Tuesday, May 29, 2012

rickettsia, spitting cobras, 5 foot monitor lizards...

Yellow brick road doesn't have jack on Ngora, Uganda in these past couple of days.

Buzi and I have been traveling around a lot in anticipation for a week long rock-climbing camping trip that I've set up in July.  Basically, I talked too much about how many awesome boulders were in Ngora, and how I need to get out more and climb them...and eventually people started to take notice.  So there will be a kiwi and a couple other volunteers traveling down to see what we can find.  Given it is my backyard (literally), I would feel pretty weaksauce if I didn't at least TRY to find some good climbs before they got here.

Thus, everyday for the past week or so Buzi and I have been splitting on the trails and hitting the stones, trying to find boulders steep enough and with holds (yet not too many holds), slashing and grabbing everything in order to make some decent spots.  Given the beginning of the rainy season, and the high grass, and rocks being a haven for lizards, and it being the only real consistent shade Ngora's got...its pretty much the exact place snakes want to be. 

They say that when you are going through snake infested territory, you are never ever supposed to go 3rd in line.  The first guy wakes up the snake, the second guy pisses him off, and the third gets bit.  Well, for me, Buzi does a GREAT job of not only waking up everything with his extremely unique all-four-legs-3-feet-off-the-ground pounce on anything that moves in the grass....but also (I would assume) pissing them off.  I walk with a stick.  So far we've found 4 confirmed snakes, tons of skins, and tons of noises that were big enough to spook buzi and get me looking for another way around.  Nothing too serious; no crazy puff adders or anything like that.  Did see a really cool, albeit fairly immature, cobra.  The 3 or 4 footer was terrified of us, but didn't want to leave with at least showing off his sweet hoodie of a neck.  We were far enough away for me to smile and admire, and for buzi to bark like he actually wanted to attack it (which we all knew, he didn't), and for the snake to pretend like he wanted to eat us both.  The biggest one we found was something around 6 or 7 feet, but was preoccupied; when we found it he had 1/4 of a lizard hanging out of his venomous mouth. 

The same day we found the cobra, I was painting some signs for a project I have coming up, and buzi starts barking.  Always excited to see what he's found (seriously, he's better than a metal detector at the beach), I run over, instinctively saying "Get'm Buzi! Get'm."  Then I see what he's facing, and I can't help but laugh.  Silly dog has managed to greattttttly anger a 5-6 foot monitor lizard.  The thing was massive; so much more impressive than a 6 foot little baby snake.  Buzi was putting up a good front; good enough where I felt it prudent to pull him off and remind him that the lizard, not him, was boss here.  The lizard was just waiting for buzi to get close enough with his head so he could give him a good WHAP with his ridiculous tail.  After I pulled buzi away, the monitor lizard decided he'd had enough and scurried away.  Little suckers can really move when they want to.

Finally, I have been getting sick seemingly randomly for the past 5 or so weeks.  Each episode, I get night sweats, awful headache, joint pains, and just in general absolutely terrible feeling.  It reminded me a lot of malaria each time; enough to where I got tested each time it happened.  Each time it was negative, and each time it came quickly and left just as fast, after about 20 or so hours.  I have (I think) finally figured out what it is, though, despite nothing positive and a hole barrage of tests from KLA and the Peace Corps Medical Office---Rickettsia, or Tick Bite Fever.  Basically just some kind of infection you can get from Ticks here in Uganda, as well as many other parts of the world.  "It presents with malaria like symptoms, quick onsetting, ends abruptly, and comes back 2-3 weeks later."  PERFECT fit.  Even better, all I have to do is take some doxycycline (which you've probably heard of if you'd had a UTI, malaria, or just acne) which I already have at my site for a week, and it should be all gone.  Beauty!  Last thing I wanted was to get one of those episodes when I make it back stateside in a few weeks.

