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Monday, June 18, 2012

Right Package, Wrong Baggage

And the saga of the withheld package continues…

It’s been just about four weeks since my package arrived from India and it is still stuck at Entebbe Airport at customs. I’m not exactly sure what the folks at customs thinks is in the package but I can assure you, there is nothing in there that is harmful or detrimental to anyone’s life (unless you count sweets, which I suppose can be deemed harmful to one’s health and subsequently one’s life). After getting intermittent updates from the Peace Corps office (who apparently had to get the U.S. Embassy involved…big day) my package should be released within 24 hours (that basically means the company has to get it from Entebbe Airport but not before I pay 130,000 USH which is equivalent to $52). The Peace Corps office will theoretically get it and hold it for me until either my supervisor can get it next time he is in Kampala (which should be this weekend or next week) or the Peace Corps office can bring it to me when they are in the area. Hopefully my supervisor will pull through. The ridiculousness of this whole fiasco has definitely made me never want to use CHIPS or WWL ever again. 

*Readers, please take note, if you are sending a package from India, NEVER use CHIPS or WWL for international shipping*

I finally got confirmation that my package was at Peace Corps. My supervisor was amazing and picked it up! However (yes, there is always a “however” in these kinds of circumstances), my supervisor has yet to show up at my site…at least I know he has the package. 

A few days after he was supposed to arrive, my supervisor finally brought the package. Let me tell you, the package was worth the wait. I don’t even know how to explain to you the glory within the box. There was layer upon layer of clothing, food, sweets, shoes, and pretty much anything else one could wish for from India or pretty much anywhere else in the world (okay, maybe not anywhere else in the world, but I would have to say I got a pretty good taste of international cuisine in that box). I have to say, I must have the best family in the world for thinking to send me such an amazing care package in spite of everything else going on in their lives. I know there were far more important things my family could have done than worry about sending me a parcel but no, they thought of me. I am truly blessed to have such an amazing family and I can’t say that I feel deserving of their love.

Now, please enjoy some photographs depicting my unpacking of the epic box (which took almost 3 hours).

 Welcome Home!

You probably can't tell, but the address is my box in Kyotera...NOT Entebbe Airport.

Packing foam!

Layer 1: Clothes!

 Food stuff (cake mixes, brownie mixes, teas, spices, etc...)

 So many Indian snacks to enjoy!

 More clothes and shoes!

So many clothes!

 After the long process of unpacking, I took a rest...IN THE BOX!

I want to thank everyone at Peace Corps for their help with this whole situation, especially Cotious and James. Without your help, I may never have gotten my package and surely would have had to pay the original asking price. So, thank you. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Wedding

Can someone please find the mzungu a chair?

Do not worry friends; we are simply waiting for the mzungu to find a seat.

Oh here, they are bringing the mzungu a chair.

This is how the epic day that was Bursar Rose’s wedding culminated.

The bursar at my nursing school (Bursar Rose) recently got married and I had the honor of attending the ceremony. Unbeknownst to me, I would be spending most of the day in transit, going from one location to another.  

The day started much like any other here in Rakai during the rainy season. I woke up fairly early to the wonderful sound of raging rain storms. I was told the day before that I should be ready around 9 am for the vehicle that would take me, along with some other staff members, to the wedding location. I decided to stay in bed until 8:30, falling asleep and waking up intermittently. Upon finally getting out of bed, I realized I had no water and decided to tackle that task first. As I was getting water, I ran into the IT staff member, who told me the vehicle I was waiting for would arrive at 10 am. I assumed this would be the case since in any event of rain, appointments and scheduled times seem to go out the window. I took my time, made tea and got myself together. At about ten minutes before 10 am, I heard a knock on the door which turned out to be a staff member coming to help me put on my gomez (yes, I wore a gomez, which is a “traditional” dress women wear in Uganda during important functions, such as introduction ceremonies, weddings, graduation parties, etc.). I told her that I had yet to bathe (which I was not planning on doing anyway…shhhh) so I would get help from my neighbor who arrived the night before. A little after 10 am, I got myself together with the help of said neighbor and proceeded to wait…for almost an hour. At 11am I finally got a call that the vehicle had arrived and I should proceed down my mountain, in the mud, to the car. Of course my shoes were caked in mud but at the end of the night I got it all off so it ended up being fine.

