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.