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Tuesday, December 27, 2011


It’s always interesting when religion is the topic of conversation with Ugandans. I never had any doubt that Uganda was a very religious country with deep roots in many different religions. I always respect those who have a religious calling, who feel they have been “saved” and know they are speaking “the truth”. I would never make the argument that someone is wrong in their faith, I feel that is quite insensitive. Everyone needs something to believe in, even if it is a belief that religion is only a product of society, used as a means to control people. I, perhaps naively, expect the same respect in return.

This is generally the case here in Uganda. Sometimes I don’t disclose my specific religious preference; rather I say I have a very personal faith which I practice alone. I often disclose, quite truthfully, that I believe faith is a very personal thing and does not need to be flaunted. These statements sometimes are met with curiosity, but most of the time I get a nod of approval and am left alone, for the most part.

When I moved to my site, I encountered a similar scenario. A staff member asked me to participate in the Seventh Day Adventist church services on the nursing school campus (which occur six days a week at 8:00 am and 8:00 pm). Initially I gave my standard reply and was met with the same nod of approval. Now, as you have read, I have recently been asked to speak regularly at the church services. At first I was very hesitant, but now I see it as a door to potentially create groups within the nursing school for things I am interested in, such as a meditation group, a peer-mentor group, etc. After putting a great deal of thought into it, I decided to concede to the pastor’s request and agreed to speak once a week to the students.

Before the students broke off for the winter holidays, I agreed to give my second “sermon” (which you all know about, and it went quite well). Before this sermon, I had a conversation with one of the staff members about why the nursing school made it a requirement for students to attend church services daily (it should be known that in Uganda, individuals often practice one of a number of different sects of Christianity, along with Islam and Hinduism, though Hinduism seems to be the minority). The staff member suggested it was a way to control the students and keep them in line (okay, he didn’t say it in these exact terms, he actually said something along the lines of practicing religion and being religious helps the student maintain good behavior and keeps them well balanced). I suggested maybe it would lead them to be closed off to different ideas of faith. The staff member rebutted with the fact that students slept through lectures which were required when it rained. I didn’t understand what this had to do with requiring attendance at church services, but I suggested this would happen either way, as it often does in the U.S. The staff member then rebutted with the idea that students in the U.S. have no discipline and can end up being wild (again, I am exaggerating, he said there was a lack of self-control in youth in the U.S., but that’s not so far off from my analysis, right?). The conversation pretty much ended there as another staff member somehow interrupted the “debate”, asking for help looking for a microphone. I didn’t get to really finish the conversation, but I thought it was interesting. I’d like to hear more of the staff member’s views on religion and how it affects the individual’s behavior.

On a completely different note, I hope everyone had a very happy holiday season. I hope Christmas was nice and full of family and I hope New Year’s proves to bring a renewed vigor! I spent some time with other volunteers from my training group and it was interesting to see the dynamic of the group after not being together for a couple months. It was interesting to see how everyone would come together and what we would talk about, which always seems to center around gossip. This is somehow understandable though, seeing as everyone will want to know what has been going on with people they may not have seen or talked to in quite a while. The holidays have proved to be pretty relaxing, which was nice compared to the high activity level of Thanksgiving. While it would have been nice to do something big, it was also really nice to be able to relax and just catch up with friends I haven’t seen in some time.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Dark Star Safari

I often find myself wishing money wasn’t as big of a necessity as it is in life. Issues of money seem to ruin everything, relationships, projects, plans, and essentially the fun in life.

You’re probably thinking, Aditi, what is wrong? Why such pessimistic reflections so soon into your service?

Well, two experiences of late have really shown me the integral part money plays in the lives of EVERYONE. The first is more personal so I won’t bore you with the details; let’s just say fun can get very expensive, even in “developing” countries. The second is more serious in nature. I recently went on an outreach/community service “mission” with a group from my nursing school (side note: I do enjoy the change in possession, as I have come to call the nursing school at which I work “my nursing school”). We went to a hospital near Kyotera/Kalisizo (about 30 to 40 minutes away from my town). Upon arrival, we prayed and distributed goods to the patients in the different wards. The items distributed included clothing items, soap, bread, bananas, and accessories (and by accessories I mean purses for women). I really enjoyed the outreach/community service because it engaged the students to do more for others. I also found it nice after having a conversation with one of the staff members, who indicated lack of preference when it came to doing community service (when I say “lack of preference”, I mean to say that the staff member has indicated the students and the school does not give preference to any hospital with any specific religious affiliation over others, the school helps all that they can). I thought this was nice, especially after all the looks of confusion at my lack of attendance at church services. While at the hospital, I realized this kind of work is really necessary because the patients more often than not bring their own supplies to the hospital (including blankets, water jugs, razors, soap, food, etc…). Even with the government assistance of the hospital, or complete funding at the district level, it seems that the hospitals do not have enough money to provide some basic services to their patients. I have even read articles about hospitals which require their patients to pay for electricity should they require medical services which need electricity (such as some surgeries). It is very eye-opening to see the stark difference between medical care provided to us, PCVs, and that provided to host-country nationals. The difference is parallel to the difference between the private health care centers and the public ones. After experiencing this level of sadness and having a renewed need to do more outreach and work to help these patients, I spoke with another staff member about doing outreach more often. I ran into another wall, as I was told we needed money to buy the food, soap, and other essential supplies (we were also at the whim of those who donate the clothes and accessory items). This was somewhat disheartening, though it makes perfect sense. While I’m a huge believer in teaching people to fish, not just feed them, I do not believe giving donations is a bad thing. I hope to engage the community in donating more over the next two years in order to be able to do more outreach. I also hope that future outreach endeavors include some educational component (maybe not at the hospital per say, but at other outreach events). After all, it’s all about sustainability, right?

On a more positive note, I am happy to report things are improving at the nursing school in terms of my interaction with other staff members. I think participating in the outreach really helped on both ends, allowing the staff members to see that I wanted to participate and allowing me to see what exactly “outreach/community service” entailed. After the outreach initiative, I spent most of the remainder of the night talking with the staff members who had remained behind about the outreach and how it went. The next day it seemed that they now considered me as a friend, as they greeted me in the morning, we talked about different things and I was invited to a football match later that day. After the football match, I spent some time with the pastor and other staff members, and the pastor even prepared supper for me that night! I feel like I’m making some read headway, putting not only my foot in the door but allowing these staff members to really become friends of mine. While these all probably sound petty and miniscule, I believe it is small steps like these that make all the difference in the world.

Mpolampola nja kukola njawalo mu Rakai. *Trivia: if someone can translate what I wrong in Luganda to English, I will send you a postcard!*

This evening I have been asked to give another “sermon”. I am going to read Peter 3:8-11:
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.”

Following this, I thought I’d speak about what I thought these words mean, especially now, during the holidays:
“During the holiday season, it is important to honor these words. Christmas is a time for giving, loving, and showing kindness to all. You must all take this time away from your studies as a time for good and seek peace. Do not forget about your commitment to serve. As health workers, your duty is to help others and during your time away, this commitment may often get lost. I pray you do not lose yourself in the superficial nature of the holidays, where often we find ourselves wanting more than we are giving. I also pray the New Year brings a new quest to forgive those that have wronged you and show them the kindness that all deserve. Allow your enemies to become your friends this New Year, let us start 2012 with love and kindness and let go of the hurt we may have felt. May peace be with you during the holidays and through the New Year.”

I hope the students get something out of it…


Friday, December 16, 2011


Let’s start this off with a laugh.

While laying down, just awaking from a nap (because that is the most productive thing I have done today, okay…lie, I have read over 100 pages but that isn’t as fun and interesting as saying napping is the only productive thing I do at site) I hear a knock at my (what can only be termed as) back door. At first I thought it was one of my supervisor’s sisters who stopped by yesterday asking for help with an application to a college in the U.S. However, that was not the case today. Today, the knock was a student in the Red Cross Link group (what they call their student Red Cross club here) at my nursing school. I was pleased to see her after working closely with her during the Red Cross Youth Camp and not having seen her since. Also present, to my surprise, was one of the administrators from the Rakai Branch office who was also present at the Youth Camp. Apparently the two have an issue that needs sorting out.


I have just barely been awake for 10 minutes when this comes to me and suddenly I feel like I have some kind of clout here. Of course, within two seconds I realize I have no decision capabilities whatsoever, but I digress. Anyhow, wrapping my head around the fact that they’ve come to me, a mzungu, for assistance in this matter took me off guard for a second or two.


The issue seems to be that the officer has asked my student to accompany him to the regional Red Cross Youth Meeting in Mukono, which is easily 5 hours away. This meeting is supposed to last two days. Now, initially, I think this is a great idea. The students here can get some ideas on activities to do as well as meet other students from other branches. Win – win, right? Well, after realizing that I have no decision making capabilities here I turn to my supervisor (and by turn I mean I call him right then and there because of course he is nowhere to be found, again). He goes on a mini-rant about the lack of communication from the branch manager as well as the lack of trust he now has in the student events they put on. The end result is that he does not want the student to go to this meeting. This is what I tell the two at my door, who then stand in silence (apparently pondering what to be done now, though it seemed slightly obvious that nothing would be happening to improve the situation), for a good 10 minutes outside my door. Finally I apologize to the two for not being able to do anything more and suggest to the administrative officer present that his branch manager should do a better job of communicating these things to either me or my supervisor (preferably both of us, since the communication between me and my supervisor often breaks down). The two leave, discussing something further which I don’t really hear because they are walking away and I am in the process of closing the door. Hopefully this situation leads to some kind of improvement in the communication style between the branch office and the Link group here (at the very least, maybe they’ll give us a week’s head’s up on things).

