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Monday, April 16, 2012

The Cupcake Diaries - Ssula Emu

*I reserve the right to use this title more than once, as I anticipate there being a series of stories to tell (hence the "ssula emu", which means "chapter one" in Luganda). Thank you in advance for your cooperation.*

As many of you may know, I have a very unhealthy obsession with baked goods, sweets, and pretty much anything that has sugar in it, on top of it, or can be coated in icing. Given my recent requests for incoming trainees to download television shows based entirely on cupcakes, we should all recognize the depth of my obsession (along with the fact that I got a cupcake necklace, The Cupcake Diaries, and other cupcake relate items shipped to me, the further details of which will not be disclosed because I know I will be mocked endlessly…). With this obsession deeply rooted, I found myself accepting an invitation to go to Uganda, a country where ovens are scarce at best (imagine my horror!). There was definitely a long discussion with myself determining exactly how much I wanted to serve in Uganda compared to how much I would miss eating and baking for two years.

Apparently Uganda won.

So, I spent the few weeks before shipping out filling my body with every baked good imaginable in anticipation of not being able to eat them (at least not whenever I wanted to). I lived off of brownies, cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and varieties of all these (along with a substantial amount of 2% milk, knowing I probably wouldn’t get that either).

Well, imagine my surprise and joy when, a few months ago, a PCV friend discovered a website where a cake was cooked in a rice cooker. That’s right…A RICE COOKER! Now, without having this information ahead of time I somehow already had anticipated a need for a rice cooker and purchased one in Kampala (or course my “needs” for a rice cooker encompassed rice and pasta dishes, but now a whole new door has opened up for me).


After hearing about my friend’s successes I decided to put this rice cooker cake theory to the test. My lovely mother, who has always been too good to me, sent me a mix for marble fudge cake (go big or go home, right?) so I decided one Saturday it was time for me to try this whole baking in Africa thing (except it wasn’t really baking in Africa because I used electricity, not the whole pot in a pot on top of a coal fire method used by REAL PCVs), Happy Sabbath! Not really knowing how long it would take, I started in the morning (also anticipating the power to shut off at any point during the process I figured it was better to start earlier). I soon realized the quantity of batter was probably more than this website anticipated. After turning the rice cooker on COOK, I soon heard the click indicated it had switched to WARM. I checked and no, the cake was not done yet. Throughout the next hour I had to continually switch the rice cooker back to the COOK function only to hear it click back on WARM. Finally, I took some tape and taped it down to COOK, forcing it to stay there.

And then the rice cooker blew out.

Good job, Aditi.

Well, the good news is the cake cooked. The bottom burned a tad (and by a tad I mean it was completely black), but the center was moist and delicious! Unfortunately, my poor rice cooker seems to be out for the count. I discovered I do have a warranty on this bad boy, so maybe the next time I am in Kampala I’ll see if I can get it fixed (although my hopes are not high given that I’m in Uganda and getting anything fixed out here can be more of a hassle than it’s worth, but my PCV friend seemed to get his fixed without any problems so we’ll just see).

I shared most of the cake with the staff around my school and I haven’t heard any complaints yet, nor have I heard anyone running to the bathroom, which is also a good sign. I even got a “God Bless You” from one of the staffers…big day!

Upon checking up on the recievers of cake, I was met with numerous versions of “Thank you” (in English, Luganda, and what I can only assume in Luganda but with the mumbling and respectfully low voice used I couldn’t tell) and confirmations that the cake was in fact “very okay”. Yay!

And here are some pictures!

Initial stage:

During the cooking process:

The finished product:

Nom nom nom!


I could have probably eaten the whole thing...

Now I may actually have to start working out...


Monday, April 9, 2012

Hippos Go Berserk

Once upon a time there were two brothers, Kigarama and Mburo. They lived in a valley where they were farmers. One night, Kigarama, the older of the two brothers, had a dream in which their farmland and livelihoods would be destroyed. The next day, Kigarama told his younger brother, Mburo, about the dream and advised that they take their livestock and move to the surrounding mountains. Mburo did not heed Kigarama’s warning and remained in the valley, while Kigarama moved to the mountains. Soon, fate unveiled the truth behind Kigarama’s dream. Mburo was drowned in a flood in the valley, while Kigarama was saved in the mountains. From that day on, the lake which remained after the flood was named after the younger brother, Mburo, while the surrounding mountains were named after the elder brother, Kigarama.

And so the story of Lake Mburo goes…

You must hurry, the hippos are coming.

