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.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


I recently got to work at another youth development camp, Camp B.U.I.L.D. (Boys in Uganda in Leadership Development). This camp focused on instilling and fostering leadership skills and extinguishing gender roles, promoting gender equality in young boys (a very different experience compared to working with girls). This camp ended up being a tremendous opportunity to mold the future leaders of Uganda and show them what a strong female looked like and that she could be a role model for young boys too. 

At the camp, I was one of two female counselors. It was a tremendous honor to be chosen as one of the only female counselors because it really gave me a chance to get to know the young campers and really have an impact in a more direct way. Having been staff at previous camps, I understand the limited role one can play as staff, but as a counselor you have a much more direct and personal relationship with your campers because you have to be with them all day. Honestly, I think having female counselors as well as male counselors is a huge step forward and should be taken into consideration for all youth camps. It isn’t to say that youth development camps should focus on which gender is guiding which, but both genders should be given equal opportunity to work in such a capacity. Without gender equality there is no empowerment. 

At B.U.I.L.D. I was the counselor for the group ‘Radio & Weasel’ (each camper group was named after a Ugandan musical group, like Seal Paul, Coco Finger, Bobi Wine, Sean Kingston, Konshens, Bebe Cool Jose Chameleone, Eddy Kenzo, and Demarco). I had eight boys ranging from the age of 11 to the age of 17. Each had strong personalities and it was interesting to see how they interacted with one another (especially the change in the interactions as the week progressed). The younger boys were much quieter and less interested in playing in the week long football tournament, which made me feel bad (I felt even worse when I realized all the campers weren’t going to be able to play because they had a set number of players for each team which was less than the number of campers in total and the counselors were allowed to play if they wanted, which would take the spot of a potential camper playing). At least having the two younger boys uninterested made it easy to decide who from my group would be playing, especially since my co-counselor wanted to play. 

Radio & Weasel being a little silly (Photo by Jim Tanton, PCV [])

During the camp, there were various sessions including water and sanitation, nutrition, alcoholism, volcanoes, income-generating activities, team building skills, goals setting, money management, HIV/AIDS, male/female reproductive health, sexual health, malaria, gender roles, domestic violence, and bottle rockets. Initially I was supposed to teach water and sanitation but given it was to be taught on the first day of the week it was decided I would teach gender roles later on in the week in order to be able to spend more of the beginning of the week with my camper group. Throughout the sessions I could really see the change in the boys, even on the first day, from the beginning to the end, the boys were becoming more and more involved in discussions and more participatory in the sessions. By the end of the week many of the discussions were driven by the boys themselves and many of the counselors and staff merely observed and guided the conversation rather than tried to keep it going. During the free time, counselor groups had a chance to do team building activities which were great. The only problem I had with that activity was that it created a further sense of competition between the camper groups and it seemed like so many groups were doing the activities to get points and to have the most points rather than to actually build their camper group as a team.  I decided rather than push my boys to complete the most activities, I let them pick and choose which ones they were interested in doing. By the end of the week, however, when they realized it was a competition, they were rushing to get as many done as possible just to be the winners. I am glad I did this whole activity the way I did because I think the boys got a lot more out of it, at least in the beginning of the week. The activities they did at the beginning of the week really seemed to pull them together as a team and I definitely saw less wandering from them. Instead of trying to get away to be with their friends they were interested in doing things together as a group.

One boy in my group particularly stood out. He was one of the younger boys in the group and at the beginning of the week was really shy and wandered off quite a bit. I was worried I would lose him and that he wouldn’t get anything out of the camp, but by the end of the week he was our champion. He began to participate more and more with each day and was much more participatory in the sessions. He didn’t automatically sit in the back of the class after the first day and he was really receptive to me when I would reprimand the group for not following the rules (which happened a couple times, surprisingly). 

At the end of the week I was scheduled to teach gender roles, which I thought would be both potentially awesome and potentially dreadful. I thought it had the potential to be awesome because it gave me a chance to break any stereotypes and really illustrate that women can do things men can do. At the same time, I had the feeling it could be dreadful because some of these boys have very strong personalities and I thought it would be difficult to change their minds (and indeed in some cases it was). In the end, I only taught one session and it ended up going smoothly. Most of the boys already had the idea of what a gender role was compare to what genders were physically capable of doing. At the same time, it often seemed like the boys were saying what they knew I wanted to hear but may not have been saying something that they truly agreed with. I figured, if this was the case, at least they had some idea what gender equality should be and that was a step in the right direction. There was one student would was very headstrong about girls not being able to do certain jobs and it became very difficult trying to explain to him that women were physically capable of doing those jobs, they just may not have the skills or knowledge to do them. 