I have to admit, however, I am glad it isn’t just me who is frustrated with the communication (or lack of) between the higher-ups and the rest of the individuals involved (in any event, meeting, etc…). At first I was beginning to think it was just me, or just my mzungu nature. Negative, it’s frustrating for everyone.

More drama at the nursing school:
After a two and a half hour staff meeting, I have come to realize a few things:
1.EVERYONE at my nursing school is frustrated with the lack of communication, organization, and physical presence of my supervisor.
2.It seems as though the nursing staff doesn’t provide a sense of autonomy to the students.
3.There isn’t a solid evaluation system for the students to evaluate the tutors and the course material.
4.Dormitories are huge fire hazards.
5.Students who have failed (here they call it referring) cannot accept this and thus are in denial and proceed as if they have passed.
6.The staff members initially participate in the meeting just as much as students participate in class.
7.Apparently I have many foreign concepts of teaching which I MUST teach to the staff members.
8.We need to spend more time in the community.
9.Taking a semester of leave is termed a “dead semester” here.
10.I will never, ever, in the next two years, get out of praying (to Jesus that is).

In the words of one great Stephen Cormier, HERE WE GO!


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Loving Frank

So yesterday I was requested to give a brief speech to the 7th Day Adventist Church on the nursing school campus. The pastor is a staff member and friend (and by friend I mean I see him everyday), so I thought it wouldn't do any harm to give in to his request. He asked me to read a passage from the Bible and then give some advice to the nursing students.

Freeze. I'm a Hindu. In Uganda, we are termed muhindi. That seems to mean that they realize that we, Indians, have different religions (including Christianity).

Resume. So they've asked a muhindi to give a speech to a non-Hindu Church...yeah. So I read the only Bible verse I really know and like: Corinthians 13:4-8. For the pleasure of my non-Christian readers, I have included it below:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away."

So I tried to tie this to my "advice" to the nursing students, so I basically said that this idea of love doesn't simply apply to the relationship between men and women, but also between all human beings. To the nursing students, working in healthcare, it is important to be patient, show compassion and understanding. Also, between the students, it is important to support one another and not get wrapped up in the competition of education. It's like the Beatles said, all you need is love. Love can be a solution to problems, health or otherwise.

Apparently the students really liked what I said because they wanted me to speak again today. I told them I couldn't but that I would be happy to give another "sermon" next week. Now, I just have to find myself another Bible passage that I can talk about.

I was thinking about something about Family, since it's close to Christmas...any ideas?


Thursday, December 8, 2011


Organization can be a frustrating concept when working in Uganda, or any foreign country for that matter. The concept of organization often differs from person to person and from group to group. During the Red Cross Youth Camp, organization seemed to be an afterthought. At the nursing school, at least superficially, there seems to be a westernized concept of organization, with schedules being made and time tables being printed. However, this is only a superficial act. Upon further analysis, it has come to my attention that all the work done to create this sense of organization is futile, as things change, often within 10 minutes of action. Even then, those changes often do not hold true.

Case in point:
Last night, at approximately 9:00 pm, I was told I would be doing a lecture, of my choice, today at 11:00 am. I discussed my lack of preparedness and explained I could only lecture on community mobilization, which luckily I had prepared on a whim out of partial boredom and interest in the subject. I was told this was fine and that I should be ready to lecture at 11:00 am. Awesome…great…yes, I was nervous, but the prospect of actually doing some potentially substantial work was overpowering my nerves.

Fast forward to 9:20 am this morning:
I received a call from my supervisor regarding the previously mentioned teaching endeavor asking if I was ready at the moment to teach. I said no, I had to print some things, so he asked if I would be ready at 9:30 am. I explained that I would not because I was prepared to teach at 11:00 am. There wasn’t much further communication as we exchanged “Okays” (mine more out of confusion than confirmation of a set plan). After hanging up, I frantically went to the computer lab and printed my notes (almost in tears out of frustration and lack of preparedness). I met my supervisor in his office, where he was meeting with two individuals (he asked me to come in regardless and sit and wait, while people came in and out of the office, lasting about 20 minutes). Finally he took me back to the computer lab to make sure that my computer was compatible with the projector, only to tell me that I would be lecturing later because there was someone else lecturing at the moment. As of 10:36 am I still have not been given any further instructions as to when I will be lecturing…

Cue frustration.

Fast forward to after lecture:
Well, I finally gave my lecture at 12:15 pm. Funny how things work out in the end. When I was finally able to “set up” (and by set up, I mean plug in my computer into the projector whose projection on the wall was barely visible due to the sunshine) I felt that maybe I would be able to turn the day around. I tried to be as engaging as I could, asking questions, trying to capture the attention of my audience. It seemed, however, that all the students wanted to do was sit and stare. I have no idea if the students got anything out of my lecture. I tried asking them questions throughout the lecture, gave examples they could relate to, but the faces never changed. There was always a stoic, almost bored expression on all the faces. None of the students took notes, only one gave me any sort of feedback unless I asked if “we were together”, then and only then would the whole class erupt in a united “yes”. At the end, I asked if there were questions (of course, there were none) and closed up shop. A couple of student clapped, some thanked me, and others just remained in their seats, quiet. I didn’t know if I was supposed to wait for them to leave first, so I just packed up my things and started packing up the projector. Finally, one student came to my side and we talked about my future lectures (though after this one I’m not sure if I even want to bother giving any more). She seemed genuinely interested in what I would “teach” next and she also helped me take the projector to the computer lab.

Maybe I engaged one mind after all…


Monday, December 5, 2011

Sense & Sensibility

Another bat was spotted in my house this morning. It was hiding behind one of my basins. I was washing the huge pile of clothes that accumulated during my trip to Jinja. At first I didn’t notice it crawling across the back portion of my house but as soon as I did I ran into my bedroom and shut the door. There is a small opening on the metal door that can be opened without having to open the whole door, so I opened it and peered at the bat as it made its way to my back door. There is a gap between the ground and the door so I figured the bat would use its brain and crawl out to freedom. Unfortunately, I have more common sense than a bat (I suppose this is really a good thing) because the bat simple sat in the gap and stayed there for more than an hour. I thought if I threw something at the creature, it would try to leave through the previously mentioned gap, so I took some moth balls I had handy and hit it a few times. This only seemed to make the bat more curious about me because every time I tried to scare it, the bat seemed to move closer inside the house rather than outside the house. Lucky for me, I have two entrances to my house so I shut and locked the door to my bedroom on one side and used the other entrance to get out and try and track someone down to get the creature out. Of course this is the week when all the staff is preparing for new students to come to the school, so everyone seemed to be busy. I tried for what felt like an eternity to find someone, only being met with giggles and laughs. Finally I tracked down Moses, who I knew would at least help me, even if he would probably laugh at me. I was right, he did laugh, but at least he helped. He used a newspaper and actually picked the thing up and took it outside. At first I thought he was going to kill it, but he said if I wanted it dead I had to kill it myself. Seriously? I told him if he didn’t kill it, the stupid bat would just keep coming back. As a compromise, he decided to take it “far away” which I can only imagine is just a few feet further than he was going to toss it.

I’m wondering if this means the unit needs to be sprayed for bats again. I was told that it had to be repeated every few months. I’m not really sure if I’m allowed to request the spraying to be done or not. If so, I hope I don’t have to pay for it myself. That seems like it would be kind of expensive, although it would be worth it to not be surprised by unwelcomed visitors.

The only silver lining I can think of is that it wasn’t a snake. Thank goodness for that.

This Friday marked the beginning of the Red Cross Youth Camp. I thought I’d offer my help for any sessions that I may be useful for, so Aaron’s supervisor took me up on my offer. I co-led yoga sessions in the morning (6 am…the horror) and did an HIV/AIDS session. The sessions weren’t really mapped out so it turned into a “do what you want with it” type situation. This wasn’t exactly appealing to me because I haven’t really done any educational sessions on HIV/AIDS before, so I wasn’t sure where to start. I tried to come up with something interesting, so I thought I’d start the session off with a discussion of things that are well known but may need reinforcing in youth today.

The topics discussed were:
What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
What are the different ways to transmit HIV?
What are some ways to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission?
What is a discordant couple?
What are some stigmas related to HIV+ test results?

Then I thought I’d split the group up into five smaller groups to perform different role play scenarios:
Group 1: Discordant couples discussing possibilities of having a child
Group 2: Convincing partner to get tested
Group 3: Convincing partner to wait to have sex
Group 4: Convincing partner to use a condom
Group 5: Receiving news that a friend is HIV+

So after going through the Camp, I think it went really well. The attendees somehow were interested and seemed to gain something out of it. Hopefully they retained some skills they can use during any outreach they do as Red Cross Volunteers. I know with the Student Link group at my nursing school, I will try to incorporate these unique and creative ideas in our outreach, when we start doing outreach. There was also a heap of positive feedback from the attendees as well as the other administrators of the camp. Hopefully this means I can actually do this whole HIV/AIDS education and sensitization thing after all.

