Saturday, August 28, 2010

sharpening the tool

The last days have been very helpful to me and my understanding of exactly what will be expected of me once I am sent out into Uganda on my own. I am being given crash courses in as many things as possible in as many ways as possible; it is clear that Peace Corps aims to shape me into a machine. I have learned much knowledge of location specific infectious diseases (prevalence, exposure, anti-viruses, stigma, impact, prevention), community mobilizing (mapping, needs assessment, swot analysis, seasonal calendars, daily activity sheets), language learning (3-5 hours a day, 6 days a week for 10 weeks), technical training (permaculture(permagardening, agronomy), brickmaking, clothes washing, cooking, efficiency stove making, composting)...and the training is still in it's very early stages. All of the information is kind of like, to steal a phrase from a friend, trying to drink from a fire hydrant.

It's amazing how extremely different we all are in our group of 45. We have experts of infectious disease, a nurses with over 40 years experience, a social worker for the past 30 years, a permaculturist, a nutritionist, a carpenter-turned-mason-turned-massage therapist, we have camp counselors and we have bartenders. Everyone is starting to feel comfortable enough to admit their strengths to the group and let the rest learn from them, which is awesome to not only see but to be apart of. My contribution, besides the baseball gloves, has been the implementation of Trivia Nights at our favorite watering hole. The more things change...

I've also gotten more comfortable with my host family. I taught my youngest sister to waltz tonight (thank you social dance) and worked on a beat to lay down my first single (my family has a music studio.) I'm writing the lyrics as we speak.

More practically, I've also talked with them about HIV, malaria, stigmas behind both, old wives tales of Uganda, and other generalities of a culture that could only be figured out on-site. It is critical that I have a connection with people who I can ask the stupid questions (what happens when you have to go to the bathroom, but you can't get out of the house because the door is bolted after 11?) and the awkward questions (why do you think only 3% of women in Uganda use condoms, in such a highly prevalent area of HIV) to the really important questions (When I where shorts outside, our the Ugandans going to point and laugh at my skinny muzungu legs?). I had no idea just how important this connection was until a couple of days ago.

Beyond that, I'm just really lucky because my host dad is a baller. He is one of those guys who you always wanted to talk to, because they have this quiet glint in their eye and seem to be doing things just a bittttt different than the rest. You know he'd love to sit you down and talk to you about all of the things that go on in his head, you just never get the chance...well I actually have gotten it. It's awesome to hear him talk about politics, life, the American Dream (except for Uganda), and about his aspirations both for himself and his children. He is the kind of man that as long as "a man is never old until regrets take the place of dreams," his youth will be present until his death.

Time is really starting to speed up here. At first I was furious to have to tell Ugandans that I'd only been in country a week, because it felt like 5 months...but since, the days have started to slide. Our schedules have gotten more compact, and there are now expectations of retention from several different facets of our day, be it from language class to technical training to cooking at home with the family.

You can also feel the group's dynamic changing. At first there was a strong sense that we were all clinging on a bit to each other, in a way acting as our own home away from home. We were put in a bubble in Lweza, and have slowly been trying to rip off the bandaid from 1st world life. As tools are being given to us, we find our selves wanting to play with them, wanting to branch out and learn more. We all start making excuses for going home early, because we aren't quite ready to admit to each other that we might actually just WANT to learn a bit more about to build a keyhole garden or about the LC 1's rights in the village. I find myself striding in place in preparation for the marathon of the next two years. Of course I realize its much more like me striding 100 yards for a 100 mile race...but still. It's nice to be excited about it from a new perspective, from a perspective of actual confidence in ability to give the capacity to make a change.

I am interested already in how my perspectives are changing amidst all of the change around me. It will be fun to "return to a place unchanged and find they ways in which I myself have been altered."

Send me an email at I might not respond quickly, or at all depending on internet capability, but I promise I'll read it and I'll be interested in what you're up to.

Also heard about something that might be useful; Apparently you can set up an account with them, and call with a 1800 number to Uganda for only 2 cents a minute. For those interested in keeping contact, maybe this could be a (much) cheaper way to accomplish?

Much love,
Uganda is an interesting place. The first thing I noticed after traveling for about 26 hours were the boda-bodas. I have never seen such careless disregard for ones own well-being. These motorcycle taxis could weave through a New York City traffic jam while eating a piece of toast and talking on the phone. Or maybe they couldn't, but the point is, they would absolutely try without thinking twice. Their appeal is undeniable, and it is with some relief that Peace Corps has such strict regulations against using them; there is no opportunity for my curiousity to take shape.

The second thing is how interested the people are in you. There hasn't been a single person in the country who wasn't intrigued by me. A man with even a stitch of less confidence that he isn't being a complete idiot during every part of his day would be in trouble. I find myself sub-consciously checking to see if there is something in my teeth, a "kick me" sign on my back, or a cowlick in my hair. No, it turns out I'm just the village Muzungu (whitey), and this is how it works. There is no insult intended; I could imagine seeing the first white person in their lifetime could bring about quite a lot of shock. With that said, I can't say it hasn't begun to wear on my nerves a bit.

