Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"You've Been Lost"


A word that has a multitude of meanings. According to my online dictionary, the adjective "lost" has 9 different definitions.

(1) "No longer possessed or retained"
(2) "No longer to be found"
(3) "Having gone astray or missed the way; bewildered as to place or direction"
(4) "Not used to good purpose, as opportunities, time, or labor; wasted"
(5) "Being something that someone has failed to win"
(6) "Ending in or attended with defeat"
(7) "Destroyed or ruined"
(8) "Preoccupied; rapt"
(9) "Distracted; distraught; desperate; hopeless"

What does this have to do with Peace Corps or living in Uganda? Stemming from definition #2, I am constantly told, "Apollo, where have you been? You've been lost," everytime I've returned to Kachumbala from a weekend or weeklong trip, had to stay indoors to complete work on my computer, or ventured somewhere else for the day. Perceiving the word's apparent negative connotation, it initially angered me to be repeatedly told, "You've been lost." Have I really gone astray or become preoccupied? Have I "lost" my way?

Eventually, being able to no longer contain my mixed feelings of resentment and curiousity, I asked my supervisor what it meant to be "lost." She immediately started to laugh. Ah cultural misconceptions! I was informed that being "lost" is temporarily no longer being seen, being missed, not being in a place for a certain period of time. Does it mean that I have "lost" my way? No. Is it intended as an insult? No. It simply is a polite way of saying, "I have not seen you in a while."

Now, when I'm told, "You've been lost," I just laugh and acknowledge my "lost" presence. I am leaving Kachumbala on Friday to celebrate Easter at another volunteer's site, to promote World Malaria Day, and subsequently to Kampala for a few days. Upon my return to site, I am fully prepared to hear the 3 words I've grown so accustomed to. "You've been lost."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Powerless No More!

"Power → Powerless → Power"

As a result of last month's hail storm, which consequently knocked down poles, trees, and buildings, the power in Kachumbala has been off for the past month. Until Tuesday. Umeme, the electrical company in the eastern region of Uganda, was responsible for coming to Kachumbala to assess the level of damage, ordering the needed supplies from Kampala, and fixing the power outage. I fully understand that this process should have taken a few days, maybe even 1-2 weeks. But a whole month to fix one poll? What happens when the power goes out? Food spoils. Mosquitoes bite. Cooking, cleaning, and washing become more difficult with limited access to a light source at night. Purifying/boiling water becomes more challenging. Internet use - my computer has a 4 hour battery life in one charge - becomes infrequent.

The good of living without power for a month? I've become more grateful for the reliable power I enjoy back in the States. I don't have to watch my 2-10 baseball team underachieve. I've really enjoyed reading books lately (I finished reading "Waiter Rant" and "First Comes Love, Then Comes Malaria"; I'm now reading "There is No Me Without You"). I've had more time to reprioritize and reflect. As always, just like all situations I've faced living in Uganda, the good come with the bad.

"Peace Corps' Visit"

Shiphrah (Peace Corps Uganda's Community Health Program Manager) and Laura (a 3rd-year PCV) visited the sites of several Community Health volunteers in my training group this week. They came to Kachumbala on Wednesday. First and foremost, it was strange not being the only mzungu in town, if only for 3 hours. It's hard to really put the feeling into words, but when you are living as a foreigner in another country, you can't help but get a little boost of excitement when you see another mzungu. I'm starting to understand what it may feel like for groups of individuals who immigrate to the United States in search of a better life. Anyway, not only was it great seeing familiar faces to show them around Kachumbala and to put a face to my stories and words, but also it was nice to have a sounding board to whom I could discuss my projects and achievements and vent about my frustrations and challenges, and get some in-country perspective from people who were visiting Kachumbala and my organization for the first time.

"An Unexpected Joy"

I can unequivocally claim that my most unexpected joy 8 months in-country has been speaking the Ateso language. One of the best things about living in a village setting is that I'm forced to give up my natural inclination to speak English, and instead try conversing in the local language. I can't tell you how beneficial it's been learning, practicing, and speaking Ateso on a daily basis to the people in my community. It has bridged the cultural gap considerably. I'm often asked how long I've been living in Uganda, to which yesterday I replied, "About 8 months," to which the woman replied, "Wow, you are picking up the language fast." I don't think it's a matter of how well or not I speak the language, but rather that I'm just trying to speak the language at all. Traveling to Mbale once a week, where Luganda is more widely spoken, I still sometimes mix up my Luganda with my Ateso, but I've become better as separating the two. Onward to becoming fluent in Ateso in the next 1 1/2 years!

"The Arrival of Books"

A few months ago, I applied for textbooks and workbooks from the U.S.-based organization, Darien. Applying for these books (20 pound weight limit) was not connected with my "Libraries for Life" project (see link below), but just to provide some teaching resources to teachers to enhance their quality of teaching and the quality of student learning at the secondary school. Well, the books arrived in Mbale on Friday! Because the term just ended - the Ugandan school system runs on trimesters - and school doesn't restart for a month, I won't be delivering the books to the school for several weeks. But I'm excited to see how the books are utilized by the teachers in the coming months.