The trip back was a mess. Griffin and I left early to stop in Masaka to run some errands. After running around for a while, we trekked for what seemed like hours to get a taxi. We were waiting at one gas station, which used to have taxis to Kyotera, only to find out they no longer board there. While waiting, a random Ugandan child came out of a car and sat on Griffin’s lap. We finally got into Kyotera (Griffin’s hell of a town) and hung out there for a while, where Griffin was gracious enough to share her awesome gifts from home with me (including Skittles, granola bars, and Skippy PB). I left around 3 and walked what felt like miles and miles in the heat to find a taxi to Rakai. When I finally did, we didn’t leave Kyotera until 4:30. Upon finally arriving in Rakai, I had to walk up my mountain. When I finally got to my home away from home, I realized I had no water in my jerry can. I unpacked and filled up my water, then took a bath, completely exhausted. Some staff members noticed and commented on it, and I responded that I was very tired from the weekend. Next thing I know, my neighbor comes to my place and gives me a whole tray of eggs. Seriously. That stuff isn’t cheap; each egg is 300 USH a piece. A whole tray is 30 eggs, THAT'S A LOT! I was so happy…sometimes people really can surprise you.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

the girl who stopped swimming

I honestly don't even know how to begin to describe the Thanksgiving weekend I had.

It started with an absolutely ridiculous (in a great way) dinner which contained:
-vegetarian stuffing
-steamed veggies (with some amazing spices)
-mashed potatoes
-home made ice cream
-apple pie

This is all the things I ate, of course there was the usual carnivorous food present. The apple pie and homemade ice cream tasted like liberty. Seriously. I felt like I was back at home (even though at home I don't really celebrate Thanksgiving traditionally).

Anyhow, the dinner was much more than I ever anticipated it to be. I have to say the company made the dinner exponentially better. We had some non-PCV friends come join in the festivities (one of the goals of PC is to share the culture of the U.S. to the Ugandans). The dinner ended well, with laughter and amazing friends.

Friday was mostly a free day. We went into town and I bought way too much junk. Ok, it wasn't completely junk but I did spend a lot of money and I probably didn't NEED everything I bought. Oh well, too late now.

That night we did the sunset cruise on Lake Victoria (a.k.a. the booze cruise). I didn't really plan on drinking that much because I knew we'd be rafting the next day (starting at 8 am). However, Uganda had a different plan for me. Apparently, the plan was to get Aditi completely drunk. I had four drinks on the cruise, two rounds of flip cup were played, plus another few at the bar at the hostel we're staying at. Meanwhile, other people are also getting drunk (almost everyone, in fact) and I seemed to be given the task of taking care of people (ok, it was more like I took that role on myself, so it's really just my fault). Anyhow, a lot of unnecessary drama occurred, leaving a pretty bad taste in my mouth. Don't worry, details will be spared, they aren't important in the grand scheme of things. The next morning, after waking up multiple times in the night for various reasons (all of which involved running to the restroom) I somehow was able to pack my things are get myself ready to raft the Nile.

We got ourselves together and went to the first location where all the rafters meet up. After trying really hard to keep down the tea they gave me, I was finally able to get a rolex in without ralphing. When we got to the location of the start of the rafting trip I was somehow intimidated by the guides, they had the most amazing physique I've ever seen in the male gender. Seriously. Imagine the perfect guy and this is the actual existence of that image. I'm not even exaggerating.

Once we got into the water, it was all business. We did some safety things where we learned how to paddle, what to do when the raft flips, etc. Then, we started out mission. The first drop was 6 meters which was AWESOME. We didn't flip, yet. There was a raft that went after us that got stuck on the drop and their guide had to get out and push them off the drop. It was pretty hilarious. The next few meters were uneventful until we got to the first grade 5 rapids (please note: the highest grade of rapids is 6). Our guide pretty much guaranteed we would flip which sounded very exciting, in theory. In actual practice is is the closest I've been to death since climbing Machu Pichu and getting lost doing a side hike which was not supposed to be that difficult but led to me almost sliding off the side of a mountain because it started raining. The raft flipped, pinning me under the water for what can only be described as eternity. I came up to the surface gasping for air and frantically waving my arms for help. A kayaker (who was one of the guides who was there to help in just these occasions) came and saved my life. Seriously. My life. I hung on to the kayak for dear life (imagine a baby hanging from someone's arm with his or her arms and legs wrapped around said arm). He took me to a small raft with a single guide on it where I nearly passed out. I was passed on to yet another raft, this one normal sized with a bunch of Chinese people and Dorothy (a fellow PCV). Everyone's face looked panicked and everyone kept asking me if I was okay. The guide took off my life-vest and my helmet and Dorothy turned to me and said there was some blood coming from my nose. Blood. In the chaos of the raft flipping over, something hit my square in the nose. Awesome. Luckily, according to the guide, my nose did not break. It took a few minutes for the bleeding to stop, but it finally did but my face still hurt for a long time after. I was finally transferred to my original raft and we proceeded down the river. The next few rapids were not as eventful, no more flipping until the last set. Of course, it would be an almost complete repeat of the first experience, except I was pinned under the water and could not get out for almost a whole minute. I had to somehow push the raft off of me while breathing in water. Yeah. Talk about near-death. After being saved, yet again, I proceeded to float down the Nile for a little while until a raft picked me up to pull into shore. Those were the most chaotic moments during the ride. The most breathtaking were the easy floats down the nice and the nice lazy swims. It was amazing and truly inspiring to be floating down the Nile.

Yeah, I survived rafting the Nile.

So now I can say I've swam and rafted the Nile as well as gotten completely drunk on a boat cruising Lake Victoria.

Oh yeah, I also peed in the Nile, how many people can say that?


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Madame Bovary

There are many things volunteers have to get used to upon getting to site (or even simply arriving in-country). Lifestyle changes, dietary changes, among other things, cause a great deal of stress to many PCVs. In Uganda, there is something unique every volunteer has to get used to. Ugandan time.

Now, this isn’t your standard minority standard time. No, my friends. This is something completely different, way beyond any standard form of tardiness ever experienced by yours truly.

*Explanation of minority standard time: for those who don’t know, minority standard time (also known as Indian standard time) is the tendency for minorities (of any ethnicity) to be at least thirty minutes late to any function, appointment, or meeting. If you are having a dinner party and want to start at 7pm, you need to put 6:30 on the invitation. Seriously, it’s a legitimate phenomenon.*

Now, Ugandan time is when a Ugandan is AT LEAST three hours late to an event, appointment, or meeting. It seems that the thought process goes something along the lines of “the more important I think I am, the more I am going to make you wait”.

Case in point: The Buganda King has decided to make an appearance in Rakai District and have lunch at the Rakai Community School of Nursing (yup, my site). The schedule, as indicated by staff members at the school, suggested the king would arrive in time for lunch. In order to advice my colleagues when they should arrive, I tried to get a specific time of day. I was told at 1pm the program would begin, so of course I told my colleagues to come before 1pm. Little did I know, the rain (for lack of anyone or anything else to blame) would cause the king to be indefinitely late. I am writing this at 20 minutes to 8pm and there is still no word or sign of the king. I have heard some rumbles of excitement and music playing; however there has been no confirmed sighting of the king as yet.

Epic fail, king, epic fail.

And if you’re wondering, no, I have not eaten LUNCH yet. Lucky for me, I have some snacks (including corn nuts, trail mix, and Oreos which have all been consumed).

So what time did the king finally show up, you may be wondering?

The king finally arrived at 12pm THE NEXT DAY. Yeah. I wasn’t there to receive him; I ended up going to town to join in the festivities there. He apparently came into town too, but I never got to really see him. Oh well, my loss. I heard if I met him I’d have to get my bow on, full on bow, flat to the floor. Yeah, I’m not really into that. The festivities were fun and it was nice to have Dorothy come visit us in Rakai. Hopefully next time she’ll make the trek up my mountain.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Guinness Book of World Records 2011

Now, the title of my blog would have all my readers thinking I set some sort of world record here in Uganda. Sorry to disappoint, no world records have been shattered recently. However, a personal record has been achieved.

I would like to preface my story by briefly describing my physique. For those of you who know me, you know I am a small person. I like to say I am 5’4” but in reality, I am a mere 5’2”. My weight fluctuates somewhere between 110 and 115 pounds. I have no upper body strength whatsoever. You can ask my fellow volunteers who came on tech immersion with me; I couldn’t carry a full jerry can a short distance without nearly dying. Of course, this made for a great joke to all Ugandans (and some of my fellow volunteers). In order to rectify this, I have been doing push-ups every night. I am now up to 48 push-ups a night (yeah, I know, awesome, right?).

Keeping all the above information in mind, I would like to say that I, Aditi Desai, have successfully carried a FULL jerry can of water from my rain tank to my house (granted, this is a mere 10 feet or less, but keep in mind it is a fairly steep slope which makes it all the more epic). I had previously been asking one of the groundskeepers or staff members to help me carry my jerry can, or simply filled it halfway and carried it up. However, today I can say that I have come one step closer to integrating into this Ugandan lifestyle. No longer do I need to ask for help when carrying my jerry can.

