music every morning. This is far better than the rooster crows I hear every morning in Wakiso.

4. My site is in a fantastic location! Not only am I 20 minutes from Mbale, but also just a short distance from Kumi, Sororti, Mt. Elgon National Park, and Sipi Falls.

5. I foresee two major challenges once I move to site. One is a lack of privacy - my house is situated right next to my worksite - from which I am accustomed to in the States. Second is educating local people about the Peace Corps' grassroots, community-assets approach. For example, Ruth told me that when Ugandans see a white person, they assume that he or she will instantaneously give them things/better their livelihoods/etc. This could not be more different from Peace Corps' capacity-building, sustainable approach of utilizing community resources and empowering local community members.

6. Eastern Uganda is beautiful. Kachumbala is unique in that it not only is surrounded by mountains, but also it has a multitude of distinctive rock formations (volcanic?).

7. It is increasingly apparent how overcrowdedness in the schools and the lack of teachers significantly affect educational learning in Uganda. The primary school in Kachumbala has about 900 students with only 12 teachers, the secondary school about 700 students with only 9 teachers.

There's only 1 week left until we move out of our home-stays. It will be bitter-sweet, but it is time to move on. Let the countdown for swear-in (10/21) begin.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Drum roll, please.....

We finally received our site announcements today, what we've been working towards for 7 weeks. Here is my assignment for the next two years:

Organization Name: Kachumbala Mission Dispensary

Location: Kachumbala in the Bukedea district (eastern Uganda), about 20 minutes from Mbale

Vision: For a healthy and prosperous community

Mission: To provide clinical and other health services to the people of Kachumbala

Goals: To reduce poverty by preventing sickness, mitigating the spread of disease, and helping to treat the sick

Job Description:

1. To make weekly work plans with my counterpart
2. To reach out to 3 sub-counties of Kachumbala, Kolir, and Kidongole in the Bukedea district
3. To attend staff meetings
4. To visit organized communities and schools in the community to conduct health meetings/trainings
5. To conduct training for community health workers
6. To conduct capacity building activities for the staff

I could not be more excited about this placement. We visit our site placements next week! Since I am so close to Mbale, it appears that I will have electricity, internet, and various means of transport. I will know more after next week.

In other news, we presented our self-exploration projects to our trainers on Friday. Becca and I presented on mental health awareness and advocacy. Our project is to plan, develop, and introduce a mental health awareness week in primary and secondary schools. Mental illness is an incredibly stigmatized issue here in Uganda, so there is great need for education and awareness. The week would include sessions on stigma, labeling/diversity, bullying, resource mobilization, income generating activities, and practical knowledge about the mental health field/mental illnesses. We received praise for the project proposal; I think it's a feasible project to implement once we're at site.

Also huge thanks to my family! It took a long time, but I finally received your packages. It is great to have some semblance of home which I can share with my home-stay family and fellow PCV's.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Immersion Week & Miscellaneous

As other PCT's can attest to, it's unreal that training is more than halfway over. It seems like yesterday that 45 Americans flew 24 hours from Phili-Johannesburg-Entebbe. Now that immersion week is in our rear-view mirror, things are really starting to pick up. We are expected to begin fluently speaking our respective languages. We are also in the midst of planning and developing sustainable, self-exploration projects that will be presented to our trainers next week. We receive our official site placements next Thursday; I could end up anywhere as far southeast as Busia, as North as Gulu, or anywhere in-between (Sororti, Tororo, etc). The following week, we visit our sites to begin integrating into the community, scope out our new homes, visit our work sites, and get a feel for what our next two years will be like. These are exciting times for PCT's in Uganda!

Immersion week was everything I expected and more. It was great to finally do something practical, in the field, and away from the training site. Along with Becca, I visited Laura out west in the village of Kakabura, about an hour east of Fort Portal. Laura works at the Miryanta Orphanage Home. Not only did we meet and talk with the orphans, but within an hour of our arrival, they performed a 2-hour dance/song show for us. It earnestly was one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced. Becca and I also sat in on a staff meeting, visited a local health clinic, cooked pizza, and met up with other PCT's in Fort Portal for a pool party/clubbing. It was hands down the best week I've had here in Uganda! Pictures are on facebook.