The third is just how nice everyone is; not just to you, but in general. Everyone is on "uganda time" (take whatever time you are on currently, then throw it out the window. You are now on Uganda time.) and everyone has no trouble walking you across town towards the nearest pub. "it is not a problem" they say, with the look of "hey, kid, what else have I got to do? Let's just have a chat on the way and we'll call it square". It's the kind of place where where noone actually has change when you buy something that costs 1,000 shillings with a 10,000 shilling bill; luckily, it's also the place where the cashier can get change from the native behind you with a non-spoken agreement that they would pay them back. It's a place where when you go to a restaurant and ask for a drink, if they don't have it they will go around the back, go to the store neighboring their own, buy it and charge you 500 shillings more.

The fourth thing you notice, after you've been around for awhile, is that everyone might JUST be talking about you after all. You start keying in on their local language dialect; not only do you hear the word Muzungu from all of the village children (these kids scream it at you, and you have no question that they are talking to you), but also more sneakily from the adults. They will hide the word amidst a variety of quickly spoken, as-of-now completely nonsensical words to me, and you wonder if they just considered asking you to marry their daughter...or deciding if they felt like slashing your bag and taking whatever falls.

Another thing I immediately started questioning was the definition of development. You start considering all of the things that we have in the US that simply can't be afforded in 95% of the homes in Uganda, and of course at first it seems sad. But if I had to point out one thing that really bothered me after 6 days of living with a family in Uganda, it would be easy. It's the TV and DVD player that sits proudly next to the dining room table, playing philipino soap operas that are dubbed in english and then dubbed over top in Luganda. Everything else is quite nice.
With regard to my family, I have never seen such discipline. The 4,5, and 9 year old children get up at 645 on a Sunday so that they can cook breakfast. After breakfast they are quickly off to washing clothes, where the mother and father have conveniently forgotten to take out a few shillings in their pockets. Then they are eating, laughing, and playing until it is time to start cooking for dinner alongside getting ready for church. Lunch is on the stove before they all leave, and is ready when they get back to be served. The clothes are now dry and need to be brought in, and there are now a stack of dishes from breakfast and lunch that need to be washed in the traditional 3 pot standard.

The kids in my home are creative as hell. My mom will be proud to hear that I gave them a deck of the "house of cards," the same ones that I used to play with as a child and get bored with after 30 minutes, and it looked like they had been given the moon. For the next 4 days, the kitchen table was given the responsibility of displaying trains, bi-planes, skyscrapers, the Rwenzori Mountain Range...and several other engineering feats. I've heard of recruiting Africans for basketball, but if you ask me there should really be some Odyssey of the Mind scouts in the backyard checking these kids out.

0788033477 is my number, i think. text or call anytime.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Life here in Uganda is pretty unbelievable. Currently I'm staying in a village called Kisimbiri in the district of Wakiso. I live around 4 kilometers away from my training center, where we go everyday from 8-5 to learn language, community interaction training, and capacity building expertise. I am staying with the Kanakulya family, consisting of a mother, Agnes, father, Michael, and 5 siblings: Samuel(19), John(15), Faith(9), Emmanuel(5), ???(4). Still working on the name of that last one.

I have started to learn Ateso as my language. This puts me in the Eastern Uganda region, apparently home to some of the more isolated villages in the country. I'm very excited about the prospect of moving here. I have been told that my language group is being sponsored by PEPFAR, and I will be interested to see in what capacity I will be working alongside this fund.

In the meantime, life is pretty standard here in Kisimbiri. I take a bucket shower every evening, take tea three times a day, and have learned the finer points of using the Ugandan latrine. I have gotten a bit ill and recovered from it, and I've already managed to split my head open and get it mended (long story). Anyway, I already feel myself starting to call Kisimbiri home. After 5 days in town, I am very happy with this progression.

Although this might not be a surprise to anybody here, the internet here is very shotty. I am writing this in "notepad" in hopes that I will be able to hook up my computer to the internet cafe and copy and paste this into my blog. This will (hopefully) prevent me writing large amounts and having the computers shut down or lose power just as I am about to send (which has happened twice already.)

We were issued bikes on Wednesday. I was pretty pumped to receive mine, given that it takes me 45 minutes to walk to class...after receiving the bikes, however, I have to admit that I didn't realize how spoiled I was from my bike at home. My pedals are made of plastic, and they have broken twice already. The bike is a 6 speed, but only changes into two gears. It's also brand new, so I'm confused. Anyway, it sure does look pretty...

Anyway, here I am! Today is a learning day for me, and I am hoping that at the end of it I will be well versed in the ways of cleaning, washing clothes, and (kind of) cooking some meals. I was also able to snag some information on well digging and a how to book on fuel efficient ovens while I was in Kampala getting my stitches from my head split (long story, promise it's fine.) I know that I may never actually use the contents of the book, but they are just so interesting that I felt it could be some good post-Ateso reading material.