This is one small step for me, one giant leap for my water accessibility (yeah, yeah, I know it’s not that funny, but hey, I was trying to go with the flow).

In celebration of this epic win, I decided to try and make the no-bake peanut butter cookies from the Peace Corps Uganda cookbook. All the happiness I felt from my prior achievement was washed down the drain. Sadly, even though I followed the directions completely, the cookies did not turn out, at least they didn’t turn out like cookies. They didn’t harden, although the instructions don’t really give a time frame for how long it would take the cookies to harden. I let them cool for a long time, enough that when I touched them they were cold, not just cool. However, they never solidified into cookie form. I’m not sure where I went wrong, I boiled the first mixture of ingredients for exactly 3 minutes, I even timed it on my phone. I took the mixture off the heat, as per the instructions, and mixed in the last ingredients. Somehow, I did something wrong. I even tried to heat the completed mixture again, just in case I wasn’t supposed to take the whole thing off heat (even though the instructions said to) and it only served to burn the mixture a little. In the end, it tasted good but it’s not really a batch of cookies. I scooped the mush into a Tupperware container. Maybe it will harden in the container and I will have one giant cookie (dare to dream).

I decided to finish my strawberry cream Oreos in anticipation. The peanut butter and chocolate cream Oreos are much better, however (just in case anyone cares).

While cleaning up, I pour some of the water outside (as per usual here in Uganda). Later, when I went outside to pour some more water out, I noticed an abundance of ants. They formed a giant mound (of ants, not like a normal ant hill made of sand) where I had poured my first basin of water. Apparently the sugar from the “baking” attracted a massive amount of ants. I tried pouring the water I used to wash my dishes on them to potentially kill them (or at least move them away via the current of the poured water) but they keep coming back. They haven’t crossed the line into my house yet, so hopefully they stay where the water was.

My supervisor came back to site after almost two weeks without neither seeing nor talking to him. We had an information conversation about what I would be doing when the students returned (on November 29th, right after my big trip to Jinja to go rafting on the Nile). Get ready for job description number three. Now my supervisor wants me to organize with the student Red Cross group to assist in the outreach and projects they do. This means I will be working closely with the Rakai Red Cross officer, where Aaron is working at. This also means I will be going to Jinja to visit the Jinja Nursing School and meet with their student Red Cross group to exchange project and outreach ideas. My supervisor also wants me to assist in teaching the socio-psychology and community health courses and another staff member wants me to help teach computers (more specifically, Excel and PowerPoint). During the first week of December I will be working with the Rakai Red Cross office helping with a youth camp they are organizing. Things are getting a little more interesting.

And guess who upgraded their netbook to Windows 7 Ultimate….for FREE!


Monday, November 14, 2011

Shanghai Girls

I have discovered using the Peace Corps Uganda Cookbook recipes can be an adventure. Now, I have been cooking since I got to site, not too much, but simple things. I've discovered Top Up sauce is good as a base for pasta sauce. I've been eating rice with some Indian spice mixes. These dinner menus have all gone down without a hitch.

However, when I decided it was time for me to open the cookbook, which by now has gathered dust, I was not prepared for the adventure I was about to embark on.

I went shopping on Sunday to gather essentials for my cooking adventure. I planned on making the granola and the no-bake peanut butter cookies since they looked like the easiest things to make. Today I decided to take a stab at the granola. Little did I know, using a gas stove to heat granola would turn out to be very, very interesting.

First, I don't have any measuring spoons, so I had to guess what a tablespoon was. I used a regular spoon, but I think my "regular" spoons are too small, so I need to use the bigger spoons I have (which, in retrospect, may be more "regular"). I didn't realize I should have mixed the ingredients prior to putting it in the pot on the heat. Yeah, that was not in the instructions. Fail number one. My oats started to burn while I was frantically trying to mix the ingredients together with the heat on. After turning off the heat, I tried to mix the ingredients together again and realized I forgot to add cinnamon and raisins. I added these two ingredients and tried to mix them in and then tried to heat it again. Of course, this didn't really work out completely, the oats burned a little more. The end result was delicious nonetheless. The little parts that burned add to the taste, most definitely.

Tomorrow (or later today, since I have nothing to do at site at the moment) I am going to take a stab at these no-bake cookies. I looked over the instructions more carefully and think I am more prepared.

*Note to self: read instructions carefully, especially when cooking in Uganda.*


Monday, November 7, 2011

The Book of Joe

Productivity is always a slow going process here in Uganda. This is especially true when you are dependent on other people to get work done. Unlucky for me, I have found that due to the nursing students being on break and the staff members dealing with final exams and grading said exams, I really have nothing to contribute at this point in time. Lucky for me, I am one of those people who doesn’t like to waste time doing nothing. Not only have I filled my days with reading and writing, along with the occasional Scrubs episode, but I have come up with a number of side projects (ok, two) which I have engaged myself in to pass the time.

The first side project is a youth newsletter. It is a newsletter made for youth by youth. Eliza Chard and Jacqueline Demko, two other PCVs, are working with me, spearheading this project. We are going to have this newsletter contain essays and articles written by youth across Uganda on different subjects, each newsletter will have a specific theme with questions for youth to answer. Other PCVs will serve as judges and those who have their essays published will receive a small (very small) prize. The first edition is going to have the theme of “I’m the Me I Want to Be” - Self-Esteem, Self-Reflection, and Personal Identity. The questions we came up with are:

1.) What is more important to you, being a member of your tribe or being a Ugandan citizen? Why?
2.) Is there a day in your life that you felt really proud of yourself? Tell us about it!
3.) Do you think that boys and girls have different experiences growing up? What are the different challenges that girls and boys face and how do you overcome them?
4.) If you were an animal what would you be and why?

The whole reason behind the idea of a newsletter came up after Eliza commented on the lack of creativity and ingenuity in Uganda’s youth. There seems to be a trend in the education system of rote memorization and repetition, rather than real thought and creativity. Even when responses are correct, it seems if they are not word for word what the lecturer or tutor has taught, they are marked incorrect. Through life skills classes, Jacqueline made the same observation. Of course, this was all discussed during my tech immersion, before I was a full-fledged volunteer and before I had really worked with youth. The next day I sat in on one of Jacqueline’s life skills classes and made the same observation. I was really happy that even though the idea of the newsletter was discussed during the wee hours of the night, it still morphed and developed into something real. An announcement was made in the latest PCV Uganda newsletter and it seems there are very positive responses from other PCVs. I know from my own training class I have heard numerous positive responses and have even gotten a few inquiries on ways to get involved. It’s great to have a sense of accomplishment, even for a brief second.

The second side project is more collaborative with Dorothy, a PCV in the Masaka area who is working with Afripads, a business selling washable, reusable menstrual pads. There is a huge issue of young women not attending school and missing out on education because of they cannot afford the disposable pads sold mainstream. These washable, reusable pads are an ideal solution because even if they cost more than the disposable pads at the corner store, they last for a full year. They are based on a Canadian product which lasts 5 years, but since the product in Africa is made with lower quality fabrics and since African women hand-wash everything, the pads wear out much faster. Either way, it is a great idea and I will be working with Dorothy along with my own supervisor to try and bring Afripads to the nursing school as well as to the local schools in Rakai. I know Leslie is interested in doing some work promoting Afripads, so I think we’ll be able to do some collaborative work at the secondary schools her organization is going to work with.

So, even though I don’t have much to do at the nursing school, I’ve been trying to get things started in order to keep myself at least a little busy. It’s always a roller coaster though, some days I find I barely have time to think and other days it’s as if the whole day went by and I never got out of bed. I guess you just have to take what you can get.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The House on Mango Street

I have officially experienced mango fly number 2. Yup! I think this is a sign, I may need to buy an iron. I called Leslie to come and take a look at it, since she has had some mango fly experience and it was in a spot I could not see easily. It was on the muscle between my neck and shoulder (not sure what that muscle is called, sorry anatomy professor). At first I thought I had a pimple, but upon further inspection (me feeling it) I realized it was much bigger than a normal pimple should be. I tried popping it, but it did not pop like a normal pimple should. When I did my double mirror inspection I saw there was a hole of some kind where the pimple head should be. I automatically thought mango fly, so I got my Vaseline and put some on it and noticed upon doing so a head somehow developed on the “pimple”. I tried popping it a couple more times, with no success. Finally, I conceded to just putting Vaseline on it in hopes that the next morning when Leslie showed up she would be willing and able to pop the sucker out.


15 hours later:
So Leslie came by and inspected the potential mango fly. She looked at it and didn’t see the tell-tale black head that usually appears when it is a mango fly. She tried popping it and a little circular ball like item came out (potentially an egg). She said it appeared that there was still something there because the wound was still raised. I put some more Vaseline on it and we talked for a bit. Before she left, Leslie checked the wound again and said it looked like it was on the road to healing. Hopefully that means either it wasn’t a mango fly after all or we got the egg before it developed into a full on worm. We’ll see later today and tomorrow. Hopefully the blackhead doesn’t appear because then I’d probably have to call Leslie over again to try and help pop it and get the worm out.

