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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.


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