Monday, October 25, 2010

Swearing in, First days at site

A lot has happened since I have last posted. I have finally been sworn in (!), and have moved in to my new home in Ngora, Uganda. Here I sit, amazingly at peace in what should seem like a terribly unfamiliar world. Unfamiliarity isn’t always so terrible, and at this point, it is the possibility of routine and progress towards my comfort level that gives me peace of mind. I have been released, and I’ve never been more confident about my independence than in the past couple of days.

Swearing in finally happened on 21/10/2010. After a week of getting to hang out with my group at Ridar Hotel, we were bused over to Ambassador Lanier’s house, where we enjoyed the company of RPCVs, our supervisors and counterparts, the CD, PTO, Admin XO, WHO representative, and Program Managers. Oh, the Ambassador was there too. After being sworn in as official U.S. Foreign Service volunteers, we were given some finger foods (delicious) and sent on our way to party one last night with our group. (Insert all the stories I wish I could tell here.)

The next day we woke up and headed out with our supervisors and counterparts. When I arrived, after a long day of traveling, I was almost immediately given a seat in the middle of a circle of chairs. An hour later, when the chairs were filled, I found myself staring into the eyes of some of the most important people in my district. The Local Chairmen, the chairmen of the church committees, the school headmasters, the parish elders, the grandmothers, and the “in charge” (the person…in charge…of the health center in which I will work) were all ready, looking very smart in their Sunday best. I was sweaty, smelly, and wearing a t-shirt. Sweet first impressions, Matt.

I am absolutely amazed at the abilities and work that the people in the meeting were doing. They all were shining examples of the kind of potential any driven man/woman has in a country like Uganda. It was humbling, without a doubt, but it also gave me a strong sense of pride for the kind of community that I have been asked to join. After we started the meeting (which in Teso means, after we’ve started drinking the local brew, Ajon), and I had a couple of beers in me, I felt comfortable enough to stand up and give thanks and goals in the local language. Although I hadn’t been given prior knowledge of the meeting, I felt like I portrayed my intentions fairly well. Speaking even a few words in the local language is without a doubt the most powerful weapon anyone can have in this region. I’ve used it like a skeleton key for pretty much every door I’ve needed to open, so far; hopefully they will give me a few months before they change the locks.

I almost forgot about my house! The people in the community were really encouraged by my visit, and after I left they put in some SERIOUS work into my home. There is now a beautiful A-frame roof, and they have begun with fervor on the bathroom (I’m not holding my breath for it, but they say I might have running water.) Next will be the plastering of the walls, and then it’ll basically be done! Sooooooo excited about it. It looks amazing already, and it’s a place I’d be proud of in any country, 1st or 3rd. More, it’s a home.

My community has not only given me a house, but also a new name. From here on out, I will be referred to as Opolot Matthew. To be honest, I’m not sure it translates very well. From what I can tell, I have been given a great honor with this name, and it’s even the same name as the most respected man in the village, the LC I. There is definitely “friend” and “helping hand” and “volunteer” intermingled in its meaning…I think. Everybody gives me quite a lot of respect when I introduce myself with this name, which is reassuring.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My home (sans roof), and the church about 20 feet away from it

LPI, Farewell to Kisimbiri, Uganda

Intermediate Low is the level of standardized language skills that I had to achieve in order to avoid a mandatory tutor, extra training days, and a retest in 3 months. I was one of the few to actually go above and beyond this and receive a intermediate mid. Want it! (sorry for being gaudy about this, but I worked hard. Deal with it.)

Everything is coming to an end in Kisimbiri. In similar style of one of my first posts, I suppose I should say Farewell:

To the Kanakulya family: Thank you so much for your warm hospitality. The 9 weeks of training was made possible largely because of your great cooking and willingness to let me study. I am sure that my going to bed at 9pm every night wasn't exactly what you were expecting, but I appreciate your flexibility. Take care of the kabwa for me!

To Choice Gardens (the local bar in Kisimbiri): Re-felt your pool table. Get some new cues.

To Wakiso Gardens (" "): See my comment to Choice Gardens

To Kisimbiri: Thank you for your seemingly endless supply of children shouting muzungu at every chance. Their rousing, rhythmic chants of "Seee youuu, Seee youuuu, See youuu Muzungu" have been permanently engraved into the back of my memory banks. You have taught me many important things, one of which is the holy grail of street snacks: the Rolex. This godly design of fried bread and scrambled egg could, and did, solve pretty much every problem that ever did arise in your great town. I hope that my morning, mid-day, and evening street dances were enough of a payment for the knowledge of said rolex.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Taking off the Band-aid

After over 2 months in country, my group and I are now less than a week away from swearing in, and exactly a week from heading to our own respective sites where we are expected to remain for 2 years. Peace Corps has weened us more and more off of it's motherly touch and deemed, finally, that we are worthy of fending for ourselves.