A few hours later:
I went with Leslie to the market and she checked out my potential mango fly spot and said it didn’t look like a blackhead was forming and it seemed to be healing nicely. Maybe this means it wasn’t a mango fly after all!

After I left town, I decided it was time for me to start using my stove. I apparently used all the power charging my computer and cooking rice with my rice cooker because as soon as it was done the power went out. Anyhow, I made some Kholapuri spicy sauce (and yes, it was delicious). I cut up some veggies and mixed it with the sauce and poured it on my rice and it turned out delicious! Even though I was exhausted from my walk from town, it was really stress-relieving to cut up the veggies and create something from semi-scratch. Friday I think I’m going to try and cook fried rice. I’m going to save the rest of the Kholapuri for tomorrow’s dinner.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Island Beneath the Sea

Just an FYI, I photo-dumped on Facebook, for anyone interested in seeing a pictorial review of my life so far here in Uganda. I gave up on captions, so if you want to know where things took place, just ask me.

I've recently decided if there is one place where I have the greatest potential to die, it is here in Uganda. In the past 48 hours I have had to fix myself up with bandages, ointments, and many other things found in my travel first aid kit. Lucky for me (and other people who will not be mentioned), I am a walking first aid kit. I am almost always carrying around bandages, toilet paper, anticeptic cream, benedryl (both cream and pill), pepto pills, Imodium pills, visine, wet wipes, and Tylenol. Not only have I been the go-to for many people, I have also realized how much I need this convenient kit. So far this weekend, I have had about 4 blisters I had to bandage up (I was forced to buy obscene sandals which resulted in 3 of the 4 blisters). After a night of fun and dancing, I found yet another blister along with bruises whose origins are unknown. After taking care of myself, I along with another PCV came to use some free wifi at a mzungu cafe in Masaka where I was victim to ant bites. I have just spent the past 20 minutes or so tending to my feet trying to stop the itching. All this, not to mention the falls, near-death by boda boda (or any other vehicle), risk of vehicles exploding while you (along with 20 other people) are in them, risk of mambas and crocodiles, and all the diseases I could and will probably get, it is a wonder people survive here for two years (or stay for longer).

Loss of dignity is also a key component of life here in Uganda. Here, it seems that talking about consistency of poop is normal conversation, along with discussions of frequency and having risked pooping your pants. I lost my dignity a long time ago, when I had to poop in some bushes on a walk back from RACO, when I pooped my pants during a explosive vomit incident, and the many times I've almost pooped myself when I had The G. I guess that's just part of life here in Uganda, you just have to realize everyone is in the same boat and find the humor in it. That, or you ET.

*To my family: Please don't worry, I promise I'm taking care of myself as much as humanly possible out here. There are so many things that I can't control, we all know life likes to throw us all curve balls. Anyhow, my friends here wouldn't let anything too bad happen to me, so don't start stressing.*

Tomorrow I start another boring week at Rakai (consisting of me reading and probably finishing two more books), however the king of the Baganda region is coming to town so it looks like the town is going to be buzzing with excitement. Hopefully this means there will be things to do at the nursing school (most likely cleaning or doing some administrative stuff which doesn't really fall into my job description, but it seems that in Peace Corps, you job description never really holds water when you are finally at site).

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Halloween and Diwali weekend :)


Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Help

I think the frequency of my blog posts are increasing merely due to the fact that I am bored out of my mind. I am currently on book 11 since I have arrived in Uganda. Yeah.

Things are slow going here in Rakai. I was supposed to have my house re-painted by now, but I have an eery feeling the painter ran away with my 50,000 USHs. He is supposedly getting married this weekend, or having his introduction ceremony, or something to that effect. I should have known better, waking up to the sound of rain and thunder. I even woke up earlier than usual (ok, not that much earlier) so that I would be decent when he arrived. I EVEN BATHED! Ok, that was more for me and to get the onion blast off my body. It seems whenever I use public transport, I come home with the sweet scent of onion blast all over me (well, mostly my shoulders which fall prey to the pits of my fellow travelers). I hope this doesn’t come off as culturally incompetent. Ugandans probably bathe more than I do, however it seems that deodorant and perfume have not quite hit the market here. I guess if you smell just like everyone else, why worry? Supposedly this painter fella is coming tomorrow around 10. My wardrobe is also supposed to be finished tomorrow. What are the odds neither will get done?

New additions to my house include:
-a bookshelf (I officially unpacked half of one of my suitcases)
-plastic containers (I can store my food and leftovers, if I ever decide to use that stove of mine. I almost feel like I shouldn’t have bought one, however I know one of these weekends I’ll actually be at site and cook.)
-a straw mat (I can finally do yoga again! I didn’t want to put my yoga mat directly on the cement floor for fear of getting it dirty, however now I can use it on the straw mat. Look out world; I am going to be toned again! Ok, maybe not AGAIN, but I will be toned! The mat also gives me a place to eat that is not my bed. Let me just say, crumbs are not your bed’s best friend. This reminds me of a Full House episode where Michelle is having nightmares about her gigantic feet and she wakes up screaming and Stephanie wakes up asking what’s going on. Michelle takes off her covers and there are crumbs all in her bed and Stephanie just laughs. Oh, to be young again…or even just have a television again!)

Now that I have these new additions, my daily routine is somehow shaken up. When I say “shaken up” I mean, instead of eating my usual breakfast of jam on bread on my bed and getting crumbs on my bed, I now eat on my straw mat on the floor. Monday through Friday has still been the same. I wake up, eat a little, take my pills, sneak out for tea, come back to my room, read until lunch, sneak back out, eat lunch and somehow socialize, then come back to my room and read or surf the net until dinner. Then I go into my living room/kitchen combo and figure out something simple, because the rice, beans, and matooke are still sitting in my stomach waiting to digest. After that I either read or watch a movie and then go to sleep, usually around 9:30 or 10, unless there is someone on skype then I may stay up until 11 (woah! Look at me now). This week was broken up by a trip with my supervisor to Masaka, where I got to do some shopping (see new additions above). Lucky for me, the guys in Masaka are just are wonderful as they are in Wakiso and Kampala. I lost count of the “hey baby” comments within 5 minutes of wandering around the town (after my supervisor left me at Café Frik, a completely amazing, expensive, and totally mzungu place to go). After I ate I went wandering to buy some things when I met a Ugandan from Icheme. He decided to talk to me, so I obliged, which apparently meant he was to be my wandering friend. He wandered with me into all the shops I went into until finally I had to say “hey, you can leave you know, I can do this on my own”. Apparently, he didn’t realize that I spoke a little bit of Luganda, even though I had been talking to him in Luganda, which is NOT his native language. I had to tell him to leave me alone twice (obviously not that bluntly, but bluntly enough that he somehow finally got the message). After I successfully found what I was looking for, I wandered around trying to find the amazing bakery. Of course, I get lost, hear a few dozen more “hey baby” comments, to the point where I turn to one boda boda driver and say “no habla ingles”. Yup, I was that person. He looked at me blankly and just shut up. Amazing. I smiled to myself and finally found the bakery, got myself a chocolate cream roll, and then wandered around, got lost again trying to find the Shell gas station where all the taxis to Kyotera are.

The good thing is, my house is getting closer and closer to feeling like home. Almost.

Coming up: HALLOWEEN! Hopefully I have more entertaining stories to tell.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Infections and Inequalities

I am happy to report that I haven’t had a sign of pee butt in almost two weeks. That is the longest I have gone with solid poop since I’ve gotten to Uganda (ridiculous, but true). I hope that means the evil Giardia bug is dead and gone.

Tally of Illnesses Experienced to Date:
-mango fly (It was actually pretty awesome. At first I thought it was a pimple, so I popped it and it bled, as normally pimples do, and I didn’t think anything of it until a couple of days later when it had a black head on it. I thought it was a scab, so while bathing I picked it off and noticed it had a white head under the black head, so I tried to pop it, when to my surprise a worm came out. Awesome, no?)

So I have survived my first week at site. Boredom has set in (though I feel this occurred somewhat prematurely). My days have passed somehow slowly, waking up to the hustle of staff members and students going to the morning prayer. I usually drink tea alone, if I even decide to emerge from my apartment to get tea, then I read. Since I have been to site I have finished three books and am well on my way to finishing a fourth. With the new addition of the internet at my disposal, I have curved this speed reading, however I still read much more than I have in probably my whole life (sad, but true). I usually emerge out of my apartment for lunch (from Monday to Friday) where most of the staff question where I have been and what I have been doing. They also like to comment on how little I eat (and as of recent, like to comment on my lack of physical activity). After lunch, I usually go back to my apartment and read some more or check the news online. Dinner is usually on my own and I go to bed without really interacting with anyone anymore. Now, granted, some days I actually go into town and interact with people and see other volunteers, but I find that my days are spent mostly around the campus. It’s not bad, though I do get lonely. I would call the other volunteers more often, but I do not want to get too clingy too soon.

I live a fairly simple life. I haven’t used my stove yet, though I plan on breaking it in this weekend. I have only bathed three times since I got to site (I know, disgusting) in an effort to save water. Also, this is a result of my shower not working. It seems that running water is a once a week occurrence here at the Rakai Community School of Nursing. I have vowed (some may say this is a poor choice) to only bathe when my shower works. Of course, it is a cold shower, but I feel this is a good attempt to decrease my environmental impact. Today my running water seems to be functional, so I may have the opportunity to bathe tomorrow, which would be great since I definitely need to wash my hair within the next couple of days. The only problem I foresee (and I apologize to all male readers) is when I am on my monthly cycle. Lucky for me, it only lasts four days (thank you oral contraceptive) but I am still debating whether my intermittent bathing plan will be affected by Mother Nature’s gift.

