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Monday, January 30, 2012


Ah, love. Is there ever really a way to tell whether or not someone loves you? Many of us live most of our lives trying to find and recognize those special people who truly love us, but how do we know, beyond any doubt, that we are loved.

Well, in the Peace Corps, there is one very easy way to determine exactly if and how much someone loves you.

Two words: Care packages.

Only a PCV would understand exactly how important these can be to our sanity. In the first few months, especially, packages make all the difference. In this case, size doesn’t necessarily matter, however the rule always stands, the bigger, the better.

Case in point: The 40 pound box of love.

*This story is dedicated to a very special volunteer, Dorothy, and her friend from New Mexico*

On my way to Bushenyi to visit Andrew for his 25th birthday (Happy Birthday, jerkstore), I decided to pop in on Dorothy and see how she was doing. It must have been fate because that very day Dorothy got the much anticipated 40 pound box.

Now, let’s just put this in perspective…Peace Corps allows each bag brought in-country to weigh just about 40 pounds. That means, this box weighed just about the same as a regulation check-in bag for a volunteer anticipating being away from home for 2 years. Have I emphasized what can only be described as the glory that was only to come from this box of love?

When we took the box to Dorothy’s humble abode, we found a hole in one of the corners, suggesting a critter had gotten into the box. Dorothy, being the smart woman she is, took the box outside before sinking her teeth into it (figuratively, that is). As she opened the box, we quickly realized that some of the goodies had not made the long journey from New Mexico to Masaka. Sadly, some Ramen Noodle packets exploded and ants were everywhere (seriously, we were cleaning them up a good hour later). After filtering out the salvageable from the too far gone, we found nothing but the look (and later found out the taste) of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, we had a feast in tribute to America (and of course Dorothy’s wonderful friend by proxy). The only thing that was heard for the next hour or two was the munching of snacks, the crumpling of wrappers, and the silence that only occurs when no words can express how happy and loved we felt (of course, Dorothy more than I, but the fact that she shared made me feel loved by her and her friend).


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Love in the Time of Cholera

*Warning: The following post has been rated R for language and suggestive content, readers discretion is advised!*

I recently attended an HIV/AIDS counseling training session held at my nursing school by two counselors from Makerere University. It was interesting to note the lack of organization the trainers seemed to have. Maybe it was just by appearance, but it seemed that they did not have an exact plan of what they would be presenting to the nursing students. There was continuous discussion between the trainers about what would be presented next and who would do the next segment of the training. This being said, the information presented was invaluable. The techniques needed to provide effective counseling is something all healthcare professionals should have at least a basic knowledge of. It was interesting to note that some of the students who were present at the training did not have even a basic understanding of the biology of HIV/AIDS. I spoke with one of the tutors during the first break about this issue, and he informed me that the students, broken up into groups based on when they began the program of study, went through different courses at different times. Apparently there is no set semester or term for when the students are given certain subjects. I’m not sure what the schedule it based on, maybe it is simply the availability of the lecturers.

Another noteworthy observation was the reaction of the students when the trainers discussed modes of transmission of HIV. While the students were very professional during discussion of intercourse, needle sharing, and oral sex, they were not very professional when discussions of “rubbing” and “finger fucking” were initiated. I also thought this specific terminology was slightly unprofessional when used by the trainers, but I suppose when doing outreach it is important for the participants to understand exactly what you are referring to, and with these terms, there is no question. The students erupted in laughter and giggles when these modes of transmission were discussed. Some students even gasped, as if horrified the trainers would even discuss such behavior. While I appreciate a sense of prudency in regards to sexual activity, it is important to be acquainted with sexual behavior if you are going to be a healthcare professional, especially when you are working in areas of high STI rates and high rates of HIV/AIDS. These are the things young people are doing; these are the behaviors that need to be changed in order to prevent HIV from spreading further. Without talking about it, how are we going to stop it?