After my single session of gender roles I was switched to bottle rockets, were I helped another PCV teach. We explain the four principles of flight (can you name them?). After explaining these principles, we demonstrated how the different designs of bottle rockets shot as well as how the bottle rockets launched with various amounts of “fuel” (we used water). It was awesome to see how, from the first session I taught to the last, the boys got really into the designing and launching. They really seemed to notice the differences based on design and weight of the rockets. At the same time, compared to my bottle rockets experience at GirlTech, the boys were less shy regarding the launching device. During the first session I taught the boys came right up the device and were trying to fiddle with it, worrying me because it could break. At the same time, when I was launching the rockets, the boys were standing really close to the device. I had to force them to move away because there was  a chance the bottles could explode due to the pressure. After the kinks of the first session we got it solid and by the last session everyone was having such a good time we let the boys launch their bottle rockets over and over again (as a reward for cleaning the area as well as being enthusiastic about it).

In the middle of the week we had a performance group, called Rafiki Theater, come do a drama on tribalism in Uganda. The group showed different situations where individuals were being discriminated based on their tribe. It was interesting to see how the boys reacted to the drama. Many laughed at very inappropriate times, like when one woman was telling her story of how she was raped because she was from a certain tribe. I wasn’t really sure why the boys were laughing and when we asked them they didn’t really give an explanation, simply saying that it was because of something someone said or that they related because the police weren’t helping in that situation. It was also frustrating because some of the boys weren’t taking the drama seriously, even my boys. They didn’t seem to be paying attention and then during the reflection time they were chatting with each other but not about the drama. I had to force my boys to write down things they learned or felt during the drama and we discussed it later on our own. This really helped in the end because when we made our team flag, the design reflected an end to tribalism, promoting one Uganda.
Radio & Weasel's team flag: Ending tribalism one star at a time!

By the end of the week I was completely exhausted but I am very thankful I got to participate in this camp. Not only was I able to make a direct impact on young boys, but I got to know some Ugandan counselors really well as well as some new PCVs. I am glad I got to meet some really influential and impactful Ugandans and to see that they were fighting for the same kind of gender equality I am. They are the epitome of the right example for these boys and I hope they continue to promote these ideals.

In the end, we have to be the change we want to see in this world and by working this camp, by showing these young boys that women are strong, capable, and can be leaders, I feel like I was that change. It may not happen overnight, it may not happen in a year, but the wheels are turning and gender discrimination end, gender roles will be destroyed, and these boys will be the actors in this process.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


I have finally arrived at my mid-service conference. It's been over a year since I came to this country and I have to say it has been nothing less than a ride on a grade 5 rapid (see my story of rafting the Nile). One of the main things we were asked to do prior to this conference was to look back on the past year and reflect on what we've accomplished.

Here are a few things I feel I have really accomplished here:

GirlTech - Where I taught epidemiology, nutrition, and got to shoot off over 30 bottle rockets, helping foster an interest in science and technology within secondary school girls.

Nutritional Training for nurses/midwives working with people living with HIV

Peace Camp - Where I got to work with the most inspiring youth in reconciliation, team building, and forgiveness activities

Uganda's Young Stars - My claim to fame, where I get to help foster creativity, free-thinking, critical thinking and writing skills for youth who may have no other way to express themselves

Sometimes I wake up wondering if I've made an impact. It's these kinds of reflections that really help me realize that I am making a difference, even if it is a small one. Whenever I think to myself, I am doing nothing in Uganda, I stop and open my eyes and my thought changes to:  I AM doing something in Uganda and people notice the difference I am making.

That's when my decision to come to Uganda and join Peace Corps is re-affirmed.

Monday, October 22, 2012


I recently had the opportunity to visit another volunteer’s site to see if the nutritional training I’ve implemented at my site may be implemented at other sites like mine (i.e. nursing schools at which students are required to do community rotations). 