Now don’t worry people, I’m not completely disgusting. I do brush my teeth and wash my face every day. In fact, I wash my face twice a day. It’s just the thought of using a bucket full of water every day that bothers me. I just don’t see the point in bathing everyday anymore, especially when I’m not making the 45 minute trek to RACO every day. The most I walk is to town and back (which does cause me to break in sweat) but I never feel as dirty as I did in Wakiso (nor is it nearly as muddy after it rains).
Hopefully, when work picks up (and by “picks up” I mean I actually have something to do) I won’t feel as useless to this place. The boredom has led to many thoughts of “what the hell was I thinking, signing up for two years of this?” and whenever pee butt makes his ugly appearance, the thoughts return tenfold. In my heart, though, I do know I made the right decision and when I am interacting with people I know that in two years’ time I may not even want to leave (dare to dream).

So far I’ve swept my floor a couple times, ordered a set of drawers and my room is to be repainted, hopefully soon. I also ordered a mural to be painted of the Peace Corps logo with the American and Ugandan flags. Hopefully that gets done soon too. I also gave my supervisor (who is acting as the middle man for the carpenter which hopefully means I’m getting good prices) a list of other furniture I want made, including a book shelf, a couch, a table, and a smaller set of shelves to keep in my patio (and by “patio” I mean a screened in area where my own bathroom is located) to keep my cleaning supplies. I’m just hoping all these things get done before IST so I can actually feel like I am at home rather than in a temporary housing situation. It would also be really nice to not be living out of my bags anymore. Just saying.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Mountains Beyond Mountains

I got to attend a traditional Ugandan burial ceremony today. My supervisor's grandmother passed away and they requested that I attend the burial ceremony. I wasn't sure if I should feel honored, but when I got to the event, it seemed that I was the prize because everyone's eyes were on me.

The whole ceremony was in Luganda, which means I understood one out of every ten words at best. It was interesting to see the different customs, like close friends and family walk around the casket, which is set on a not so sturdy table in the middle of the front lawn. After this portion, the M.C. went through what I could only understand to be thank yous to the deceased from different people in the community. The family then went up and the son of the deceased spoke for some time, at the end of which everyone hugged him. Then one of the females of the family stood by the casket with a basket, got blessed by a priest, and then had people lining up giving her money (which was later explained to be contributions to the family for putting on the event). After the family portion, the DJ put on "Candle in the Wind" by Sir Elton John (at this point I almost burst out laughing, but realized how inappropriate that would be). They played the song twice more before the priest went on what sounded like a rampage (he was mostly yelling and it gave me the biggest headache). Then family members carried the casket to a lorry truck to take to the plot (initially the intent was to carry it to the burial plot). The mourners followed the lorry truck to the site and stood as the casket was lowered and a picture of the deceased was passed around. Now, keep in mind there were over 100 mourners. At least, that is what it felt like to me.

After we walked back, the rest of the day can only be described as "how the hell is Aditi going to get back to site?!". I was with one of the sisters of the nursing school and we definitely had a fun time trying to get a ride, then waiting for a ride my supervisor set up, then finally ending up taking the lorry truck back. I was squished between two people and I swear, by the end of my service I will have sciatica.

*Note: Please note that I am not in any way disrespecting the deceased. She was an amazing person and contributed a great deal to the public health system and the community of Kyotera and Masaka (and through her family, Rakai). I am just really awkward when it comes to death and never really know how to act. I'm the type of person who laughs at funerals.*


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lord of the Flies

Let me just start by saying I guarantee flies and mosquitoes will be the most annoying thing here in Uganda, besides pee butt.

My first night and morning at site have proved to be nothing more than interesting. Luckily, no bats were seen in the experiencing of this story.

So, the Rakai group (Trimmer, Sullivan, Griffin, Leslie and Aaron [a.k.a. Stramero], and me) bought out a coaster bus and made our way down to Rakai. We easily filled up more than half of the coaster with all our stuff. I slept for most of the way, sadly I left my iPod in my backpack (which was at the back of the bus) so I got to enjoy the smooth rhythms of Ugandan radio, which played lovely 80s hits and a good hour of Enrique Iglesias. Sweet. I woke up just in time for Sullivan’s bladder to cause a short call stop AT THE EQUATOR! Thank you Sullivan (I should also thank Trimmer here, since he actually took the picture of me)! I got my Equator pictures (officially crossed off my African bucket list) and we moved right along. *Side note: Does anyone notice how movies and books have shaped our lives so greatly? I have always noticed, but it seems a noteworthy statement to make as I use “bucket list” above when I would otherwise use another term for “the list of things I want to do in Africa before I leave”. Maybe it’s just a matter of being lazy, or maybe it’s a matter of actually being a useful phrase. Either way, I think it’s interesting to notice how different words and phrases from movies and books have become integrated into our daily conversation.*

After the equator we stopped in Masaka (in an attempt to find gas tanks, which turned into a last minute shopping venture where I got some things I needed, however I found upon arrival I am severely unprepared for this). I notice Masaka is almost like Kampala (a microscale Kampala I suppose). It has a great smelling bakery, though I haven’t been there long enough to actually partake. It has a café that has real burgers (says the vegetarian). Last, but not least, there is a BEACH! Okay, it’s on the banks of Lake Victoria (a.k.a. Lake Shistosomiasis) but hey, a beach is a beach, right? We failed on the gas tank front, but we continued on to Kyotera, stopping in Kalisizo first to drop off Trimmer. After saying goodbye to yet another PCV (and we can officially call ourselves that now) we moved along to Kyotera. We dropped Griffin off at her vocational school then went into town and got our tanks. Too bad we couldn’t do more shopping because the driver began to get inpatient. Is it awful that I was a little annoyed with this? After all we were paying him for the use of his coaster. Oh well, I guess I should have just been happy enough that he stopped for us to do things that we needed to do. We next dropped Sullivan off in Sanjje and continued on to Rakai town.

We got to the gates of the nursing school, only to not be let in. We had to call my supervisor and have him talk to the guards in order for us to be allowed into the gates. Once in, we unloaded (with the help of some staff and nursing students) and started to load my house (or apartment I guess). *Side note: I guess everyone was in a hurry because they definitely unloaded Stramero’s gas tank along with mine. Just a warning, Ugandans really go with the flow of things so make sure you make them aware of what is going on.* So once all my things were in my apartment, I was at a loss for where to start. Lucky for me, my supervisor enlisted some of the students to help me. Apparently they were told not to just help me, but to almost do everything for me because they made my bed, hung up my mosquito net, swept and mopped my floor, and helped me set up my stove. I felt bad and kept saying I could do things but most of the time I was just observing and guiding. I felt completely useless. I was glad when they asked me what next and I finally got a chance to free them of their duties. *Side note: When you purchase a gas tank, make sure the hose will fit onto your stove. It took a few hours and the minds of about 8 people to get my hose to fit onto my stove. I think they ended up melting it a little to allow the piping to widen and stretch around the fitting on the stove, however if you do not want to go through this hassle, please keep this note in mind.*

After I was left alone, I repacked all my things (because of course I have no furniture besides a bed, a table, and two stools. I used one of the stools as a nightstand and the table as a table for my stove. I have put in an order for a drawer set and should have it by Thursday which will make my apartment feel more like a home. I am getting the walls repainted and then my supervisor has said someone can paint the Peace Corps logo along with the Ugandan and American flags on one of the walls. I am also planning on hanging numerous items on the walls and hopefully getting my parents to send some things from my place over.

I went to Rakai town with Stramero after a very long day of reading and writing my first report for my MI experience (yes, I’m THAT person who write their report that is not due for another month, although keep in mind I do have to get the country director to sign something and I’m kicking myself for not getting it signed during training when it was definitely easier). The town is pretty small but it has all the essentials I need. On Wednesday there is a bigger market in town, so I will definitely have to go and check that out. Hopefully between now (Saturday) and then I’ll have gone to Kyotera to get some money from the bank (and also to get internet time to actually post this post). The walk to and from the nursing school is somehow intense though. *Side note: I also think it is interesting how quickly I have integrated Ugandan English into my daily conversation. I may have said this before, but I use “somehow”, “cold cold” and “now now” quite often (these mean “somewhat”, “cold”, and “right now” respectively). I think it’s a good sign, that I am integrating somehow fast (see, I did it again).*

Que story.