On a less somber note, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has come and gone. It’s amazing what one person can do to change people, society, and to some extent, the world. On this day, we are all reminded of the famous speech and are often asked the question, what is your dream? I gave it some thought, and this would have to be my dream (admittedly influenced by the current novel I am reading, Mountains Beyond Mountains):

My dream is that all the people who need ARV medications to treat their HIV will be able to get them; those who need malaria prophylaxis and treated bed nets will get them; those who need food, water, and education will get dream is that there be no more orphaned children due to HIV/AIDS, there be no more unnecessary deaths due to a treatable infectious disease…

In retrospect, I realized the use of “unnecessary” may imply that some deaths are necessary, which I do not endorse. I hope my dream does not sound cliché, naïve, or grandiose. When I think about what I want the world to be in the future, what I want my impact to be, in essense, what I want to do with my life, the words of Gandhi come to mind:

I do not want a kingdom, salvation, or heaven, what I want is to remove the trouble of the oppressed, the poor, and the needy. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

For my sermon this week, I used Mat 18:21-35:
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. "The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow-servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. His fellow-servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow-servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

I feel like this is a very important passage to remember. We had all been wronged by people in our lives and often we hold it against them for a very long time. The most important thing we can learn to do is to forgive others. No matter what wrong has been done to you, it is important for you to forgive. It is not your place to judge and punish others because that is the work of God. So now, I ask of you, forgive anyone who has wronged you in the past, and remember to forgive those who will wrong you in the future. There is no sense in carrying around hatred and anger. The only thing that you should carry is love and peace. Let it be God who decides, in the end, do not let yourself be preoccupied by such things.


Saturday, January 14, 2012


Traveling is always a nightmare in Uganda, especially when using public transport. There are various means of transportation, depending on where you are in the country and where you are traveling to.

These include but are not limited to:
-Mutatus (A van taxis which should only hold 14 but the further you are from the capital, the more people get packed in. The most I’ve seen is 25.)
-Corolla Taxis (A car taxi the size of a Toyota Corolla which should fit about 5 people, but I have been in a car with 20.)
-Buses (Usually should stop filling when there are no seats, but here you have people sitting and standing in the aisle.)
-Post Bus (By far the best option, leaves at scheduled times and does not stop and pick up people along the way.)

Here is another horror story regarding transportation:

The day the conductor got arrested.

*Please note that this story is based on true events and any resemblance to actual events is NOT coincidental.*

On my way to Masaka (purpose: to check my post box) I found myself in a fairly turbulent situation. The journey began before sunrise, where I found myself wandering the streets at night trying to find the pickup location for the early morning bus. After finding the bus I was looking for, I bought my ticket and found an empty seat. Within minutes I had fallen sleep (don’t worry, I had my bag on my lap to dissuade thieves) and the bus was moving. After about 20 minutes, the bus pulled over on the side of the road, reason unknown. After about an hour, the conductor (the man in charge of collecting money, assigning tickets, and indicating stops) came on the bus and said there was something wrong with the bus and that we would switch to another bus. After another 20 minutes the second bus came and all the patrons of my bus exited and made our way on a treacherous ledge to the second bus. After almost falling three times, I finally reached the other bus only to be told we would be re-boarding the first bus. Frustrated, I turned back to the first bus, boarded, and fell asleep again. After what felt like 30 minutes, I woke up to realize a few hours had passed and I was just outside of Masaka. I sat patiently, waiting for the bus to reach the bus park, only to notice that the bus was passing Masaka. Not sure what was going on, I approached the front of the bus only to find the conductor missing. I asked another patron about the stop we were supposed to have in Masaka, only to find out that we passed it and could not turn around. Why? Apparently this trip was “illegal” in that it was not a registered route. I asked the patron where the conductor was and he said “oh, the conductor was left behind, he has been arrested”. Not really sure what to do, I tell the passenger I need to go to Masaka. The passenger’s only response is “sorry, we will try to get you a taxi”. I walk back to my seat, nervous about not being able to get off where I need to get off and having to figure out how to get my butt home. The “helpful” passenger comes back to my seat and says the driver will find a taxi for me. I indicate that I will not pay and the passenger says he will ask if the driver will pay. Finally, after what seemed like some hard negotiating, the passenger comes back to my seat and says the driver will indeed pay for a taxi back to Masaka. Relieved, I wait patiently for the bus to stop…20 minutes later we are still moving. At some point, we stop and I board another bus going in the opposite direction, only to find there are no seats available. The conductor on this bus makes a young girl stand to allow me to have a seat, however I tell the girl to sit with me in the seat (since I’m used to squeezing more people than should be in any designated area). I also give her a piece of candy for her trouble. At some point I finally reach Masaka, where I am able to check my post box and turn around to go back to my site.