The beginning of my journey proved to foreshadow the absolute madness that would describe the rest of my travel. On my way to Kampala, on the first bus of the day which I have taken numerous times and have never had any real issues with, I got stuck in the mud. More specifically, my bus got stuck on the side of my mountain, in the pouring rain, in the mud. Instead of meeting me at the school gates, I had to walk down the slippery, muddy mountain in the rain to meet the bus only to find it stuck in a ditch. The conductor insisted I board, though I wasn’t sure we’d be going anywhere that day, so I got in. After numerous attempts to get unstuck, the driver got out and went up to my nursing school, presumably to get some help. He came back a few minutes later with a pick axe and a shovel. After another half hour attempting to get the wheels unstuck, a staff member called me to ask if I had left safely to which I responded “we’re still on the hill, stuck in the mud”. He soon came out to check on us. After apparently assessing the situation, he left. I assumed he thought we were on the right track so I put in my earbuds and quickly fell asleep. When I woke up, the rain had stopped, the sun was shining stronger than ever, and there were a dozen male students from my nursing school approaching the bus with more pick axes, shovels, and machetes (I am still not sure how the machetes came into play). I opened my window and sleepily greeted the boys and watched as they banged, dug, and apparently chopped their way through the mud to free the tires. After about two hours of sitting on the side of my mountain, we were finally freed and on our way to Kampala. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it too far because there was some damage to one of the tires causing us to pull over and transfer to another vehicle. A ride that usually takes 5 hours maximum took almost 8.

Along the way, I decided to make a detour and take a quick day game drive through Murchison Falls National Park. I hadn’t done a game drive through Murchison yet, so I thought while I was up there I might as well take a few hours and do it. Lucky for me I had found a driver ahead of time through some recommendations from others who have done the game drive through Murchison Falls already. The game drive was absolutely epic, one of the few times I feel like I’m really in Africa. I got to see elephants, giraffes, warthogs, water buffalo, hippos, and even lions! The lions were a rare find and it took a bit of tracking to find them. The guide I was using stopped the vehicle in the middle of the road without telling me, leading me to question my choice in guides for a split second, then all of a sudden told the driver to turn in another direction. As we did so, again I hadn’t received any reasoning or warning prior to taking the action, I almost cursed myself for wasting money on a guide who just had us jerking around the park, when all of a sudden in front of us were two lionesses and one young adult male lion. It was absolutely unreal. Unfortunately about two seconds after we spotted them, another vehicle came up right behind us and scared them away. At least I got one decent shot of the lioness! After this the driver took me to see the famous Murchison Falls, which were just as epic as people have described it. 

While heading back to Masindi, where I could pick up a taxi heading towards the other volunteer’s site, we stopped at a camp site for lunch. Lucky for me, I had packed a sandwich and some snacks ahead of time so that I wouldn’t be hungry on the road (though sometimes I do get tempted by the roadside delights). I decided to take my lunch at one of the picnic benches near the tents, which no one seemed to protest to, in fact one of the managers of the camp grounds came by and chatted for a bit. Not two minutes after he walked away, two adult warthogs approached me. As I realized they weren’t stopping anytime soon, I began to climb onto the seat of the picnic bench. Seeing that they were continuing and seemed to have the intent of climbing the seat, I continued onto the table of the picnic bench (I am proud to say I did not step or sit on any of the food I had on the table). At this point the leader of the warthog duo was climbing onto the seat I was previously sitting on while the other was coming around to the other side. In order to prevent myself getting into the middle of a warthog sandwich, I jumped onto the opposite seat and onto the ground where I began running to the back of one of the tents. As I turned back to see if the warthogs were following me, I got to witness the first warthog devour what was left of my sandwich. I decided it wasn’t worth fighting for, so I continued to the back of one of the tents and began screaming for help. After a couple minutes, someone came and began throwing things at the warthogs and stomping at them, which apparently scared them enough because they ran away (not without taking a look through my plastic bag of snacks). When I saw that the coast was clear, I came out from behind the tent to find one of the warthogs taking my plastic bag away (I decided he could have it). I took what was left of my snacks and went to the bar area where I ended up replaying my story for a few guests of the camp site. 

After this adventure, I’ve decided I’ve had enough warthogs for a lifetime. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

the blind side

I am sure everyone, including myself, believed my ridiculous traveling stories would be over…after all I have been in this country for over a year, so by now I must be used to the madness that is transport, right? Wrong.
So I went into Kyotera, the big town near me where I can get most of the things I need that I cannot get from my own town. The transport to Kyotera was uneventful but the transport back was nothing short of note-worthy. As I was walking to the stage (that is what the stops are called here) for Rakai Town, a car drove by and asked if I was going to Rakai (by now most drivers who are going to Rakai know me and know that I stay at the nursing school so it wasn’t a real surprise). I said yes and got into the front seat, where another man was already sitting. As I got into the car, I noticed a faint scent of urine…this was only the beginning.

