The views expressed on this website are entirely my own and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

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.