1. As a result of Mefloquin, anti-malarial pills we have to take every week, I am starting to experience some of the medication's side-effects, for instance having 'vivid dreams' (most volunteers experience this). Coming from somebody who rarely remembers his dreams, I view Mefloquin as just something else that I have to adapt to as part of the Peace Corps experience.

2. If there's one thing that has not yet won me over in Uganda, it's the food. I have, at times, found myself craving American food. It's not that I dislike Ugandan food (except for matooke and posho), but rather that I need some variation in my diet.

3. I've been more-than-ready to move to site since week 2 of training. I think most trainees would agree with me on this.

4. I'm still trying to ascertain the best way to send mail out to the states. There is a local post office here in Wakiso, but I don't think it mails internationally. All PCT's who have mailed things out have done so from Kampala.

5. If you would like to send me something, here is a brief list of things I could use (thanks in advance!):
- AA/AAA/D batteries
- Pictures to hang up at site
- Maps (you can never have too many) to hang up at site
- Sports/news magazines
- Drink mix (lemonade, gatorade, fruit punch)
- Snack food
- Shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, bar soap

6. I have officially given up on the Red Sox chances of making the playoffs. Yes, I have been following. No, I am not distraught....yet.

More updates to come soon.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A List of Numbers

After reflecting upon my first four weeks in Uganda, I realized that I have been thinking more and more in terms of numbers. Here is a running list of my numeric experiences to date.

Number of bananas I eat per day: 3

Number of times I hear "See you, mzungu" per week: At least 40

Number of times I say "Webale" (thank you) in Lugandan: At least 30

Number of hours I sleep per night: 6

Number of days I have slept past 8:00AM: 2

Number of mornings I have awoken to the sounds of a rooster: Every morning since I have been in Uganda

Number of pounds (estimated) I have lost so far: 5

Number of miles I walk per day (to/from the training site): 4

Number of days it took me to use up all of the data on my internet modem: 1

Number of Manchester United soccer games I have watched: 2

Number of local Ugandan beers I have tasted: 3

Number of dinners I have eaten at least one starch food: Every dinner since I have been in Uganda

Number of days I play soccer per week: 3

Number of new languages in which I can understand a basic conversation: 2 (Lugandan, Ateso)

Number of times I have been to church with my host family: 1

Number of days I am grateful to be living in Uganda: Every day since I have been here

Number of seconds I have regretted joining the Peace Corps: 0

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bryan the "mzungu"

Hello from Uganda!

I apologize that it has taken me this long to post, but I haven't had any Internet connection since I've been here (except for a visit to the internet cafe). I do get electricity from my homestay, but I have not yet figured out how to go about accessing the Internet.

To say my Peace Corps experience thus far has been exceptional would be an understatement. I am having the time of my life. Language training is, at times, very stressful, but Ugandans are some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. I am currently living in the village of Kisimbiri in the town of Wakiso with my homestay family. I have a homestay mother, sister, two brothers, aunt, and a housegirl. They are awesome! They live in a house compound with their own vegetable garden and animals (goat, rooster, hen, chickens). I am grateful for everything they have provided me, and how they have seemingly welcomed me into their family.

To best understand Peace Corps training, here is generally what our daily schedule looks like:

6:30AM-8:00AM - Wakeup, bathe, eat breakfast, walk 2-3KM to the training site
8:00AM-10:00AM - Language training
10:00AM-10:30AM - Morning tea
10:30AM-12:30PM - Technical training
12:30PM-1:30PM - Lunch
1:30PM-3:30PM - Technical training
3:30PM-4:00PM - Afternoon tea
4:00PM-5:00PM - Language training
5:00PM-11:00PM - Walk back to homestay, eat dinner, play soccer with homestay brothers/sister, go to the bar, study
11:00PM - Bed

Technical training has ranged from sessions on diversity and safety/security to sessions on cultural integration and banking. I, along with six other volunteers, am learning the Ateso language, spoken in eastern Uganda. Eastern Uganda is where I will be placed to work for the next two years. We do not recieve our official site placements until late September.