The rest of the day was spent being shuffled from location to location. The actual wedding ceremony was surprisingly short. It was completely in Luganda, so I had no idea what was going on most of the time. It seemed to me that the ceremony was just another excuse for the preacher to do more preaching, at least he was very animated which is how the pastor at the nursing school is when he is preaching (of course he’s preaching in English so I actually know what’s going on most of the time). The couple apparently signed the marriage certificate during the ceremony. At random points other staff would explain to me what was going on. At one point everyone got up to give some kind of offering to the bride and groom (which was money) and I had no idea what was going on. Someone asked if I was going to give an offering and I said I had no idea what that entailed (and at the time I didn’t know, it wasn’t until I noticed people giving money that I put two and two together). I didn’t even have any small bills, so even if I did want to give an offering, I couldn’t have. Apparently you’re only supposed to give small amounts of money for an offering.

After the ceremony, we went outside to see the couple and watch as their photographer set them up in various poses for pictures. At one point, Bursar Rose called me up to where the couple was standing along with their close family and friends. She asked me to be in some of the pictures with her. I wasn’t really surprised; I know having a mzungu (a foreigner) at her wedding was probably a big deal. After the wedding, we sat around a bit, got a snack and then headed off to the reception. In between we stopped for some lunch, which proved to be precarious for me because everything was made with meat. I ended up settling on some matooke, rice, and g-nut sauce (a really oily sauce made from ground nuts, pretty much just like peanuts). I didn’t eat much of it, thinking there would be more food at the reception.

 Silly Aditi.
At the reception, all that was given was matooke and meat. Lots and lots of meat. So, I didn’t eat. All day I hadn’t had a drink either, so by the time we got back to the school I was exhausted and super dehydrated, but I’m getting ahead of myself. 

At the reception, the theme was definitely that of giving. The new couple gave out cakes to various important people at the reception, including the director of the nursing school. Subsequently, everyone at the reception went up to the new couple with gifts and words of kindness. I had contributed to the gift given by the staff members of RCSN, so I just went up and shook hands, but even that small act seemed to really touch Bursar Rose. I got a lot of unwanted attention, probably made worse because I was a mzungu in a gomez. At some points, I felt I was getting more attention than the new couple got, which was kind of irritating. 

When we eventually left, it was after dark so I was being eaten up by mosquitoes. It took FOREVER for us to get back because the vehicle kept stopping to pick up random people (even though we had hired it out). At one point I wanted to scream, but I decided that was probably not the best idea so I just kept as calm as possible. Once I got back, I ate some bread (the first bit of food I had eaten in hours) and drank heaps of water and just passed out.

Just another weekend for the mzungu at RCSN!

After the wedding, the “week of arrival” began. By Tuesday, everyone was back (this was fairly exciting for me, having been mostly alone at the nursing school throughout the past few weeks). Within the next 24 hours things changed dramatically. I now have people at my school to socialize with again, plans for me to actually contribute are taking place (though they mostly involve me creating electronic copies of notes and other documents, but I suppose that’s something…baby steps, right?). I’ve also decided to get into town at least once a week to see my neighbor PCVs. I’ve been pretty lazy in getting into town but realizing how lonely things can get, I guess that got me to get my act together.  So, my new semester initiatives (as described before) have been adjusted a bit, after having discussed these options with my supervisor.