For Easter I headed to Bushenyi to attend a pig roast for Jesus (says the vegetarian), and along the way I stopped at Lake Mburo for the day to check out the sites. This is apparently the only place in Uganda where you can see impala in the wild. Also on the hit list are zebras, water buffalo, many different kinds of bucks, 315 types of birds, hippos, crocodiles, otters, and many other animals and wildlife. Spending some time there was amazing because I got to be within mere feet of impala, zebra, and even hippos! I got to do many things in the few hours I was there, including a boat tour where I saw multiple hippo pods, a game drive where I saw many families of zebras, and a nature hike where I nearly ran into a wandering hippo! The best part was during one of the hikes it started raining which apparently signaled for the mosquitoes around to attack, along with red ants, causing me and the guide to run out of the forest frantically. One thing I learned, if the guide is running frantically, you know you’re in trouble.

On the way to the Easter festivities, I took public transportation, per usual, giving me yet another ridiculous story to tell. I was sitting in the front seat with another passenger, yes, two people in the front seat, when the driver pushes my bag off my lap and tells me to “bend”. I turn and look at him wondering what he is talking about and he grabs my side and says “bend, bend”. I still have no idea what he’s talking about until he forces my upper body into his lap almost screaming “you bend here the police are coming”. While he was pulling me onto his lap I was saying, out loud, “you want me to do what!” while the rest of the passengers were all laughing. When I got up I thought it was funny too, until it happened again.

You’d think the drivers would learn not to overload the cars and just keep one person in the front seat, as per the recommendations of the vehicle, but no, that is too much to ask.

When I arrived in Bushenyi the pig roast was under way. I wanted to see the pig close up, but soon realized that it was still visibly a pig (not really sure what I thought it would look like) and it completely freaked me out. Especially by the end of the night when everyone was picking at it but it still had eyes and it was still staring at me, almost crying out for help. I am very happy I wasn’t around for the slaughter, not really sure if I would have been able to handle that. After the pig was finished and all the meat was eaten (or at least attempted to be eaten) people were playing around with the head of the pig and brains were exposed and all kinds of other games.

On a lighter note, during the Easter festivities we dyed eggs, which may be the second time I’ve ever done that in my life. I also ate a Peep, which may be only the second Peep I’ve ever eaten in my life. This Easter weekend was definitely full of firsts.

In other, more serious news, I had my visit from my Peace Corps program manager, to update her on work I’m doing at my site, conflicts I may have, and ways forward to make me more effective to the nursing school and surrounding community. After our In-Service Training (IST), I think my program manager wanted to meet with key staff members at RCSN to identify ways for me to be better utilized.

I am very happy with the outcome of the visit. While my supervisor wasn’t around, I was able to have my program manager meet the principal tutor and Moses (who teaches IT/computers). We discussed the positive contributions of my service so far and it seemed that the principal tutor and Moses had very good things to say about me (which surprised me because I didn’t think I was contributing all that much to the school). They mainly talked about how happy they were with my pleasant attitude, flexibility, and availability, specifically they mentioned how happy they were whenever I expressed desire to participate in any work being done in or around the school (my openness to attend outreach, go with students to their community placements, etc..). They seemed to also be very receptive to my program manager’s comments about utilizing my skills and knowledge as much as they can and allowing me to have a positive impact on the operations and effectiveness of the nursing school. During the discussion, I expressed my desire to participate in more outreach because it is really was most rewarding in the work I’ve done so far (which is completely true, on every outreach initiative I went on with the students, I truly felt alive).

We also discussed the challenges faced with having a PCV at the nursing school. This is where we mainly discussed my skill set (who knew I’d actually have a skill set to offer one day) and best ways to use them. We also discussed the mismatch between the requested work from a PCV and what work I was actually being asked to do.

Below you will find a list of the new projects and initiatives I hope to work on (okay, maybe not all of them, but I hope to get a few of them accomplished and start others for a future volunteer to take over). I’ve already got my foot in the door in terms of getting the word out for the clinic and hopefully after talking to some people in the Peace Corps office, I will be able to get that ball rolling soon.