1. I have gained a newfound respect for the meaning of hard work. Ugandans are some of the hardest working people I've ever met.
2. President Obama, religion, and soccer are three popular things to talk about in Uganda.
3. I have been referred to as a "mzungu" (white person) at least fifty times, but I've learned to embrace it.
4. Despite tasting and liking many new foods (ovacado, pumpkin, goat meat, black beans, cabbage), eating the same food everyday has been my biggest challenge to date.
5. I have never liked pineapple as much as I do now.
6. I have already made the time-effective decision to hire someone to help me cook/clean.
7. One thing that I do not miss is Washington D.C.'s humidity. Let the 70's/80's weather in Uganda continue...
8. Learning the Ateso language will be more challenging than I previously imagined.
9. Kampala is like no capital city I have ever been to before.
10. The 2011 Presidential Election is incredibly important to Ugandans!
11. Due to the stress of Peace Corps training, time has seemed to move at a much slower pace.
12. I plan to go to church with my host family at least once (hopefully more).
13. I feel incredibly fortunate to serve in a country with such great people and potential for growth, and to be a small part of the Peace Corps Uganda team.

Things that have surprised me:
1. The British influence is still widely prevalent in Uganda (language, British football).
2. Peace Corps volunteers are treated like heroes amongst the people of Wakiso.
3. How quickly I have adjusted to the Ugandan culture, integrated into the community, bonded with my host family, and DO NOT miss the technological comforts back home.
4. The Ateso and Lugandan languages are similar to Spanish in many respects (emphasis on certain vowels, pronunciations).
5. The mosquitoes haven't been bad...yet. Malaria is still a significant issue of concern.
6. Ugandans, at least our homestay families, watch a lot of television, primarily Mexican soap operas and the local news.
7. Ugandans have very different eating habits than Americans. Not only is it their norm to eat dinner at the earliest 8:00PM, but also they eat much larger portions of food. Members of my host family eat nearly triple what I eat.
8. I have perfected the art of bucket bathing, despite the electricity constantly going on and off in the morning.

Friends and family: I miss you all, and am thinking of all of you!

Monday, August 9, 2010


Day 1: Staging is complete!

There are 45 volunteers in the Peace Corps Uganda group. We have an incredibly diverse group of volunteers coming from all walks of life. I have never met a group of people more enthusiastic and passionate about global volunteerism and service. Staging entailed outlining the Peace Corps mission and expectations, our anxieties and aspirations, and what we should expect in our first week of service.

It's both intimidating and exciting that my Peace Corps experience is finally coming to fruition, finally a reality. It's been a long time coming since I filled out my Peace Corps application in September 2009.

We leave our hotel in Philly at 2:30AM Tuesday morning. As such, I do not plan on sleeping tonight; hopefully, I'll be able to get some sleep on our 15 hour flight to Johannesburg.

Family and friends: I'd like to again thank you all for your support ane encouragement. I wouldn't be here without you.

Until next time...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Letter to Families

July 14, 2010

Dear Families,

Greetings from the Uganda Desk in Washington, D.C. It is with great pleasure that we welcome your family member to Peace Corps. During the past year we have received many requests from Volunteers and family members alike regarding travel plans, sending money, relaying messages and mail, etc. As we are unable to involve ourselves in the personal arrangements of Volunteers, we would like to offer you advice and assistance in advance by providing specific examples of situations and how we suggest they be handled.

Irregular Communication:

The mail service in Uganda is not as efficient as the U.S. Postal Service. Thus, it is important to be patient. It can take three to four weeks for mail coming from Uganda to arrive in the United States via the Ugandan postal system. From a Volunteer's post, mail might take 1-2 months to reach the United States. Sometimes mail is hand carried to the States by a traveler and then mailed through the US postal system. This leg of the trip can take another several weeks, as it is also dependent on the frequency of travelers to the U.S.