On a sidenote, if you are interested and find yourself in position to donate to the "Libraries for Life - Peace Corps Uganda 2011" project, continued by several PCV's this year to build school libraries in their respective communities, please visit the link:, and click on the project link under the subheading "Uganda." Thank you in advance for any sum of money you are able to contribute to the project's cause!

Friday, April 8, 2011

You've Been Challenged

Initially created by a PCV serving in Mongolia, the Peace Corps Challenge challenges one to live as a Peace Corps volunteer would. The purpose of the project is to give those living stateside/in the western world a taste of what life is like in the Peace Corps in developing countries. In no way is it indicative of any one PCV's experience; the project merely challenges the participant to experience a different way of living for a week, and to live outside of one's comfort zone. I've included the rules for the Challenge adapted by PCV's in Kenya below, as it most logically mirrors the realities of living in Uganda. I encourage you to take on the Challenge, and report back to me your thoughts. Enjoy!

The Challenge: Kenyan Rules

For one week, you are asked to give up some of the everyday conveniences that we PCV's and our communities do without. The levels are arranged from more common to less common living conditions of PCV's in Kenya while also taking into account the difficulty of completing the challenge in the U.S. So while none of us here have a car, it ranks quite high in the challenge as it is much more difficult to do without one in the States. Kenya is known for its beautiful safaris in which you can spot the “The Big Five” animals, for which we’ve named our levels (they are in order of rareness in the Masai Mara).

First, decide which month you want to participate. The first week of the month you choose (the 1st-7th) will be when you need to forgo certain items.

Next, look through the list below and decide which one of the five levels of difficulty you want to take on, and which items you will abstain from (although your items may come from multiple difficulty levels, you are only trying to complete one level...the most difficult you think you can manage).

Finally, let us know that you’ve taken up the challenge by completing the Accept the Challenge section of the general “Live Like a PCV” at Live Like A PCV.

Lion: Difficulty Level I
(choose two)

- Forgo the use of the microwave.
- No checks, no debit cards, or no credit cards all week. Cash only.
- No washing machine or dish washers - plus you must attempt laundry by hand once.
- Cook dinner by candlelight.
- Keep a journal or write a handwritten letter to a friend about your experiences this week.

Buffalo: Difficulty Level II
(choose two, plus one item from Level I)

- No television - you can, however, listen to the radio and read local newspapers.
- Baths or showers are allowed only every other day - you can wash yourself at the sink with a cloth as much as you want.
- No fast food- or restaurant-eating - this includes no coffee joints, bars, and delivery services.
- Internet use only every other day - you can use the internet for your job, but you're on the honor system here.
- Start and finish a book this week.
- Buy your fruits and vegetables for the week locally.
- Wild Animals! You can't leave your yard between 7:30 PM and 6:30 AM unless you're accompanied by 3 or more people.

Elephant: Difficulty Level III
(choose two, plus one item from Level II or two items from Level I)

- You can use your toilet but you must manually fill the tank or do a bucket flush (turn off the water to the toilet.)
- Lack of temperature control - no heater or air conditioner in your house/car.
- Greet everyone you know with a handshake and genuine questions about their family, home, and health.
- You can only use one burner on your stove (no oven).
- Ration your water to only 10 gallons a day for cooking, drinking, bathing, and washing clothes.
- Teach someone the 4 ways that HIV is transmitted.

Leopard: Difficulty Level IV
(choose two, plus one item from Level III, or two items from Level II, or three items from Level I)

- Reduced living space - you may only use your living room, bathroom, and kitchen.
- Bathe only once this week - you may wash yourself with a cloth at the sink everyday.
- No driving - you can use public transport, a bicycle, or simply walk.
- Internet only once this week - again, you can use it for your work only.
- Power outage - throw a 6-sided dice everyday to determine how many hours you will be without power between the hours of 5:00pm -11:00pm (turn off your power breakers).

Rhino: Difficulty Level V
(choose one item from each Level)

- No running water in your house - you must fetch it from somewhere else (e.g. a neighbor’s house).
- No English for the entire week - you can speak English only at work.
- No toilet use in your house - you must go somewhere else or improvise.
- No refrigerator use.
- Spend the whole weekend in one room of your house - using no electricity, you are allowed 3 books and 1 full battery life of your computer (no recharging).

Questions for Reflection:
* How did you find the Challenge? Difficult or easier than you anticipated?
* What surprised you about most about participating in the Challenge?
* What did the Challenge teach you about how people in developing countries live?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Quote for Thought

Quoted from a volunteer's account of her Peace Corps experience in Ecuador, as well as her experience living in northern (Arua) Uganda for 3 years:

"How different it all was from the life of push-button ease and an antiseptic technology that I had left behind. It struck me then, for the first time, that life in America was the aberration. The life that played out below me - barefoot and soily, among animals, in a forced intimacy with the earth - this was how most of the people on this planet lived. With its stark existence and uncomfortable realities, this was the world that I was going to have to learn to be at home in if I wanted to survive the Peace Corps."