So, I left Stramero’s house and started my trek towards the nursing school. Bear in mind that I live on a mountain (legitimately) and there is a short cut which cuts a good half the walk, however half of the short cut is straight uphill (as I found out today). When I was walking back (this time taking the shortcut alone because on the way to town Stramero was with me) I realized I wasn’t sure where the turnoff was to cut into the field towards the school. I found one cut off which looked legitimate so I took it only to find a dead end. I walked back out and found two men sitting on the grass in the shade and asked if this was the path to the nursing school, only to be greeted with a “no thank you” and a finger pointing in the direction of the long way. I decided it was better to actually know where I was going than risk getting lost in the fields than dying because a black mamba bit me, so I came to terms with taking the long way (with my empty jerry can and bag full of goodies bought in town). As I walked I noticed a full on longhorn bull on the left side of the road staring me down. *Flashback: three of the volunteers in my training group have gotten attacked by cattle since being in Uganda.* Awesome. I hesitantly continue on the path, going further and further to the right, practically off the road and I hear a distant voice calling “you can turn off just there”. I hesitantly turn around and request a repeat and turn back to notice a turn off on the side of the road. Too bad I have to go a few feet towards the glaring cow to do so. Either way, I figure I have to pass the cow. So I inch closer and closer, while still walking somehow diagonally towards the path and successfully make it to the path. I turn and the cow is none the wiser, now staring down another pedestrian on the road. I’m glad it didn’t turn into a “me getting attacked by a cow” story.

I’m sorry this post is so long, but I have another story from my recent trip to Masaka on Sunday.

Moses, one of the staff members at the nursing school, accompanied me to Masaka to make sure I arrived there safely. There were no problems getting to Kyotera, but from Kyotera, we sat in a taxi (the size of a corolla) with 5 people in the back seat, 3 people in the front seat, plus a child in the front seat, and two people in the driver’s seat. My foot went numb at an alarmingly fast rate and at one point I asked Sullivan and Ging what the point of no return was when it comes to numbness (a question which I now pose to you. At what point does the leg go so numb that you have to amputate it? That would probably be a good thing to know). By the time we got to Masaka, I had no motor function in my right leg. I was pressed against the door and when the driver opened it (because I had no way of getting to the handle) I toppled out backwards and when I stood up, nearly fell again because I could not feel my foot. I had to balance against the taxi until I could move my foot again. The taxi driver, of course, stared and laughed. On the way back to Rakai town, the same thing happened with my left leg.

This is sure going to be an interesting 2 years!


Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Space Between Us

I made it to swearing in. It was interesting to say the least. Long speeches, funny stories, and tears were all shared between the now 45 trainees. Well, I guess you'd call us official volunteers now. I wore a punjabi and everyone loved it. It made me feel good to spruce myself up a bit. Sometimes it is nice to get dressed up.

My giardia is slowly going away. Not so many bowl movements as previously experienced. Happy day!

Tomorrow I move to my site. It would be a complete lie to say I wasn't nervous, but at the same time I am looking forward to getting away from the 45 others. Ok, 44 of them. I could still use Alia as a daily function of my life. Otherwise, sometimes I just think that being together with 45 other people only served to drive me completely mental. Most of the time. I'm looking forward to wanting to see the other volunteers, rather than feeling that I HAVE to see them. There is a key difference. I really never enjoyed the almost hour long walk to RACO. I swear, if it weren't for Susy, I would have probably gone mad by now by that walk. Or, I would have given up. I hate to say it, but its true. It's funny how the people in your life really determine how capable you are of dealing with certain stresses.

I'm looking forward to starting the new chapter in my Peace Corps experience. Hopefully it will be just as interesting as the last 10 weeks, however without the completely insanity. Otherwise, my blog will get really boring really fast.


So everyone is leaving now and I realize how much I'm really going to miss being around so many people at once. While I do look forward to being alone, I realize that I have gotten used to being around these people, even if they have annoyed me at times. I'm afraid of the next step I'm about to take, how real this is going to be in just a few hours. I'm realizing how unprepared I am feeling and how I still feel like a child in so many ways. I didn't get to say goodbye to so many people this morning and it makes me even more sad because who knows when I'm going to see any of these people again (okay, in reality I will be seeing them again in January for In-Service Training, but thinking about the next three months without all these people is slightly daunting). I have to thank my lucky stars that Leslie and Aaron were placed in my same town so that I won't feel as alone as I definitely would had they not been placed there.

The next three months are definitely going to be interesting, to say the least.

Becca is awesome (I completely endorse this message).


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Twilight Zone

In less than 24 hours I will be swearing in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer (pause to allow this to sink in).

Good news items:
-I passed my LPI
-I clarified my duties with my supervisor

Bad news items:
-I have Giardia (a.k.a. THE G)
-My kindle broke (but I'm getting a new one sent thanks to a warranty)
-The homestay gremlins have hit again

The story of the homestay gremlins begins much earlier, during our language immersion and future site visit. Upon my return, I found that a brown blouse, a pair of socks, my face towel and my TASO bracelet had gone missing. My laptop, external harddrive, and kindle were completely left untouched. Strange? Agreed.

The next visit came when Andrew and I went to Floral Hotels to hang out. Between 5:30pm and 9:00pm, a pair of socks (that were the color of mud) and my black tights went missing. Now, keep in mind, my room is NOT THAT BIG. It would be very hard for me to "misplace" something and not find it. The third event occurred the day before I left my homestay, the cover of my malaria bed net was taken. Yeah, even weirder! My host family seemed receptive to my concerns and my host brother claims to have things missing too. The problem is that my room is connected to his and a storage room. My host brother's room is always left open, so the entrance point has been identified. However, the real question is, who? Some people suggest the family, but a part of me wants to believe they wouldn't do that kind of thing. I guess it's a good thing I didn't stay there any longer than I needed to. If I ever decide to go back and visit, it will definitely not be a sleep over visit!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Tipping Point

So one lesson I have learned here in Africa, you can never be free of Mr. Peebutt. He will always be around, lurking, waiting for the opportune moment to make a visit. You may think you’re safe, drinking your boiled water, brushing your teeth with bottled water, but he will always be there, waiting. Hopefully you don’t get a visit in the middle of a 3 hour coasta bus ride to Masaka or an 8 hour bus ride out to the west or the north. Of course, those are the time when he wants to come out and play the most. Soon, you’ll realize that during these times, food and water are simply not an option. Dehydration and starvation will be your best friends during these rides. Just so you know.

The rainy season has been somewhat slow in Wakiso for a few days, however today it seemed as if the heavens have opened up. It’s as though there has been a buildup of rain for the past few days and it just hit its tipping point. It’s been raining for a good 15 minutes now and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to let up anytime soon. I wish I had “making an ark” on my skillset. Hopefully one of these engineers can figure something out; we might need an ark to make our way back to our homestays. The rain reminds me of the hurricane season storms in Florida and Georgia. Those were some fun times, late nights sitting in the dark listening to the rain hit the windows and sticking by the radio to hear any updates. I miss sitting on the back patio of my house in Florida, watching it rain for hours at a time. Those were some good afternoons, spent with a cup of hot chocolate or tea and a good book. I also realize how much I miss the smell of rain. It’s always cool to feel the temperature change and just smell the moisture in the air. The thing that stinks about rainstorms here is that the power goes out every time, almost guaranteed.

Tech immersion visit began September 23rd. Let’s just say it started with Dennis running after a bus and ended with Dennis not getting a room where he was supposed to stay. I guess I should start from the beginning though.

We met at the yellow bar in Wakiso town (of course, because a bar is the only landmark we know) at 6:30 am. We had one of the PC drivers, Emmanuel, drive us to Kampala, where we were to catch a bus to Lira and then continue via mutate to Icheme to meet some other PCVs whom we’d be staying with. Once we got to Kampala, we made our way to the bus park (think of rats finding their way through a maze) and followed our fearless leader Dennis to the correct bus. He said the bus would fill up within 45 minutes, but generally speaking the buses in Uganda won’t leave unless they are full. So, assuming this rule applies to all buses in Uganda, a few volunteers decided to get off the bus (the bus was approximately ¾ empty at this point). So, within 20 minutes of the volunteers jumping ship, the bus starts moving. Now, initially we were told this may happen, a premature moving of locations if you will. Wrong. Apparently this bus was one of those that left at 9:00 am whether it was full or not. Thanks for that memo. Lucky for us, we noticed and called the folks who were missing. Dennis got off the bus so the volunteers could find the bus. Apparently they still missed him, or he missed them, because they all got on the bus without him and the bus started to leave, with Dennis chasing behind. Throughout this whole ordeal, mind you, I’m sitting in my seat, mildly paying attention, more focused on trying to sew up a hole in my skirt. That was the beginning of the day.

The bus ride was fairly boring. I slept through some of it, listened to music, saw a beautiful portion of the Nile, missed the baboons (thanks Alia) and got off at the wrong stop. One of the PCVs in the area had told us to call when we were passing through Lira, a town before the one where the PCV was actually at. Apparently this turned into us getting off in Lira and wondering where this PCV was. Oooops! You have to love the Three’s Company scenario we found ourselves in. It all worked out in the end though (obviously since I’m now writing this). We got a private hire to the town and met the PCV. Success! We had lunch and caught a mutatu to Icheme. Experience of a lifetime.