We suggest that in your first letters, you ask your Volunteer family member to give an estimate of how long it takes for him/her to receive your letters and then try to establish a predictable pattern of how often you will write to each other. Also, try numbering your letters so that the Volunteer knows if he/she has missed one. Postcards should be sent in envelopes--otherwise they may be found on the wall of the local post office!

Volunteers often enjoy telling their "war" stories when they write home. Letters might describe recent illnesses, lack of good food, isolation, etc. While the subject matter is good reading material, it is often misinterpreted on the home front. Please do not assume that if your family member has been ill that he or she has been unattended. Peace Corps has three Medical Officers on staff in Uganda. Through regular contact, they monitor the health of the Volunteers. In the event of a serious illness, the Volunteer comes to Kampala and is cared for by our medical staff. If the Volunteer requires medical care that is not available in Uganda, he/she will be medically evacuated to Kenya, South Africa or the United States, depending on the medical care required. Fortunately, these are rare circumstances and our Medical Officers are superb!

If, for some reason, your communication pattern is broken and you do not hear from your family member for three months, you should contact the Office of Special Services (OSS) at Peace Corps Washington at 1-800-424-8580, extension 1470. OSS will then contact the Peace Corps Director and ask her/him to check up on the Volunteer. Also, in the case of an emergency at home (death in the family, sudden illness, etc.), please do not hesitate to call OSS immediately so that the Volunteer will be informed as soon as possible.

Email Access and Telephone Calls:

E-mail access is very limited in some areas and sometimes non existent. Volunteers may have email access as little as one a month, or even once every two months.

The telephone system in Uganda is relatively good. Service to the United States is somewhat reliable, phones exist in larger towns, and Volunteers can often plan to be at a phone on a certain date to receive calls from home. This usually works, but there are also innumerable factors that can make the best-laid plans fall apart. Once your Volunteer is in-country, he or she can update you on telephone availability and provide you with his or her specific contact information and logistics.

The Uganda Desk calls the Peace Corps office in Kampala once every two weeks. However, these calls are reserved for business only and we cannot relay personal messages over the phone. All communication between family members and the Volunteer must be done via international mail, or via communication arranged between PCV and family via personal phones, e-mail and the like.

Sending mail during Pre Service Training (PST):

Your name, Peace Corps Trainee
P.O. Box 29348
Kampala, Uganda

Mail after PST should be sent to each individual Volunteer’s PO Box at his or her assigned site, which he or she should communicate to you after settling in to his or her assigned site.

Sending packages:

Both parents and Volunteers like to send and receive care packages through the mail. Unfortunately, sending packages can be a frustrating experience for all involved due to the possible theft and heavy customs taxes. You may want to try to send inexpensive items through the mail, but there is no guarantee that these items will arrive. We do not recommend, however, that costly items be sent through the mail. Once a Volunteer has sworn in and has been placed at their site, they should forward you their mailing address at their new site. Please do not continue to send packages/mail to the above address after Pre-service Training.

We recommend that packages be sent in padded envelopes if possible, as boxes tend to be taxed more frequently. Sending airplane tickets and/or cash is not recommended.

Several services such as DHL, FedEx, UPS do operate in Uganda, but can be very expensive. Certain airlines will allow you to buy a pre-paid ticket in the States; they will telex their Nairobi office to have the ticket ready. Unfortunately, this system is not always reliable. Several European carriers fly to Kampala. Please call the airline of your choice for more information. You could also send tickets via mail services as mentioned previously. However, Peace Corps will assume no liability in the event of a lost/stolen airline ticket.

Trying to send cash or checks is very risky and is discouraged. If your Volunteer family member requests money from you, it is his/her responsibility to arrange for its receipt. There is Western Union service available in Kampala, although there are many charges involved in the sending and exchange of money. Bear in mind that Volunteers will be aware of people visiting the States and can request that they call the Volunteers' families when they arrive in the States should airline tickets or cash need to be sent back to Uganda.

We hope this information is helpful to you during the time your family member is serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda. We understand how frustrating communication difficulties can be when your family member is overseas. and we appreciate your using this information as a guide. Please feel free to contact us at the Uganda Desk in Washington, D.C. if you have any further questions. Our phone number is 1-800-424-8580, ext. 2324 or locally, 202-692-2324/202-692-2324.


