Sorry it has been so long since I’ve updated this blog. The internet hasn’t been accessible so I’ve compiled all the events of the last few weeks so that I can rewrite and rehash them later. They are all organized by date so you can see how things have been going for me.
August 2nd, 2011 to August 3rd, 2011: Staging
I have to say that I wasn’t exactly impressed by the staging event. I appreciated that Peace Corps gave us a way to meet before we were in country, but some of the events weren’t as helpful as I hoped they would be. Most of the information we were presented with was already presented in the Welcome Book and other Peace Corps material. It didn’t seem as organized as it could have been; of course this being said not knowing what the process was to actually set up the staging event. I do appreciate that Peace Corps wanted us all to go in country together, it really helped to talk to the other future volunteers. This process never really seemed real to me, so meeting other people who felt the same way, who were going through the same thing really helped. After all the boring (I’m sorry, but it’s true) events of staging, a few of the PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) wanted to go to eat dinner. At first I was going to get a small dinner with Michelle and Allison, but then I thought maybe I should be more social and go out with some of the other PCTs. Yeah, surprising huh? Me…social? It definitely was an adventure. I have noticed that I have come out of my element a little more, but I think this group really facilitates that. I feel that I can be open and myself with these people and they don’t judge me. The sushi restaurant we went to (just a few of us, not all 46) ended up being BYOB (bring your own booze), yeah I know, WTF Philly? Anyhow, we sent some folks on a wine run which took much longer than expected and got the night started. After dinner we had a bottle left over so we took it up to the pool and had a few glasses and some nice conversation. Don’t I sound like an adult? The rest of “staging” consisted of a 3 hour bus drive to NYC (why we didn’t have staging in NYC still confuses me) and spent many hours in the JFK airport. The next seventeen hours were pretty much a blur of airplanes and airports. I had to change into a skirt at the Brussels airport because we HAD to be in “professional”, also known as “Ugandan” attire as soon as we got off the plane. Yeah, seriously.
August 4th, 2011 to August 5th, 2011: First Day in Uganda
So we’re staying at a place called Banana Village. Yes, Banana Village. The name is super appropriate too, there are bananas everywhere and we eat bananas during EVERY meal. I guess I’m getting a little ahead of myself though. When we got off the plane, the first thing that hit me was the smell of the air, the smell of the land. That’s what always hits me when I travel to different countries. We got off the plane and followed a maze to the baggage claim and another maze through immigration and to the Peace Corps bus. We got our first look at the trainers we would be working with for the next 10 weeks. Initially it was exciting, and in many ways it still is, however I was also very tired and my body just wasn’t prepared for the adventure quite yet. As soon as we got on the bus some of the other PCTs brought out their instruments and I soon realized our PCT group could easily form a band or an orchestra. We have some PCTs who are trying to learn instruments. I think that’s a good idea, something to fill the time. Alright, so back to the food, or at least the bananas. As soon as we hit Banana village we were greeted with bananas and samosas. They had meat and vegetable samosas. Yes, meat samosas. I think that might be against the law, but I guess to each his own. We went to our room and soon realized this was going to be a very interesting week because we had 20 girls in one dormitory. Seriously? That just seems ridiculous, at least at first. At some point I realized I kind of liked it just for the closeness I felt. Eventually people moved out and now there are only 12 people in the dorm with 6 and 7 in other dorms. Anyways…..I only got three and a half hours of sleep so the rest of this blog entry will be removed because it just doesn’t make any sense.
August 5th, 2011: Introduction to Training
5:35 am call to prayer. Now, I respect the Islamic religion and everything, but sometimes there has to be some limits. Ok, that was mean. Sorry. I take it back. It is interesting to note that I heard what I believe to be a female voice doing the call to prayer later on in the day. So we had our breakfast of eggs, oats, and peanut butter and bananas. Nothing really special. They had cereal but I never have partaken in that, at least not yet. We went into introductions of the staff and the Country Director actually quoted my aspiration statement, which I was pretty touched by. We talked about our inspirations and discussed things that were pertinent to Peace Corps volunteers. I thought it was really helpful to have Current PCVs come in and talk about things like cell phones, internet, attire, behavior, among other things. There were other things we went over, things like the current statistics of PC Uganda, which I won’t bore you with but it was cool to see the trends in service in this country. Cool thing is, a current PCV told me I might have an easier time blending in because there are so many Indians in this country. SWEET! Interestingly enough, Idi Amin was never mentioned in the history of PC Uganda or in the history of Uganda in general. After the history stuff we did some survival Luganda training. All the lessons pretty much parallel the lessons I went through on the PC website.
A few observations about Uganda: they love their tea time. After every session and at every meal they have tea. Also, in the local language of Luganda, tea is called “Caaiya” pronounced “chai”. I thought that was interesting. I guess India influenced them a lot more than I thought. Also the pronunciation of words, from the name of the country to the names of people is different with each person. I thought that was pretty interesting. A common phrase spoken in Uganda is “You are most welcome”, an example of how polite Ugandans are. I don’t know if it was 2 days of not showering, have crazy midnight bathroom breaks, hearing about snakes (potentially black mambas) but I feel like I’m on a jungle trek. Sometimes I wake up thinking, wow that was an awesome dream only to realize yea, I’m really in Africa. Maybe this is a result of the Meflaquine I’m taking for malaria, or maybe its just how I am seeing this country. But, I have to say, its starting to grow on me!