New Semester initiatives:
1)Work with Emma (a tutor at RCSN) on socio-psychology course in Kalisizo (about 30 minutes north of Rakai Town)
-Observe/evaluate current lecture method utilized by Emma in Kalisizo
-Determine areas of improvement
-Develop/integrate best practices/currently utilized teaching techniques from U.S.
-Evaluate new teaching methods with students
2)Work with Nora (a staff member) and students in community placements (Kibaale, Kikuto, etc..) to help develop best practices for working within communities
-Observe/evaluate current interactions/practices of students working within communities
-Determine areas of improvement
-Integrate new ideas/current best practices into community placement interactions
-Evaluate new methods with Nora and community
3)Identify and train two students to assist in library operations (develop an application for those interested)
-Develop/disseminate position responsibilities/expectations and application to students
-Review returned application and determine two potential candidates
-Train candidates on library operation methods
-Schedule/observe students for two week period to determine actual capability
-Train students on key identifiers for replacement students
4)Work with Moses on IT/Computer course
-Observe/evaluate current lecture method utilized by Moses
-Determine areas of improvement
-Develop/integrate best practices/currently utilized teaching techniques from U.S.
-Evaluate new teaching methods with students
5)Evaluate current HIV/AIDS outreach practices and determine if improvement is possible
-Observe/evaluate current outreach method utilized by Youth Against AIDS Club (Y.A.A.C.) and Red Cross LINK Group
-Determine areas of improvement/discuss with students groups ideas for improvement
-Identify any outdates material/methods used which can be eliminated
-Integrate new practices/current research for HIV/AIDS outreach/education
-Evaluate new outreach methods/effectiveness
-Continue to update/evaluate outreach methods (annually)
6)Apply for SPA grant ($10,000) for building of clinic on RCSN grounds (communicate with Jenny in PC office)
-Identify future location/site for clinic
-Identify what school can contribute (medical supplies, dugs, etc.)
-Identify uses
--Relieve intake of patients at district hospital in Rakai
--Provide vaccinations, check-ups, drug distribution, education sessions on prevention, and any other primary health care needs
--Provide a training center for nursing students directly on campus
-Identify key staff members to work with (director, principal tutor, Moses, Cylus, etc)
7)Work with Red Cross, God Cares, and Rakai AIDS Counsellor’s Association (RACA) on projects/camps
-Communicate availability/desire to work with organizations
-Community skills/resources available from volunteer
-Build relationship between students at RCSN and local organizations

I really hope most of these projects come to fruition. My mood and expectations have risen greatly after the meeting and I expressed my desire NOT to be moved from my site. I hope that the work develops so that I won’t be moved. I think I can do a really good service for the nursing school and the community here, as long as I have the staff support I need to get things done.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Mile in My Flip-Flops

Before my real story begins, let me tell you about the day I bought my Sanuk Yoga Mat flip flogs, Man’s gift to my feet…

It all started when I got my invitation packet to serve in Uganda in the Peace Corps (okay, it really started a few weeks later when I began preparing for the adventure of a lifetime after accepting said invitation, but that doesn’t really matter). My mom and I went to the outlet mall in Orlando; formerly called the Bellz Outlet mall (the current name escapes me at the moment). I have a fairly organized list of things I’m looking for, including Uganda-appropriate clothes and some duffel bags for my trip. While browsing the outlet mall, we pass a shoe store. Now, getting new flip flops was on my mind but I hadn’t made it a priority so I didn’t really think to enter in the establishment, but my mom, being the smart woman she is, thought we should go have a look. I was looking for the Sanuk Yoga Mat flip flops, recently purchased by a friend who had nothing but positive things to say about them. After seeing them and testing them out, I thought they were awesome, until I saw the price. They were definitely more than I was willing to pay, or allow my mother to pay, for a pair of flip flops (the exact price escapes me but I’m super cheap so judge away), but my mother insisted (and it turned out it was buy one get one half off, big day). So, I brought my not one, but TWO pairs of new flip flops home and started wearing them (let me tell you, it’s like you’re walking on clouds). I immediately became attached, never wanting to let these gifts from the gods go (hence I only wear them inside my house because I don’t want to wear them out fast nor do I want them to break).

Fast forward 8 months (holy cow) to the present day, in Rakai, Uganda, East Africa.

Me and my new best friends (the flip flops) are hanging out, minding our own business, talking to my mom on the phone, when from the corner of my eye I spot a hornet on the door of my house (I am on my veranda enjoying the sunset while on the phone). I decide it wouldn’t be a bad idea to nip this hornet problem in the bud, so I take off one of my flip flops and try to squish it. When my flip flop is about the make contact, the hornet flies off the door at my face, causing me to jump back and throw my flip flop at the bee. The next thing I know, I see my flip flop falling down the steep slope beyond my veranda towards a path down below, where it got stuck on a branch on the slope (please note that the slope is probably less than 5 feet down and the path is easily accessible so it wouldn’t have been a problem if the flip flop fell on the path). Initially I think I can manage my way down this mini-slope to retrieve the fallen friend, but I soon realize injury would only be inevitable (keep in mind I’m still on the phone with my mom). I wander about my veranda for a few seconds, find a long stick, and try to catch the flip flop on it, to no avail. I explain the situation to my mom and tell her I’ll call her back. Luckily at the point one of my neighbors is around and I instantly solicit his help (where I was met with laughter). Luckily, after my neighbor stopped laughing hysterically, he managed to retrieve my friend. When he returned it, he started laughing all over again. I am fairly sure he will be reminding me of this idiocy for days to come (however, given the comfort of these particular flip flops, it was and will continue to be completely worth it).

Feel free to judge and mock. It’s only to be expected.