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,