When I crammed into the front seat, I noticed that the door didn’t close properly and the locking mechanism didn’t even work. As we were doing the standard rounds through town, there were times when I have a distinct fear the door would pop open, throwing me out in the process. During one of the turn-abouts, I also had the distinct feeling that the car was going to flip. This brought on many images of flipped buses I have seen while traveling around various parts of the country. In order to try and stop the door from popping open (because I figured that was the most I could do), I literally held onto the door through the open window. Honestly, it made me feel a lot safer. Throughout the journey, there were points where I felt like if I weren’t holding the door it would have opened and at other points when the car stalled I thought I should just jump out and walk because that would guarantee I would make it back alive.

All this in a mere 40 minute drive…

On a more positive note, during this ride from hell one of the Ugandans sitting in the back started playing Bollywood hits from his phone…in fact his ring tone was from a Bollywood movie.

Always take time to appreciate the little things…

Sometimes you also have to stop and take time to appreciate the hilarity in life…
The other night, I was walking back from the library after my night shift had finished, it was approximately 10:30 pm. Clearly, the sun had set by then. I was walking in the dark while chatting on the phone with another volunteer (yes, I did have a torch). I turned a corner, going from a well-lit area to a very not, practically unlit area. As soon as I climbed a few steps, and before I could switch on my torch, I was startled by a very large movement. I screamed quite loudly (it probably sounded like a girl screaming bloody murder) and yelled out some obscenities I am not proud of. In the instant of sheer terror I felt, and having not fully recognized what this animal was, my mind immediately thought it was a lion (I know, I know, that sounds pretty ridiculous, but come on, I live in Africa). So after I pass the phase of fearing for my life and realize the animal is running away from me, not towards me to eat me, I am able to see what it actually is. Drumroll please…

A goat.

At this point, after realizing how ridiculous I was, I could not stop laughing, to the point where I was in tears and hyperventilating (all this while still on the phone with my PCV friend). All in all my life was spared and I got a hilarious story to tell.

On a more professional note, I recently got the opportunity to train some of the students who are out doing their community placements on nutrition counseling and intervention for people living with HIV. I did the first four sessions in one because most of the information in the first three sessions was refresher (the basics of HIV, Nutrition, and how they are related). I focused mostly on the management of HIV-related symptoms related to nutrition. I hope it was useful to the students and I look forward to going back and seeing their assessments and training them further on management for specific populations living with HIV. 

Side note: I am still trying to figure out how I got pegged as a well versed person in nutrition…

With all these experiences it was hard for me to think I’d have a story to top this…but I do, thanks to the 50th Anniversary of Uganda’s Independence which they themed “Carnival 2012”. I was lucky enough to be in Kampala, the country’s capital, for some of the festivities (having been invited to a Global Health Corps Alumni event) and let me tell you, Kampala did not disappoint (not that I have ever been disappointed in Kampala, the few times I’ve been). On the day I was planning on leaving, I decided to stop by Brood (the best bakery in the WORLD, seriously…) for breakfast. Unbeknownst to me, I was going to be there for a while. As I was eating I noticed some commotion on the main road (I instantly became vigilant, Fred the safety and security advisor would be so proud) and I decided to try and eat a bit faster so I could leave before the crowds started forming. As I was finishing up, I noticed more and more people coming to the main road. I gathered my things and started walking towards the taxi park where I would be able to get in a taxi and hopefully leave within an hour…unfortunately this did not happen because I got stuck in a crowd and had to slowly maneuver my way to the taxi park. While doing this I was able to catch a glimpse of the commotion…apparently there was a parade slated for that day. This parade included camels, horses, bands, school dance teams, motorcycle gangs, women dressed like Carnival inspired angels (I decided to call one “the Angel of Independence”), someone dressed like a faux Mickey Mouse, a float filled with Carnival-esque dancers, another float filled with traditional African dancers, an in-line skate dance troupe, and finally a Ugandan flash mob (it was kind of awesome). Lucky for me it didn’t take me too much longer to get to the taxi park, but because of all this commotion and because the main road was basically shut down, it took me two hours to leave the capital…oh well, at least I got some fun memories out of it!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Joy for Beginners

I recently had a chance to go to Jinja again and I have to say it was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a very long time. I went to meet a friend from USF who is in Uganda doing research in Tororo district in a town called Papoli. 

