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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.