Whats That!  Coming BACK in a few weeks?  That's right!!!  If you are in the NYC, DC, or NC areas in June, let me know.  Meeting some old friends and fraternity members in NYC, coming to attend and celebrate my brother's wedding in DC (!!!), and then going all over NC to see people, eat food, and in general just enjoy life.  Would love to catch up.  Plenty of stories to tell

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dog days have begun

I have mentioned to most of you by now I think that I have adopted a dog from an (amazing, beautiful, smart) Peace Corps Volunteer.  It was, and still is the plan, to get the dog back to America to re-unite him with his mother.  For now, that plan hasn’t worked out at all—two different times we’ve prepared and gotten all the paperwork in order, only to be turned down by the airlines which would do the carrying.  It looks like, now, the next chance we’ll have to ship him home will be with another volunteer in August.  So, in essence, I am a dog owner for another couple of months.

For anyone that would listen to me back in America, ¾ of those people probably heard about my desire to have a dog when I get to my village.  I didn’t care about seeing people, doing good….it was all about getting a dog.  Getting here, however, and seeing the way dogs are treated by the country nationals…it was tough.  I worried about all the detail issues like traveling, having someone take care of him while I’m away, and having to keep him on a leash all his life.  In the end I decided not to get a dog; simply too much responsibility, to many worries, and not enough reward.

And now, here I am.  Buzi (this is his name: Buzibu, which in Luganda means “stubborn”, which in Uganda means “dumb/ignorant.”) has been living with me for the past couple of months, and will be here for a few more.  I have had trips away, been extremely busy with all kinds of different projects, and had very little free time (relatively speaking) at site.  He (and only he) is allowed in and out of my house at will; only at night do I lock him inside for us to sleep.  He takes the couch.

Everything I thought Buzi would be has come true.  He is a big responsibility; feeding him every morning/night, keeping him away from the baby pigs (not to mention the baby cats), and pulling no less than 6 ticks off of him a day are only the beginning of the list.  He’s an extremely active dog, and needs to run around at least once or twice a day in order to actually WANT to sleep when its bedtime.  One thing I did get wrong, though; the rewards of having this dog with me are far beyond any and all of the responsibilities & worries.

Buzi is loyal to a fault.  Whenever I walk out of my room, he’s ready; he’s right behind me.  Whenever I go to town, he’s ready; he’s sprinting in front of me (and beats me, even when I’m on my bike).  Whenever I need to take a nap, he’s ready; getting the couch to myself is no longer an option.  Only one time has he really really gotten angry at another person—when a young man was pretending to run at me to attack me.  The guy was kidding, and I had to beat Buzi for taking a snap---but it was also pretty cool.  

Certainly, with the loss of the crew that was in essence my group, (the group that came in 6 months before me, who now have all left) Buzi has been a godsend.  He keeps me sane, and lets me be insane for increments at a time if it’s necessary.  Once we get the big man back home, there’s really only going to be one thing on my mind:

Where’s the nearest puppy?

Rains Down in Africa

Life here in Ngora is going pretty well.  All around me there are working clamoring around, constructing one of the 6 or so projects that are going on simultaneously around the Mission.  The church is adding on an office as well as two additions of space into the main cathedral, making the google view of the church into what will be a cross.  Only yesterday we received the iron sheets (all the way from Kampala) to switch out the remaining asbestos sheets that currently reside on the the roof of the church.  On top of all of that, we are building a new, re-usable latrine (based off of the one we made at the H/C with help from Appropriate Projects), and setting up our nursery for this rainy season.

Ah!  Rainy season.  So, if you’ve been reading my blog, you know that Uganda doesn’t deal with seasons with regard to hot and cold.  Every day and most every night you could fix the temperature to within about 4 degrees Celsius.  What does change, though, is the rains.  Now that it is rainy season, we receive a shower almost every day, at nearly the same time (5:00-7:00 at night).  Temperatures, as you might imagine, can be  BIT cooler during these months…but not always.  Anyway, when the rainy season comes, so does the digging season.  The second consistent day of rain will bring out everyone AND their mother (or just their mothers) to the fields every morning for the next month or two.  It is not unlike (yet, completely different) than in University, when you have the second hot day in a row, and every single girl winds up wearing their short skirts and tank tops.  Did I mention that I miss America sometimes?