Julie Bohn, Desk Officer, Ext. 2324

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Less than two weeks and counting...

With less than two weeks before I leave for staging (pre-departure orientation August 9) in Philly, these last couple weeks will be spent hanging with friends and family, buying last-minute essentials, preparing myself mentally, and enjoying luxuries such as home-cooked meals (my cooking doesn't come close) and a reliable internet connection.

Since I received my invitation to serve in Uganda in late-May, my life has seemingly moved at a whirl-wind pace. I left my job - residential counselor at the Bridge of Central MA - on July 15; leaving was incredibly bitter-sweet. Despite only working there for little more than a year, I formed close relationships with both the Oberlin Street clients and staff. I considered them to be my "second family" if you will.

To the Oberlin Street staff, it was a pleasure working alongside and getting to know each of you. I could not have asked for a better group of people to learn from, laugh with, speak Spanish to (Que pasa mi mija Maria), and have my lunch food scrutinized over (you know who you are).

To the Oberlin Street clients, thank you for letting me in on your lives. I will never forget your quirks, our daily conversations, and our trips driving around Worcester. You are inspirational people, and I can earnestly say that you all made a tremendous impact on my life. I give you this last piece of advice:

Whether it be your goal to earn your GED, reunite with your daughter, obtain your driver's permit, or quit smoking for good, NEVER give up on your dreams, your short-/long-term goals, and on your path toward recovery.

Here is my staging info. The following is my mailing address for the NEXT THREE MONTHS. Once I am sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer in October, my address will change. I will let you know the new address when I get it.

Bryan Kobick, PCT
P.O. Box 29348
Kampala, Uganda

Any mail is greatly appreciated. If you want to send me something, consider using a padded envelope instead of a box. The Ugandan mail system can be corrupt, so padded envelope packages are less likely to be tampered with than boxes. It also helps if you write "Air Mail" or "Par Avion" on the envelope, and address me as "Father Bryan Kobick" and draw religious symbols on the package. No, I am not converting religions. No, I do not plan to come back to the States as a priest. Packages that look religiously sacred are, again, less likely to be tampered with than boxes. Finally, please be aware that it can take anywhere from 1-3 months for mail to arrive in Uganda. So anything you send me in January may not arrive until March, and vice-versa.

Until then, less than two weeks and counting...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Inspirational Quote

Upon driving to work a few days ago, this quote was displayed on a billboard.

"No person was ever honored for what they received. Honor has been the reward for what they gave."
- Calvin Coolidge

I would think that most volunteers would not identify 'honor' as their primary motivation for joining the Peace Corps. Our motivations for applying, interviewing, and enduring the year-long, medically-intensive process vary: helping those less fortunate, personal growth, the opportunity to immerse oneself in an entirely different culture, and the opportunity to travel.

The quote, however, had me thinking about the reciprocal relationship between PCV's and in-country locals. Volunteers serve - work in education, agriculture, business, health, or community development - their respective communities, while reciprocally, conversing and learning from in-country locals provides PCV's with an enriching, cultural experience.

Just a thought.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Aspiration Statement

Peace Corps invitees are required to submit an aspiration statement describing their strategies for working effectively with host country partners, strategies for adapting to a new culture, skills and knowledge they hope to gain during pre-service training, and how Peace Corps service will influence their personal and professional aspirations. Here is mine:

A. What professional attributes do you plan to use, and what aspirations do you hope to fulfill, during your Peace Corps service?

Stemming from courses that I took in the Masters of Public Administration (MPA) program at Clark University, I plan to bring leadership, managerial, and organizational skills to the NGO I work for. Furthermore, I will bring cultural sensitivity and open-mindedness to integrate with Ugandan locals, patience and a sincere willingness to learn the country’s official and local languages, and problem solving and motivational skills to encourage locals to volunteer and learn about significant issues that affect their livelihoods.