New Semester initiatives:
1.       Work with Emma on socio-psychology course in Kalisizo
a.                   Observe/evaluate current lecture method utilized by Emma in Kalisizo
b.                  Determine areas of improvement
c.                   Develop/integrate best practices/currently utilized teaching techniques from U.S.
d.                  Evaluate new teaching methods with students
2.       Work with Nora and students in community placements to help develop best practices for working within communities
a.                   Observe/evaluate current interactions/practices of students working within communities
b.                  Determine areas of improvement
c.                   Integrate new ideas/current best practices into community placement interactions
d.                  Evaluate new methods with Nora and community
3.       Identify and train two students to assist in library operations (develop an application for those interested)
a.                   Develop/disseminate position responsibilities/expectations to students
b.                  Create/distribute application for interested students
c.                   Review returned application and determine two potential candidates
d.                  Train candidates on library operation methods
e.                  Schedule/observe students for two week period to determine actual capability
f.                    Train students on key identifiers for replacement students
4.       Work with Moses on IT/Computer course
a.                   Observe/evaluate current lecture method utilized by Moses
b.                  Determine areas of improvement
c.                   Develop/integrate best practices/currently utilized teaching techniques from U.S.
d.                  Evaluate new teaching methods with students
5.       Evaluate current HIV/AIDS outreach practices and determine if improvement is possible
a.                   Create an evaluation tool to implement during future outreach programs
b.                  Observe/evaluate current outreach method utilized by Youth Against AIDS Club (Y.A.A.C.) and Red Cross LINK Group
c.                   Determine areas of improvement/discuss with students groups ideas for improvement
d.                  Identify any outdates material/methods used which can be eliminated
e.                  Integrate new practices/current research for HIV/AIDS outreach/education
f.                    Evaluate new outreach methods/effectiveness
g.                   Continue to update/evaluate outreach methods (monthly/annually)
6.       Apply for SPA grant ($10,000) for building of clinic on RCSN grounds (communicate with Jenny)
a.                   Identify future location/site for clinic
b.                  Identify what school can contribute (medical supplies, dugs, etc.)
c.                   Identify uses
                                                               i.      Relieve intake of patients at district hospital in Rakai
                                                             ii.      Provide vaccinations, check-ups, drug distribution, education sessions on prevention, and any other primary health care needs
                                                            iii.      Provide a training center for nursing students directly on campus
d.                  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
a.                   Communicate availability/desire to work with organizations
b.                  Community skills/resources available from volunteer
c.                   Build relationship between students at RCSN and local organizations
8.       Work with PCVs in area on Life Skills course with local primary/secondary schools
a.                   Communicate availability/desire to work with schools
b.                  Community skills/resources available from volunteer
c.                   Build relationship between students at RCSN and local schools

The new semester has begun for the returning students, but for the new students, the semester begins on Monday. Hopefully I’ll be able to implement some of these things. I have already given the outreach evaluation form I developed to my supervisor and he seemed very excited about implementing it, however that is how he reacted to many of my past projects, including the evaluation form I created for the different courses and the electronic inventory of library books, both of which were never really implemented or discussed further after completion. 

I’m still working on the youth newsletter, Uganda’s Young Stars, with other volunteers and it’s going very well. I even had a couple submissions from students at my own nursing school, which was very encouraging. I hope the judges choose them (and given the limited submission we received this time around, it is definitely possible). I think if some of my students get chosen this will encourage more students to participate.  

I also hope to work with some youth development camps being held in August. I’ve already completed an application for a youth camp focused on fostering an interest in math and science among girls (called GirlTech). This camp will be held in Jinja, a place I have grown to enjoy. Another camp being help in August will focus on the reconciliation of the northern tribes (this is in reference to the disputes exacerbated by Kony and other rebel groups). This camp (called Peace Camp) will be held in the north, probably in or around Gulu. I am really interested in both, but they overlap by a few days. I’m debating whether I want to apply to both in hopes of getting both and having to turn one down or if I should risk just applying to one…I’ve already got the application for GirlTech filled out since it’s due in a few days, but the application for Peace Camp won’t be available until June 11th or so. I guess I can hold out for a few more days while I decide. 

Mpola mpola things will work out…