Yesterday and today we are all taking our final LPI's, which are the language tests that determine if we are at a level of proficiency acceptable to the standards of Peace Corps. If we are found wanting, we will be assigned tutors for our first three months, and will be given the LPI again afterwards. For some, this is reason enough to stay up all night and cram every possible scenario in before their interview. For others, that find the idea of a tutor an assurance of less loneliness and more sense of duty in the first three months, the LPI is something that is merely another piece of the long strand of events that we've had in training.

I myself took the exam yesterday, and feel fairly (jinx) confident that I have reached "intermediate low" standards, which is what I need to get by without mandatory tutor. I'll find out on Monday how I actually did, with everybody else. Regardless, the LPI is for me the last step of real responsibility before we get sworn in. It feels great to know that the next week I'll be staying in a (for Uganda) fancy hotel and living stress free with no looming examinations to worry about.

Another cool development; it seems that I have been signed up to be a part of a sponsored Peace Corps Uganda outdoor team in a white water rafting race on the Nile. Winner (which, btw, PC is defending champion) wins a free round trip to Nairobi. Loser gets a free ride on the Nile. Sounds like a hell of a way to spend a Saturday, and an extremely fitting way to spend the first weekend away from training.

By the way...the lady-pup that I was so dramatically writing about in my last post is doing just fine. Her mother has taken her back, and her wounds have healed at a rate that would impress wolverine, if you ask me. Sorry for making you cry, Meagan.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wake up call

Hard to see the way they treat animals in this country, most of all dogs. From a country where most people greet their canine friends before they greet their wives, Uganda is a tough place to stomach for it's complete indifference towards a dog in need of attention. I came home to my homestay family brothers playing with a 3 week old, lady pup. She was bleeding on her entire, 5 inch left side of her stomach, and was unable to step more than 3 paces without falling over. When I picked her up, her stomach was orange; not from dirt, or dried blood as I first guessed, but rather from the pure mass of dead and still moving fleas that totally encapsulated her skin. When I began to clean her, she simply lay in my hands, ready to admit defeat towards what must seem like a worthless world to even attempt to live in. I cleaned out the initial layer of fleas to find 4 small pen size holes in her left side, filled in with swarms of maggots in each orifice. 2 hours later, after digging out the maggots with my fingernails and washing away most of the fleas, I was able to find the mother of the dog and reconnect them.

The hardest part about all of this was the incredulous nature that my homestay family had with me even trying to help the animal. They sat and laughed while I stressed out about it's well being, running inside to grab antibiotic, salt, and iodine to clean the wounds that would have soon ended the animals life. It's not a question of personality, or of their inability to feel pain; simply a realization that this is not a place that has time to worry about the things we do in America.

Did I tell the family why I was upset? yes. Did we talk about it, and did they understand and did I possibly change their outlook on it the next time it might happen? Perhaps. I think I just have to learn, though, that I'm not in Kansas anymore.

10 days till I go home. (to Ngora). Can't. Wait.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Site Visit

After a 7 hour bus ride, plus an initial two hours of waiting for the bus to actually get off, and including an unexpected bus change (I saw the driver holding a part to the bus in his hand...) in Mbale, I stepped off into Kumi Town. After receiving a ride (no, PC, it was NOT a boda-boda ride), 30 minutes time placed me in Ngora district, near their "shops." These refer to about 4 dukas, or open buildings that can be used for either modest housing or extremely limited markets. Traveling about 3/4 of a mile...which at this point it feels much more comfortable to say 1km...up a dirt road, I had reached my site.

I'm in a Catholic Diocese, affectionately called "the mission" to everyone in town. It is known to be the main site of the parish, and thus these two names are also quite often synonomous with each other. I rolled up to a nun sitting on the veranda of the Fathers living quarters, drinking ajon (local brew beer) from a 4.5 foot straw and a plastic pitcher beneath her. After she escorted me inside and went "back to the straw" as they call it, I sat in the dark (the light had gone off in town) waiting for the Father to come out. Before he did, the cutest. baby. you've. ever. seen. walked into the room, silently. She came over to me, put up her hands...and before i knew it, and without her even making a sound besides a slight groan when i greeted her in Ateso, she was asleep in my lap. Never had such a good welcome.