  In Uganda, a staggering amount of people live through subsistence farming; living off of the land for their food, without making a profit.  In Ngora, we’re even higher than the average.  Teso is known for its cattle, mangoes, oranges, and g-nuts (peanuts).  In my village a bit over 85% describe themselves as “peasants” who live off the land.  They make no profit, but need no shillings (at least, not for food.  Most times.)  It has been a constant struggle for me to call this a good or bad thing; there are certainly a lot of different sides to it.

Because of the shift in the rainy seasons, many people have found themselves without food for months at a time.  Apparently before I came, rains were extremely predictable.  Almost to the week, people were able to expect, plan for, and get ready for the digging to commence as the rains came in.  Now, though, for some reason or another the rains have shifted.  Sometimes they last for 4 months, other times 2.  Sometimes 6.  Sometimes ½.  When it determines if you and your family is going to eat, you can imagine the frustration.
For now, everyone’s living the good life.  Mangoes are in the plenty (you can get about 20 for the equivalent cost of 10 cents), oranges are almost as many (20 for about 40 cents), and the fields are all nicely saturated each night with good sun during the day.  For now, everyone’s confident.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Seems like my old home in the U.S. is become more like my new home.  Unfortunately, its not because Uganda is becoming less homophobic, but rather because North Carolina is becoming more.  My finger is very clearly not on the pulse of my old state; when I heard about the amendment, I was sure it would be obliterated to pieces when it came time to vote.  It is pretty embarrassing and unfortunate that so many bright people in NC that I've met over the years have just been given a not so subtle message that says "you aren't welcome here."  It isn't the belief of everyone, as I hope we all realize; still, it can't be easy.

Today I'm glad I'm living in a place where, at the very least, we are all making an effort to move in the right directions.  Step it up, NC.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Back on the horse

It is such a shame that I've been so bad about writing these past 3 and a half months; they have been fantastic.  I have learned so much, done so many things, traveled to so many places.  They have also been scary; so many volunteers have left, so many projects have gone a way I would have considered, at the time, to be "wrong."  All kinds of things have happened.  I'll try and give some highlights, which I'm hoping will serve to enlighten those of you who rely on my blogs to keep up with me, and also to encourage me to start writing more commonly.

Wow, my parents came!!!  I remember trying to convince my parents to write a blog post in for me, to describe their experience.  Quite obviously, that didn't actually happen.  Luckily, my dad ("paparazzi") has millions of words worth of pictures up on his website, http://www.flickr.com/photos/lee_boddie/sets/.

Anyway, I believe that they had a good time in Uganda.  We certainly did a lot of moving around; from Entebbe to Kayunga, Kayunga to Murchison Falls, Murchison Falls to Ngora, Ngora to Jinja, and Jinja back to KLA and Entebbe...there wasn't much room for playing around.  That being said, it was absolutely fantastic getting to see them, and extremely special to get to show them around my home, and this country I have gotten to know so well.

In March and April, people started to head out from the PC group ahead of the one I came with.  For whatever reason, it was this group with which I became attached; by the end of their service, most newer volunteers were assuming that I would be leaving as well; they didn't realize I came 6 months later.  There was such an abundance of amazing people in this group that I got along with instantly; it made it pretty tough to see them go.  Because of all the time I spent with them, it also meant the lack of time I had spent with other groups, including my own.  All of a sudden, now, I find myself without many people from which I know all that well. Anyway, this is not to say that I am doing poorly now, but moreso to appreciate the time I had with such an amazing group of people.