The weekend was nothing short of fantastic, it ended up being exactly the relaxing weekend I needed. We decided to go paddle-boarding on the Nile on Saturday (I know what you’re all thinking…who does that?) and that evening we did the sunset cruise on the Nile. 

In the morning we went into town and made an attempt to see the source of the Nile. Now, I say we made an attempt because we were not exactly successful in reaching the source because of the complete frustration we both felt while making our attempt. So basically, you go to “the source” and pay an entrance fee at a gate which says you are paying an entrance to the source of the Nile. WRONG! You are actually just paying to get into these semi-botanical gardens and a small little park, from there you are required to pay another large sum of money (relatively speaking I suppose) to get on a boat and go to the actual source, which has been cemented and identified with a sign (I thought this would probably ruin the source rather than make it an attraction). So my friend and I are wandering through the gardens looking for the source when we find this out and we get upset ( I think it’s understandable). We have a few words with some of the guides and finally just decide to take pictures near the river (which we could have done for free) and then near Gandhi’s bust statue (apparently his ashes were scattered in the Nile…why? Who knows?). After this whole fiasco we leave and decide we want to have a few words with the folks at the gate about their false advertising. After going back and forth we finally get a “okay, we’ll talk to the management” response. As we are sitting there waiting for a friend to come pick us up, another vehicle packed with tourists comes to the gate. The driver comes out to talk to the gatekeepers about the costs and my friend, being the awesome person she is, wants to inform this driver of the real costs, not just the ones they decide they’re going to tell you about. Of course this causes the folks at the gate to get upset with us because we’re “embarrassing” them by telling the truth. Finally our friend shows up and we leave (not without a few further words exchanged). 

After this whole fiasco, we stop at a Mandhir nearby which has a full statue of Gandhi, where I do a quick puja for Ganesha, since it was the end of the Ganesha festival.

We proceeded back to the campsite for some paddle-boarding on the Nile, which proved to be easier than I expected, though I was going at a tortoise speed the whole time. There were a few times where I thought I was going to fall into the water and other times when I almost hit my friend (and sometimes we actually did run into each other), but neither of us fell in (BIG DAY!). We had to rush a little in order to make the sunset cruise on the Nile, but we made it and all went well. While on the cruise the music was broken so they had to use my iPod, which was fine, until a few other guests decided they were going to be picky about music. Now, I’m all about being picky about music, when I actually have control over the choice of music…but when you’re on a cruise with a bunch of other people and there is clearly someone else’s iPod playing and you have no idea what is on that iPod, why even bother? Just enjoy the unlimited drinks and the beautiful scenery. It’s not like I had crazy rap music on, I mostly was playing lounge type music…but apparently it wasn’t catchy enough for this one chic so she absolutely had to make her requests…oh well. You can’t win them all (though it was funny, at one point I just gave up trying to be the DJ, allowing other people to do as they pleased with my iPod because I didn’t want to feel like I was working while on this cruise…I did not pay for a sunset cruise to work on it!).

Another great weekend in Jinja. Be jealous.

Monday, September 17, 2012


I seem to have hit a lull in the interesting story sector, but recently I had a very fun and potentially damaging bus ride. I was on my way back from an outing and decided to sit in the very back of the bus, since that was the most open out of any other section in the bus. To my surprise, before I even sat down, the bus took off at lightning speed. When I finally got to my seat, I though, okay, I can handle this. About two seconds after I had that thought, the bus hit a bump and I went flying…seriously I was at least two feet in the air. When I landed, the Ugandan sitting closest to me was laughing. I also thought this was funny…the first time. After the fourth time I didn’t find it as amusing…neither did the Ugandan. Luckily the bus ride wasn’t very long, so I only had to put up with a few more bumps. It wasn’t so much the airtime that sucks, actually that was quite fun, but the landing was just painful.

In other news, I got yet another marriage proposal from a Uganda. This was one of the funniest though. I was with a friend at the bank, waiting for her to complete her transaction. While waiting I noticed one of the bankers looking at me and saying something to my friend. I didn’t really think anything of it, mostly figured it was just the guy making sure I didn’t have any business he should attend to. As my friend and I were walking out of the bank, she asked me to take a look at the banker who was earlier pointing me out. Apparently, while trying to complete her transaction, the banker was asking about me, more specifically what my bride-price was. My friend told me she indicated my high level of education which would make my bride price very high. I laughed and said yes, it would probably be about 100 cows. My friend, almost taken aback, said well I told him it would be $100!

Apparently my friends view highly of me.