Sunday, June 26, 2011

Julie and Fiery Came To Uganda

Having not seen them for almost a year, Julie and Fiery visited Uganda this past week. Their visit was unfortunately short but incredibly enjoyable.

After meeting them at Entebbe Airport and spending the night at WhiteCrest's guest lodge, we, accompanied by our driver Abby, traveled through the Equator and six subsequent hours on a scenic drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park in the southwestern region of Uganda. Before we even arrived at Mweya Safari Lodge – our lodging the next two days – we saw elephants (one that wanted to fight us!), monkeys, buffalo, and water bucks. It was an exciting entrance into the park.

Living in the village the past ten months, staying overnight at Mweya Safari Lodge felt completely unfamiliar, bathing in hot, shower water; eating quality, delicious meat; lounging poolside; and enjoying rare luxuries.

On Monday, we went on a morning game drive, spotting elephants, lions, the Ugandan crane (the country’s national bird), among other animals. That afternoon, we took a boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel, catching sightings of crocodiles, lizards, cave buffalo, hippos, and a plethora of different bird species.

We then left Queen Elizabeth National Park Tuesday morning to trek with the chimps at Kibale National Forest. On the drive to Kibale National Forest, not only did we meet Ugandan musician Aziz Azion in Fort Portal, we also ran into families of baboons and monkeys along the road. After arriving at the Chimp’s Nest, our lodging for the night, we went on an evening nature walk, spotting elephant footprints, two tree houses, and multitudes of butterflies, birds, and various types of monkeys.

The following morning, we trekked with the chimps. Chimp trekking was, hands down, one of the coolest and most memorable experiences of my life, coming within feet of these primates and observing their behaviors, mannerisms, and calls (to other chimps). Julie, Fiery, and I were fortunate enough to have our own, guided trek – we weren’t able to make the morning trek, but we were able to leave before the afternoon trek – thus, the chimps were not as fearful of our small group and spent the majority of time on the ground.

The next day, we journeyed 10 hours across country to my site in Kachumbala. I enjoyed sharing my Peace Corps life with Julie and Fiery, and putting a visual face to my words. I took them around Kachumbala, showing them the Mission, the dispensary, the primary/secondary school (we were followed by groups of primary school children pleading for us to take their picture), the trading center, and my room and bathroom; introduced them to my Ugandan friends, students, and work colleagues; climbed a large rock mound/hill – one of many leftover volcanic formations scattered around Kachumbala – directly behind the Mission; ate and drank local Ugandan food (atap/millet bread, emaido/ground nuts, ajon/local brew); and lunched with Rose in Mbale.

Overall, we had a fantastic trip, and I couldn’t have asked for anything more (well, maybe another week). It was both personally- and culturally-rewarding to have some of my muzungu family come to Uganda to meet my Teso family. I’m already counting down the days until I leave for Livingstone, Zambia to see Victoria Falls, and Kenya for animal safaris at the Masai Mara National Refuge and Amboseli National Park, both during the great, annual migration, with Mom and Dad next month.

Here are some of the pictures I took; the complete album is on facebook.

The Equator:

Queen Elizabeth National Park:

Kibale National Forest/Chimp's Nest:

Saturday, June 11, 2011


I have not once seriously considered "ETing" (early terminating) from Peace Corps Uganda.

My 9-months of service in Uganda have only reconfirmed my future desire to live and settle down in an urban environment.

I have yet to learn anything new about myself that I had not previously known.

When it’s all said and done, I believe that I will have better accomplished Peace Corps goals #2 and #3 than Peace Corps goal #1.

Strangely enough, I sometimes feel that I get along better with Ugandans (my host culture) than I do with Americans (my own culture).

I do not support my host culture’s culturally-engrained attitude that women are responsible for the majority, if not all, of the household work (cleaning, cooking, washing, taking care of the children).

It’s been unintentional, and equally impressive, how my weight has fluctuated in-country. Despite losing a ton of weight during PST (first 2 ½ months), I am happy to report that my weight has now leveled off at site to, about, 155 pounds.

I am excited to see if/how my Health Group empowers Ugandan women to start standing up for their rights, and Ugandan men to start endorsing women’s rights (perhaps redefining the division of labor).

If there’s one thing I have yet to embrace in Uganda, it’s the quality of transportation. I never will.

I believe that I will return to the States next year as a more patient, laidback individual.

I still have no idea what I truly want to do with my life. For the last two years of college, Peace Corps service was my primary and fallback options. Once my Peace Corps service concludes, however, I will have nothing to fall back on. At some point, I am going to have to make these life-important decisions. For this reason alone, returning to the States is both equally frightening and exciting.