Also around this time, it was decided that I would be taking a dog.  It was meant to be shipped back to the states with a friend who'd be leaving in a few weeks after I received him, and so it wouldn't be a big deal.  I was pumped, because it has always been a dream to have a dog and I knew this one to be pretty awesome.  Thus, Buzi and I were bonded.  Getting him up to Ngora by way of a 14 hour travel day was not exactly the easiest or the fondest memory that I have of Uganda. 

The day before I was going to take him to Kampala to be loaded with this friend, we found out that the airlines cannot take the dog after all, because the cargo hold isn't pressurized.  Well.  Hmm.  Hey Buzi (this is his name), feel like sticking around for awhile?!?!?  Buzi has been with me since, and we've been having a hell of a time.  Midnight trail runs in the rain, rock climbing up the boulders around town, chasing pigs dogs people and cow away from the parish, it's been awesome.  Still trying to find a way to get the poor guy back to his mother; plans are changing constantly on this front.  We shall see.  For now, I'm pretty happy to have a partner in crime.

Anyway, right after I got the word that the dog was not going to be leaving, the (albeit planned) nuts weeks commenced.  I was director of a camp in Northern Uganda which aims at inspiring motivating and empowering boy-youth to be more self-reliant and more knowledgeable about things important to them personally and their country as a whole. It was incredibly rewarding, working with these 100 boys, 10 ugandan counselors, 10 american counselors, 9 staff, and 2 other directors towards this goal.  I can fairly confidently say that all 131 of us would call the camp a success.  That isn't to say it wasn't without "oh shit" moments, nor is it to say that there were only a few of them.  Many times, I was found scrambling from kitchen to dining room, kitchen to dining room; screaming at the kitchen, then smiling at the dining room, then apologizing to the kitchen (but telling them to hurry up as well), then screaming at the dining room for kids being unreasonable.  Other times I was up until 3 or 4am trying to work on the budget.  Other times I was trying to build a trebuchet, other times I was teaching a class with another PCV about astronomy to 100 kids at once (to kids who have never been taught about this before. ever.), etc. etc. etc. etc.  It was awesome.  It was a staple of my peace corps experience.  But it was also exhausting.

The day after the camp ended, I sprinted home on a 7 hour public transport trek to arrive and continue with the preparations for the OTHER huge event going on; the Centenary Jubilee Celebration which was signifying and celebrating 100 years of Catholic Faith in Teso Region.  The parish where Catholicism began in Teso was in Ngora, about 25 feet away from where I live.  We had been having meetings for about 5 months intensively to prepare for this event, and I myself was chairing two of the sub-committees.  We were hosting around 7 different bishops, over 50 sisters, well over 50 priests, over 2500 christians, and the president of Uganda himself.  Amidst all of these people, I was assigned to be given the second reading in Holy Mass.  Is it long, I ask?  They smile.  Oh, and by the way, you'll be given the Ateso (the local language here) version to read, not the English.  Hm.

Two days before the event, I finally get my hands on the reading.  It IS long.  45% of the words look more like something from mary poppins than actual ateso.  But I manage, through no small support from teachers and local leaders from around the community coming and knocking on my door, saying "alright, let me hear what you've got."  Once I went up, I think I might as well have been blindfolded; I still have dreams about some of the words which have taken on their own personalities in my mind.  ay-towEL-no-kaych, spelled etaunokec, for example, always makes me think about the 4-eyed football team manager from a rink-a-dink highschool, taking back up the supposed-to-be-white towels from the players just before the commencement of 2nd Half.  enyaraarereiokus  Brings on Jim Carey and the Grinch who stole Christmas, although I'm still not exactly sure why.  Anyway, I got through it.  People cheered, I got lots of handshakes, etc.   Mission accomplished.

I now have one more event I'm hoping to have before I leave for U.S., a foot race designed to encouraged healthy lifestyles through physical and mental preparedness.  I will describe this more as it comes.

So, those are a few things (dreadfully unworthy of all the stuff I've been doing, but still) that I've been up to lately.  What about you!?!  I want to know.  Send me an email sometime.