Eventually, the lights would come back on, shedding light on both my surroundings and my situation and responsibility for the next 2 years of my life. The HCII (the lowest level of actual possible facilities in Uganda) in the diocese is in need of some serious work...almost as much as the house that is supposed to be my home. I'll get to that later. The health center is run by a staff of 8, and the Father told me that the majority of the 33,000 people in the district, catholic or not, consider it their only source of healthcare. There are also 3 schools within a stones throw of the church, from primary to high (5-20). The convent is just behind the church, which is just beside the father's quarters. My "house," is about 20 steps behind where the Father sleeps.

So my house. It's 3 rooms, not including a small bathroom area where water is (apparently) going to be put in for a shower and running toilet. I have used probably 2 running toilets in Uganda, up to this point, as a point of reference. The rooms are all quite small, big enough for a bed in one, a desk in another, and a stove and possible guest hammock/bed in the other. The main problem with the house is pretty evident when you first look at it: there is no roof. As in, when it rains...yeah, my floor is what stops it's fall. No problem, they say. A couple of weeks, the ensure. I'm guessing about 6-8 months.

I'm staying in the guest room, located inside of the Father's house, until that time comes. Oddly enough, in large part because of how welcoming and honest Father Robert is, this doesn't actually make me to apprehensive to the whole idea. I have a nice, single room, with a double bed, my own bathroom. More than that, I have a home. Even though it's not my own house, yet, when I walked in, part of my stress and weight of being in Uganda was most definitely lifted. I could live there; I can exist and find success and sustain myself in that amount of space without much more than minor inconveniences in the day. An incredible feeling, to be honest, to be assured that there is a home for you to make your nest in. After 10 weeks of living out of a bag, with the constant reminder of the percentage of people who quit before swearing in, then the even higher percentage after the first 3's nice to finally feel like things are being put in their place. And yeah, fine, it's nice to know that i'll be able to drink at my site. The Father keeps a fridge stocked full of Bell, and the ajon is something i've already grown quite accustomed to, even in the first two days.

Walking into the church on friday, for morning mass, there wasn't a single eye that wasn't on me. For many of these people, it's the first time they've ever even seen white skin. At the end of mass, with a previous warning the night before, the Father called me up to the front to say a few words. Haha never will I ever be a rock star, and never will I be able to get up in front of thousands of people and amaze them with a skill that will keep them entertained for hours...but for the 5 minutes that I was speaking in front of the 300 people or so inside the church, that's exactly who I was. Every five words that I would speak in Ateso, they felt compelled to stop me, beat on their drums, and scream at the top of their lungs in excitement. It was pretty sweet, and I'm not going to pretend that I didn't like it, a lot.

My group and I have become extremely close, as the end draws on our community atmosphere inside the country. In a matter of days, we will all be 1-15 hours away, and I didn't expect to be so nervous about it. It's not so much that I will feel lonely, but more just that I want to somehow find the time to make sure that I stay connected with all of the amazing people that I've come to know so well, in so little time. Within the larger group, there is definitely a smaller group of friends that I've connected with more, and I'm excited that I am so confident that we will remain in touch.

So. C/o Matthew Boddie, (Father Robert Ecog), St. Anthony's Catholic Diocese P.O Box 50 Ngora District, Uganda. Packages are welcomeeeeeeeeee. Always report there to be less than 25 dollars of value, and don't be afraid to emphasize the religious nature of the destination on the package to reduce a person's temptation to steal. "air mail" in all different languages also helps.

Thanks to all those that have responded to me in emails. I haven't emailed all of you back yet, and I promise that I'll get on that...but don't stop sending emails! It's really nice to have rememberences of home everytime I get on the internet.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Just got placed yesterday. I am in Ngora district, and I'm paired with a Catholic Diocese HC II. It's a huge shock to me, and I have no idea yet what it is actually going to entail; there are still many questions. This entire process is starting to remind me more and more of Lost; each little tidbit of information that we are given, each morsel of knowledge that is dropped on us, the more I feel like I don't know. Right now, my PC experience is about the end of Season 2-beginning of Season 3, because I'm starting to wonder if there is ever a point where I'll stop asking questions. Hopefully, hopefully, I don't feel like I do right now (I'm in the middle of the last season) with lost when I'm COSing (close of service). Or maybe I should just hope that I could be as enamored with Peace Corps as I have been at times with Lost, and let all else figure itself out.

More later; I have to get back to home so that I can help my kids with their hammock.