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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!