In other news, I am pretty sure I am going to test positive for Schistosomiasis, also known as Bilharzia, next time I have a run in with medical. I was walking back from the market in town when I ran into one of the guards from the nursing school. I followed him, not really walking with him as his stride is easily three of mine, when I noticed him turning onto the shortcut (which I mentioned earlier was flooded). I asked if the path was clear and he said yes, I asked if it was dry, just to clarify what I meant by clear, and he said “yes, it is okay”. So I followed him rather than walk the long way.

Big mistake.

While the water had receded a great deal, there are still areas where I had to walk on rocks and my feet went under the water. At one point I stumbled in the water (thankfully only my feet fell in) and I lost a shoe in the mud. The guard doubled back and fetched it for me, but I am pretty sure this exposure, plus the whole rafting in the Nile scenario, pretty much guarantees a positive test result for Schistosomiasis.


Sometimes I question the life I lead here in Uganda, but I guess I shouldn’t complain. At the very least, it is always interesting.

Update on my cooking endeavors:
I received an amazing package with macaroni and cheese packets so I decided to get my Julia Child on and cook up some macaroni and cheese with green peppers and tomatoes. I also added garlic powder and parsley.

IT TASTED AWESOME! And, big day, no pee butt! It tasted somehow like my mom’s macaroni casserole, but obviously not as good. I shared some with the pastor and he seemed to really enjoy it. I noticed when I make one of the macaroni packets there is easily enough food for three people, so I may have some of the staff members over for dinner one night, when I am feeling inspired yet again (really, whenever I am bored).

On another unrelated note (aren’t my transitions amazing?), it has come to my attention that I often forget how cute and sweet Ugandan children can be. We (and by “we” I mean foreign volunteers) can get so jaded and blinded by the kids who always run around screaming “mzungu” and other words meaning foreigner, getting lost in the frustration we feel when it seems all the kids want is candy or money, that we forget they are just kids. It isn’t necessarily their fault they think foreigners are full of money and candy. That is all they see and all they are taught. It’s really up to us to change the stereotype and correct the misinformation they are given. Sure, it is not going to happen overnight, nor will it probably change within the two years of service, but hopefully, by the time I leave, one parent will be able to teach his or her child not all foreigners have money and candy to give, our names aren’t “mzungu”, and we truly just want to help make a difference for the future of these children.

You are probably wondering, Aditi, what brought on this sudden affirmation that Ugandan children are worth the effort?

Well, all it took was a young girl and her little brother (or sister, I couldn’t really tell based on the clothing he or she was wearing) singing and dancing at church service (yes, I apparently go to church service these days). Their innocence was illuminated and I realized I need to change my attitude and try to help more, try to change the ideas these kids have of what we, as volunteers, do and what we have.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Polar Express

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Hopefully the New Year brings a renewed sense of vigor to everyone (I feel as if I’ve said this before).