Nearing almost a year in-country, the biggest moral dilemma I’ve been grappling with is whether or not to give. “Giving” contradicts Peace Corps’ model of empowering and mobilizing community members to generate sustainable, capacity-building development - giving perpetuates dependency on foreign aid/resources - yet when I’m living in a community in which I have so much more than everybody else, my moral conscience often gets the better of me to give back. While, as of now, I view “giving” as situational, it is one in which I will surely continue to struggle with on a daily basis.

I am excited to introduce Movie at the Mission, starting this Sunday after mass. Using Father Okurut’s projecter, a different movie (action, horror, educational/historical, comedy, romance, drama, fantasy) will be shown each week for community members to enjoy. Not only is it a fun (and hopefully educational) activity for youth and other attendees, but also it is a weekly income-generating opportunity for vendors to sell chapattis, cassava, somosas, water, and other goods to members in the community. The only hiccup I foresee is that our ability to show a movie each week is largely dependent on there being power (never a given) and the quality of the weather (certainly never a given).

I am constantly amazed at the human body’s ability to adapt to new, different, and unfamiliar situations and circumstances.

Recent events over the past few weeks have really opened my eyes to my naiveté about Ugandan culture, in particular to events that have happened at my site recently.

Technological luxuries such as the IPad, the IPhone/the ITouch/the Android, Nintendo gaming systems, air conditioning/heating systems, and big-screen televisions all seem incredibly foreign right now.

Thanks to the deliciousness of Narali’s Restaurant in Mbale, I have a newfound appreciation for Indian food.

It is mindboggling that the majority of people in my village live on less than $1 per day. It makes me feel very grateful and fortunate for what I have.

No pressure, but I truly believe that come our COS conference in July 2012, all 45 PCV’s, who boarded planes together from Philadelphia to Johannesburg and
Johannesburg to Entebbe back in August 2010, will still be around to complete our service as an entire group.

I can't even fathom what it will be like to return to the States, after a two-year absence. To put it in perspective, if I live until I'm 80, that's 1/40th of my life away from the family, friends, culture, and life I know best. That's crazy.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

For Better or For Worse

For better or for worse...a lot has happened since my last post a few days ago.

For starters, my supervisor is being "transferred," essentially fired, for reasons known or unknown to me. Because I don't have full knowledge behind the reasons for Rose's transfer, and for the sake of maintaining objectivity and confidentiality, I will not state my own beliefs behind the situation. I will say, however, that I, in addition to the majority of the staff at the Dispensary, will greatly miss the leadership, enthusiasm, and energy Rose brought to the job. Personally, I will also miss her friendship.

Graduating with her 3rd university degree in July, this transfer, at which she is refusing to go/job-searching elsewhere, is definitively better for her in the long-term. She is certainly qualified for a more challenging, higher-paying work position. Before she leaves Kachumbala, I plan to help her search for jobs online; make a CV/resume; and hone her skills in Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint. I wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.

I also had my first 2 Health group sessions this week. I could not have been more pleased with how they turned out. First and foremost, believe it or not, both sessions started on time! That's right, the attendees arrived, or were waiting for the group to start, at 10:30. This is not very common in Uganda.

About 10 patients (all women) showed up for the session on Malaria Prevention on Tuesday, and 20 patients (18 women, 2 men) participated in the session on Water Sanitation on Thursday. With the help of two nurses, one of whom translated in Ateso, both sessions generated a lot of discussion, Q&A, and follow-up questions on other topics. Today's session on Water Sanitation, for instance, provoked follow-up questions on malaria prevention (Will I get malaria if mosquitoes fly in my treated water?), personal hygiene/cleanliness (How often should I clean my jerry can? Is it safe for my 10 children to drink from the same cup), and healthy cooking/food preparation practices (Do I always need to wash my vegetables with treated water?). A number of different ways to purify water were discussed, including boiling water (for at least a minute); using a water filter, iodine tablets, or WaterGuard; and utilizing the sun using a clear, plastic bottle (placed in direct sunlight for 24 hours, not in direct sunlight for 48 hours).

One of the male attendees even invited me to his village deep in Kachumbala to give future health talks to the community. I gladly accepted.

Because Father Okurut and Father Paul are advertising the Health group to the Sunday morning mass congregations, I do anticipate more community members attending in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

For those in Uganda: Happy Martyrs' Day
For those in the U.S.: Happy Memorial Day (belated)

2 1/2 weeks in counting...until my sister and Fiery arrive in Uganda!