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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.