Normally, I’m not really a fan of New Year’s resolutions because I have never been able to really keep any. I’ve done the standard resolutions:
-I’m going to exercise more
-I’m going to eat healthier foods
-I’m going to spend more time helping my community

All these standard resolutions are good and fine, but it seems that things always go back to normal (and “normal” for me seems to be doing yoga, abs, push-ups, maintaining my vegetarian diet, and volunteering in whatever community I am in…do you see the irony in me having these standard resolutions?). I’ve decided to make some fairly specific resolutions this year:
-I am going to be more involved at the Rakai Red Cross office and God Cares (organizations in Rakai Town)
-I am going to be more involved at the Rakai Aids Counseling Association in Rakai Town
-I am going to start a peer support group at the nursing school

My goals with these resolutions are to be more active and do more in Rakai as well as to try and help the nursing students by broadening their perspectives. I’d like them to see and understand that there are many different things out in the world so that when they encounter foreigners, the conversation doesn’t turn to the standard list of questions about the differences, but rather an investigation as to why there are differences and what can be done to improve things in Uganda.

On an unrelated note, the New Year has already produced some interesting adventures. One in particular I will share (mostly because it just happened). I was walking back from town a little after 7:00 pm, playing chicken with the setting sun. Now, keep in mind I live in Uganda, East Africa, where electricity does not exactly “light up the sky”, if you know what I mean (and my fellow PCVs can attest to this), so it tends to get very, very dark when the sun sets. So, as I am slowly losing my game of chicken with the sun, I decide to call on the help of a staff member at the nursing school. He agrees to meet me in town where we can walk together up the mountain (seriously, I need to really emphasize that I live on a mountain which I have to hike whenever I need to leave the nursing school). I continue walking towards the shortcut (which cuts through some shrubbery and woods taking off about 10 minutes of walking time, the long way goes far away from down then turns back which is about a 20 minute walk, at least…and I walk slow so it would probably take longer for me) and the staff member meets be right at the start of the short cut. Now, while I was in town, I ran into another staff member who warned me there was water on the path and I should take a boda back to the school (a boda is basically a taxi motorcycle, known for its high speeds and death defying maneuvers, making them illegal for PCVs to ride). I told the staff member in town I was not allowed to ride bodas and thus would have to walk. When I met the helpful staff member, he did not seem concerned about this apparent water on the path, making me more confident of my choice not to break the rules. As we started on the path, we talked about normal, daily, routine things, when suddenly I see mounds of gravel blocking the path. The staff member accompanying me says there are due to recent floods (the mounds are an apparent attempt to keep the path functional). We spent the next ten minutes or so climbing four to five mounds, avoiding water (which I can only assume was infested with Schistosomiasis a.k.a. Bilharzia) which flooded inland from the lake (which is really just an inlet of Lake Victoria). On the final mound, I look forward and realize there is no way to continue further, the only thing in front of me is water. I have a mini-panic attack, realizing the only real way forward is to go back and take the long route (with no street lights, this seems a bit precarious). The staff member laughs at my sense of panic and points out some nursing students coming in from a parallel path in the direction of the district hospital. They are walking in the swampy water without any shoes on. I panic, thinking that I am going to be expected to do the same, however to my relief the staff member asks the students for their gum boots (why they weren’t wearing said gum boots is beyond me). We wait on the mound (getting bit by malaria infested mosquitoes) while the students pass through the water and bring me the gum boots. I changed into the boots on the mound (falling twice, thankfully not into the water) and make my way through the water, which is knee deep, barely below the top of the gum boots. Thankfully I made it across safely, without falling and without touching the water (though after rafting in the Nile, trying to prevent myself from getting Schistosomiasis is probably moot at this point). The whole adventure took over 45 minutes, a walk which under normal circumstances takes 10 minutes.

When I got back to my house, I noticed there was a hole in my skirt (one my mom had just sent me in the mail too). I can only conclude the hole was a result of the treacherous climbing of the gravel mounds and the falls I suffered as a result. I decided to test my sewing skills and patch up the hole. To my surprise, I did it relatively successfully (my mom would be so proud). It looks a little dodgy, but it works for the most part. We’ll see how it holds up when the woman who washed my clothes washes the skirt (I figure, if it can handle a Ugandan woman’s washing, than it can withstand anything).

What a life I lead here in Africa.