If anybody just Happens to be making a shipment to Uganda, here are some things I was thinking about:
-music. I had to wipe my computer's memory once i got here. Womp Womp. Anything would be great.
-shampoo. Stuff is ridiculously expensive here, and it's not exactly vidal sassoon.
-rechargeable batteries. These won't be needed needed until much later on...but they'd be nice. for now i'm using up a pile of regular batteries that I brought with me. I already have a charger.
-peanut butter.
-pens. They suck here.
-Drink Mix
-Any pictures!!! Would love to have more here.

Thing that I have used the most since being here that I questioned bringing: UGA visor. The thing is one of the few things that I brought that reminds me of...well, you know. It travels with me always; if not on my head, then attached to my backpack. I anticipate most all of the pictures taken by the rest of the group will verify this.
Thing that I have used the least since being here that I absolutely thought would be vital: sunscreen. I'm wearing pants and longsleeves, as is custom. No need.
I'm an idiot because: Didn't bring a towel, or an ipod charger (because SOMEONE lost mine in Richmond), or a power adapter.
I'm a genius because: One of only two people to bring a hammock. Use it all the time.

My beard and hair is growing out of control. A fellow trainee has made promise to tame the wild mess, but results have not been present as of yet. I will continue the struggle.

The mefloquin (sp) that I am taking for Malaria has some interesting side effects. My dreams have become increasingly vivid. Looking forward to getting some real doozies in a couple of months time.

And so until next time, take care of yourselves everybody.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wakiso, at Homestay

Here I am in Wakiso! I once again only have time to touch base; the electricity here is extremely shotty and the last time I tried to post something, I got a couple paragraphs in and it turned off completely. Ohwell.

I have started to reside with the Kanakulya family. Samuel, the eldest of 5 children, is the one who I have gotten closest with. He has shown me around Wakjso, and introduced me to his friends and his hang outs. Already I feel comfortable calling him my brother. Boddies, you have new family members!

Michael and Agnes are my father and mother, and they couldn't be more helpful with everything in helping me to become proficient as a volunteer. I am going to start helping to build some structures at home that they can use, that they can then share and help spread among their community. Many of the items are fairly simple but can greatly reduce the spread of several kinds of malaria. I am so privileged to be given such a great power and, therefore, responsibility.

That is it for now. Other things need to be done before the electricity shuts off!! Send emails and I will do my best to respond, and comments are more than welcome and certainly make me feel nice. Thanks for all the love that has already been sent my way. Good luck to all until next time!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Greetings from Uganda!!

Hey guys! Just got my first chance at heading into kampala, and thus my first chance to actually make a statement to the outside world. Life here is unbelievable. The temperature stays at a breezy 75, no humidity, rain comes and leaves in a matter of minutes, and the countryside is amaaaazing.

Was put into a Ateso language group; this means I will be living in east, not quite to Kenya. Pumped!!!!!!

Everybody here is really nice. Have a phone now, but am figuring out its number still. Will inform as I know. Get your skype ready, parents and friends!!!!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Farewell to the Hill

Today was tough. It is the last official day and night that I will spend in Chapel Hill for the next 27 months.

To Chapel Hill, UNC: To say you and I have memories would be like saying Roger Federer has a good tennis game. I have lived here for 5 years now, and each year...each month...each day I have felt myself daydreaming about how much I love this place and your unbelievable campus. I am so proud to have lived here, so proud to be a tarheel. With this pride, I absolutely feel as though there is a weight of responsibility for me to represent Chapel Hill and UNC with whatever I do with the rest of my life. It is a weight I take gladly; an honor to know that I have become part of your tradition. I will take care not to embarass you.

To Spanky's: Thank you so much for all you have done for me. You took me in my sophomore year, and put your faith in me that I would be there for you. As I moved up the ranks, I only gained respect for the jobs that you provide and the service that you provide for both employees and the customers themselves. Even though you're not the best dating setter-upper (haha), you have always given me piece of mind to pursue the things that I want to do in life. There is no job that I would have rather had.

To Crunkleton: It has always been a dream of mine to be a regular. The idea of it is so homey, so warm and comforting to have a place where, as they say, "everybody knows your name." You have provided that to me, and more. As it is an honor to be a part of UNC, so to is it an honor and a privilege to consider myself part of your greater whole. I will keep my pool skills sharp, and will look for you at the tables.

To Chi Psi: Wow. I've Hated you, and I've loved you. I've ignored you, and I've been immersed in everything that you do. I will look upon my 4 years with you, and my 2 years under your roof, as the type of years that I hope to emulate for much of my life. But maybe not too much of my life.

To Squids: How quickly you took me in and brought me into your group. Although there wasn't much time shared, it is amazing how comfortable working for you has been. Fried Chicken will never, ever be the same to me because of you.

To Uganda: I hope you know how many places, lives, and living places that I have sacrificed for you. I have found people, and I have found a woman, whom I would be so lucky to be with as long as I live; yet here I am giving myself to you for over 2 years. Are you ready for me? Am I ready for you? Do you realize the passion that I am bringing? Am I going to be able to really make this worthwhile for both of us? I can only hope that you will be close to as loving as my Chapel Hill has been to me.
You've certainly got a lot to live up to.