August 6th, 2011: More language training
Yeah, that is pretty much all I got. More language training. I tried making my phone work, with no luck. Kampala tour tomorrow, maybe I will have some luck then. Hopefully this Luganda will come in handy at some point. I’m actually enjoying the language, but I’m also thinking that I’m spending time trying to understand this language but what if I get assigned a different language. We’ll know on Monday.
Oh yeah, got my mentor group. Yay for mental health support within the Peace Corps.
Oh yeah, we also learned how to wash laundry by hand. Or, I guess in my case, re-learn?
This is probably my worst blog post ever. Sorry.
August 7th, 2011: Kampala Tour
Kampala, Kampala, what can I say about you? There is no real way to prepare someone for the city of Kampala, for the experience of the bus parks and taxi parks. There is no way. Let me try and capture it into words. After throwing up twice in the morning (yes, I threw up, don’t worry I’m fine now), I had a small breakfast of peanut butter and bananas. I am trying to supplement the high carb diet with a high protein intake of the peanut butter. That seems reasonable, right? Anyways, we got to wear non-Ugandan wear today, i.e. capris and t-shirts. I was excited. Back to my normal style. As we were making our way into the city, we were instructed to buy poop buckets. No, that is not a mistype. We were instructed to buy buckets in order to deal with night time emergencies. My bucket is a small sized bucket, which EVERY volunteer decided they had to comment on. I didn’t really understand this, seeing as how I’m a fairly small person and my poop isn’t exactly monumental in any way. Oh well, we’ll see how it works out. So, I got my poop bucket and surge protector at a local supermarket which was located within a big indoor mall (oh how the western influences continue to amaze me) and everyone else got phones. Luckily Gina graciously gave me her internet modem and I figured out that I could use the sim card as a phone. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that the sim card was exclusively an internet sim card and I had to have it activated as a phone sim card. After trying to talk to current PCVs and the trainers, I realized the only way this was going to get done was for me to do it myself. I called the customer service line, which was in Lugandan, and finally got in touch with someone who spoke English. Unfortunately, they said my number was already activated and that I should try calling someone else’s number. I hung up and tried another number, a number I knew should work. It didn’t. Awesome! So I called again, got a different rep and almost completely told her off. I calmed down and tried to explain what was going on and she, God bless her, actually helped. She told me that currently the sim card was only to be used for the internet and I asked if I could change it to a phone sim card and she said it would be able to be done within 24 hours. SUCCESS! So tomorrow my phone should work, as a phone. If it doesn’t I think I might cry. I know, pathetic, but this is my life.
So, on to more events in Kampala. I got a marriage proposal, that was interesting. A guy asked a male PCT in my group about the other two girls in the group who were both married (I was in a group with two married couples, among others). So then the male suitor turned his attention to me. The guy, thank goodness, told the suitor my husband (fake, I promise) was in another group. Apparently this didn’t matter because the suitor decided that since my husband was away, he’d like to come to play. I pumped my fist sarcastically (big mistake since he was still watching me) which prompted him to follow me and offer me trips to Kisoro and Jinja. It was cute in some ways, not so much in others. I also got questioned on whether or not I was related to another PCT, who was male, white, brown hair, and did not look like me AT ALL. Nice. Another observation of Ugandans, they really like Obama. There were Obama stickers on people’s cars and people asked if we knew Obama personally. One of the PCTs even got a personal message to send to Obama. Other than that the best part about Kampala was getting to know the other PCTs. I was in a group with PCTs that I hadn’t really gotten to know well so far so it was good to shake things up a bit.
Our group walked about Kampala for a while after lunch, which consisted of New York style pizza (don’t judge me), and saw some interesting sites, including crazy dinosaur birds (definitely from Jurassic Park) and random guys trying to steal my water (not my purse, my water). Walking around we also noticed a lot of Indians. There were Swaminarayan Mandhirs all around the city. There were swastiks around the city, which prompted questions about why there were “swastikas” around the city. Thankfully there were other people in the group who knew the difference between the original swastika and the defiled symbol of Nazi Germany. It was interesting to know that some people don’t know the difference, even today. We also passed a Bank of Baroda, which is a huge bank in India. I thought that was cool, the more solid presence of India in Uganda, it was very visible.
The night ended with spiders and spoons and me typing this blog up. One of the PCTs found a spider in the bathroom behind our dorms and asked me to help her stomp it out. I followed her to the bathroom and didn’t see anything at first, but soon saw a spider the size of my palm (I promise you, I am not exaggerating). I went back to my bunk and got my body spray (to stun the spider, not to make it smell better). I went back with the PCT and sprayed the spider, which had moved closer to the door, and stunned it. SUCCESS! As soon as I tried to stomp on it, the spider came back to life and jumped AT ME! Holy cow! I screamed, the PCT screamed, and we all ran. The compound security definitely came asking what was going on and we had to admit (completely embarrassed) that we were screaming about a spider. After that a bunch of PCTs were playing spoons (super loudly) and having a bible study (two different groups, not both at once).
I also had a great conversation with a PCT, Andrew. We discussed how we both hope to be able to work with economic development volunteers because the business model can have such a positive effect on the health outcome of a community. While so many health community volunteers don’t necessarily agree with the business model, it has to be understood that in a lot of ways, public health and business go together. The business model can be used for good!
Ok, enough of this blogging shiz, I’m going to bed. Headlamp off!