Picture this, a seat which would normally hold two plus an extra fold down seat crammed with 4 people. Yeah. I’m squished between Alia and the window of the mutate, holding onto the metal bar which is going across the window for comfort, though at some point it felt like I was holding the mutate together. The portion of the vehicle I was leaning against honestly felt like it could and would fall off at any moment. Awesome. Then we got pulled over by a cop (who coincidently pulled us over prior in the private hire, also for being over packed). New BFF! We got out of that relatively smoothly only to be attacked by the devil chicken under Stephanie’s seat (thank Shiva I was not over on her side). Then we had to stop due to a mud pit (a.k.a. construction site) which we had to cross over by foot and meet the taxi on the other side. Back to my squished position and we finally make it to Icheme and meet the PCVs, who are AMAZING! I met my mentor, Jackie, who is great. I will definitely use her services more often now (or actually start to. I felt odd calling and talking to someone I had never met about my feelings, but now that we’ve met, I’m completely ok with it). After a glorious dinner (the details of which I won’t bore you with) we said goodnight to Dennis (who eventually returned because he couldn’t get a room) and got ready for bed. As we were getting ready, I sat on my bed and apparently ripped my bed net out from the ceiling. After tracking down a hammer, from Mary who had dropped Alia off after Dennis came back and was now back in her house, Jackie fixed my net and finally I am ready for bed.

At the end of the day score: Uganda – 3 , Aditi – 0


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Interview with a Vampire

Before I begin telling the story of how I woke up to a bat in my room at site, let me back track a little bit.

Site announcements were made on September 6th. I found out I will be working at the Rakai Community School of Nursing located half a kilometer from the Rakai District Hospital. I was more than pleased to hear this news. I heard there would be a few health volunteers in the Rakai area and I was hoping to be one of them after hearing about the beauty of Rakai from current volunteers.

After site announcements, we left for language immersion, which took place in Kayunga, a little east of Kampala near Jinja. It was fun, however my dreaded nemesis, Pee Butt, made his second appearance, along with his faithful sidekick, Vomit. The first night I was living in the bathroom, drying to determine which was more important, throwing up into a sink or successfully making it to the toilet. Needless to say, the toilet won. I slept for most of the day, missed some Luganda and cried. Yes, I cried. I was so upset that a) I was sick AGAIN, b) I had PEE BUTT, and c) I was missing Ven and Herbie teach numbers in Luganda, the one thing I felt I NEEDED to learn. Lucky for me, Griffin let me use her iPad so I watched some movies to distract me from what can only be described as knocking on Death’s door. 24 hours later, I was almost completely fine. Pee Butt was still present, but it wasn’t as bad as at the Orphanage (a.k.a. Banana Village). Thank Shiva for good friends and technology.

After my near death, I traveled to Rakai, accompanying Dorothy until Masaka. Masaka proved to be a pretty hip town; they have a bakery (with smells reminiscent of the U.S.) and coffee shops galore. Okay, maybe not galore, but it’s the closest big town so I have to talk it up! My site supervisor, Cylus (pronounced Cyrus), picked me up from Masaka and drove me out to Rakai. We stopped in Kyotera along the way, which is the closest town that has decent markets to me. Rakai town is fairly small, but its quant. The whole town knows each other; it’ll be nice to move there and get to know people. Hopefully it won’t take too long for people to stop calling me Mzungu (foreigner in Luganda). When I got to Rakai Community Nursing School, I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the campus was. It is under renovation and it is coming along quite nicely. My housing is right on campus and it is newly built so I have pretty good accommodations. Too bad no toilet though. I have three rooms and my own private bathroom complete with a shower (which works when there is running water) and a flushing, porcelain latrine (again, which flushes when there is running water). I have electricity most of the time, until it goes out. It’s more available than Wakiso though. My supervisor said I could paint my room, hopefully I can take advantage of that and really personalize the place. The best part about my housing is the view. Every morning I get to wake up to mist covered mountains and a lake. I can see the mountains that border Tanzania (sweet!). I have to say, even though I don’t have a toilet, the view absolutely makes up for it.

Now, to the bat story.

Imagine this:

It is 6:00 am. You are sleeping soundly after a day of visiting health centers and distributing food. Suddenly you hear a crash against one of your bedroom doors…

That is how the story begins. So after being startled awake, I grab my flashlight and search the room for what I can only imagine is an intruder. After searching the room I find nothing, until I just happen to pass my flashlight to the ground where I see a bat (keep in mind throughout this tale that the bad is no bigger than the palm of my hand). At first I didn’t realize it was a bat until I saw it stretch out its wings. I immediately thanked PCMO for giving us the last round of the rabies vaccine and tried to come up with some kind of plan to get the bat out. First I put on my hoodie (hood and all) and pulled down my tights so that just in case I was attacked, the bat wouldn’t get skin, at least not right away. I opened one of the doors to my bedroom and also opened a second door which opened outside. I grabbed a broom to use to scare the bat into flying out of the room. As I walked back into the room, the bat decided to crawl in the opposite direction into my front room, where the windows and doors were all closed. I decided to let the bat stay in there and worry about it when I woke up. After closing the doors and getting back into bed, I started hearing more bumping and thumping, this time coming from the front room. I could only guess that it was the bloody bat trying to escape again. I realized also that there was a hole in the ceiling in the front room, where I did not want the bat to stay and live (a pet bat was the last thing I wanted in Uganda). I decided I would attempt to get this bat out. At first I was going to call my supervisor, but I really didn’t want to wake him up so I thought I’d at least attempt to take care of it by myself. I opened the back doors again and very slowly opened the door to the front room. The bat was sitting on the floor facing me. Lucky for me, the light to the front room is all the way on the opposite side of the room, so I had to walk across the room, across the bat, to get to the light. I did so successfully, but when I turned on the light I realized I didn’t have the key to the front door, which I needed to open it. As I started to creep towards my bedroom to get the key, the bat stirred, causing me to let out a mild shriek and run into my bedroom. I grabbed the key and peered back into the front room. Thankfully, the bat was still in the room in the corner next to one of my stools. I decided my sandals were making too many vibrations and causing the bat to stir so I put on my socks to quietly creep back into the front room. I successfully unlocked the front door and tried to scare the bat into flying out (either the back or the front) by shaking the broom at it. I was only successful at stirring the bat, causing it to flutter around, scaring me into running out my front door. I stood outside the front door and watched as the bat went back to the middle of the room. I began throwing pieces of toilet paper and a plastic bag at the bat to scare it to fly out. This only made it crawl towards me. As it came closer I almost fell down the mountain running away from it. Meanwhile, my supervisor sees me and decides to say hello. I tell him there is a bat in my room which he initially did not seem to understand but after a second realized and came to “help”. By this time the bat was crawling out of the door and out of sight. Hopefully it is the last time I run into a bat, but I think my supervisor thinks I am crazy because he didn’t see this so called bat.

This whole ordeal took about 45 minutes.

I wish I had taken a video or at least a picture of the beast.

Just another morning in Uganda.


Monday, September 5, 2011

PACA: Using Participatory Analysis for Community Action


Brushing my teeth in the Ugandan starlight is amazing. I never thought it would be this beautiful at night, and to think, I will be LIVING HERE FOR TWO YEARS?! I feel so lucky to be able to experience such natural beauty in my life. Cue “OH MY GOD, I’M IN AFRICA” moment.

I guess it is finally setting in that I am going to be living here for two years. Even when I was sitting on the banks of Lake Victoria, it didn’t really hit me. The fleeting thought of me living here for two years, for me simply being in Africa at this very second in my life, it was always just that, a fleeting thought. I haven’t had time to really sit and process my choice to come here, what I have left behind, and how much I miss the people back home. I get internet every once in a while and that only helps to prolong this process of realization. I lack to convenience of Facebook (an according to Microsoft Word, Facebook is a proper noun), which would allow me to realize what I am missing in the U.S. I guess that is just another product of the madness of training.

Now, while I am always ranting and raving about training, I have to admit there are some good things to it:
1)FREE SHOTS! (no, not THAT kind of shot, I’m talking about rabies, Hep A, Hep B, etc.)
2)Money ($12 a week to be precise)
3)Food (the SAME food EVERY DAY…I’ve gotten to the point where I barely eat half a plate for lunch)
4)Language (I’m starting to actually start to understand Luganda in practice)
5)Resources (this is actually a serious one, elaboration to follow)

So we got a Peace Corps Uganda Cookbook. Yeah, legit. Now this isn’t your average cookbook (actually, it kind of is). It has all the different recipes that PCVs past (and maybe present) have used at their sites. Now, before you imagine things like rice and beans (that would be a pretty small cookbook) let me tell you there is a dessert section. A DESSERT SECTION! I’m talking cakes, cookies, candy, pies, tarts, cobblers, and puddings! This cookbook is seriously legit. No wonder people actually gain weight in Peace Corps (actually, I am told women gain weight while men lose weight). Things are not looking good on my venture to lose weight here. I am almost hoping the market isn’t too close to my living area so I won’t be tempted to buy ingredients and just eat cake ALL THE TIME.

Now, if only I knew how to do the whole Dutch oven thing (no, not that kind of Dutch oven).

On another note,it is HILARIOUS to see the PCT hook ups going down so far. I’ve only witnessed one, but I know it is assumed (not necessarily by me) that there are two other hook ups going down since we left the orphanage (otherwise known as Banana Village). I guess it was only a matter of time. I have to say I am somewhat jealous because I haven’t been given any form of attention in that manner. It doesn’t seem as though any of my PCT class (CLASS OF 2013 WHAT WHAT) is really interested in me, but I guess I should understand that it is still “somewhat early”.

Oh well, their loss.