During my Peace Corps service, I aspire to utilize the knowledge and skills that I learned in my graduate, public administration program to benefit the NGO I work for and the Ugandan community I live in. On a personal level, I hope to expand my knowledge of the Ugandan culture, gain the respect and trust of the Ugandan locals, truly make a lasting impact in the community I serve, personally grow as an individual, and ascertain if NGO/nonprofit work is the career path I wish to pursue after Peace Corps service.

B. What are your strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet their expressed needs?

Getting the opportunity to work and live with host country partners (HCP’s) and Ugandan locals was one of my primary motivations for joining the Peace Corps. In order to work effectively with host country partners to meet their expressed needs, I will begin my service with an open mind, an eager readiness, and patience to overcome cultural and linguistic differences; adjust according to the interests, values, and needs of the HCP’s; and work collaboratively with the HCP’s to provide long-term sustainability (improved development and health) to the community I serve.

C. What are your strategies for adapting to a new culture with respect to your own cultural background?

I believe that I am prepared to put aside my American culture to fully adapt to and immerse myself in the Ugandan culture. Not only is it important to begin Peace Corps service as an observer, but also to enter with cultural sensitivity and awareness. For example, adaquately learning to speak the local language, adhering to the Ugandan diet, and living according to the Ugandan lifestyle are all necessary for cultural integration and acceptance in the community, which will enable me to build relationships and gain the respect and trust of the locals. Nevertheless, I still hope to share (and commendably represent) facets of American culture with in-country locals.

D. What skills and knowledge do you hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve your future community and project?

During pre-service training, I hope to gain knowledge about nongovernmental organizations that will enable me to effectively serve my NGO and promote sustainable development in the community. For example, I would benefit from learning strategies on how to recruit volunteers, and educate locals about the importance of mitigating the spread of HIV/AIDS and maintaining proper and sanitary health standards. I also hope to gain the necessary language skills so that I can become fluent in the local language to communicate with HCP’s and in-country locals. Finally, I hope to enhance my cooking skills by learning how to prepare local dishes and cook independently on my own.

E. How do you think Peace Corps service will influence your personal and professional aspirations after your service ends?

Peace Corps service will greatly influence my personal and professional aspirations. On a professional level, it will afford me clarity of my career aspirations by helping me determine if NGO/nonprofit public service work is a suitable career path. On a personal level, it will increase my self-confidence, provide a great sense of self-fulfillment and gratification, and open my eyes to a new culture. Without question Peace Corps service will challenge me physically, mentally, socially, and my moral beliefs (egalitarianism, democratic government, support of animal rights). However, I am prepared and excited to embrace all that the Peace Corps experience has to offer.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Moving Forward

Welcome to my first official blog post! When I leave for Uganda, I will try to keep this blog as up-to-date as possible. I may not have much, if any, Internet service once I'm there. I've read journals from Returning Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) that Internet service in Uganda is severely limited. The exception is if I live and work for a NGO in Uganda's capital city of Kampala.

I unexpectedly received my official invitation from the Peace Corps last Friday. I say unexpectedly because I wasn't anticipating the invitation to be mailed to my home address in Virginia, but rather to my school address in Massachusetts. While my initial state of euphoria has worn off since last Friday, I couldn't be more stoked to serve as a NGO Development volunteer in Uganda! I don't receive my work placement until the end of the three-month training (October 20), but I think my work will entail mitigating the spread of HIV/Aids through public education and awareness, promoting proper sanitation and clean water usage, improving the health and livelihoods of the Ugandan people, and promoting income-generating, sustainable, and community development activities. Also, I've read about volunteers who have conducted secondary projects such as running soccer camps for children, introducing Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to youth, and planting gardens throughout their respective communities. I couldn't be more excited for August 9 to arrive!

Yet with my excitement comes anxiety and a number of challenges. I don't think it's hit me yet that I'm moving from a country that I've lived in all my life to a country to which I'm completely unfamiliar. Learning and adapting to the Ugandan culture, language, and livelihood will undoubtedly challenge me mentally, physically, and socially. No contact with family or friends will also be challenging. And I better learn to cook for myself Ugandan-style; I foresee no opportunity for take-out or microwavable food.

I guess, then, that the saying stands true: "Serving as a Peace Corps volunteer is the toughest job you'll ever love."