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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Like Water for Chocolate

I still remember evenings watching the news and listening to stories about the infamous water crisis of sub-Saharan Africa. At the time, I didn’t really give it a second thought (that’s not to say I didn’t care, I just never felt affected by it nor did I feel I could do anything to really change or help). Now, let me tell you, it is one thing to hear and see images of other people suffering from the so-called water crisis, but it is a completely different issue when you are actually experiencing this water crisis.

For the past four months (at least), the town council has stopped pumping water to my site. Initially this wasn’t a surprise, often the water being pumped goes in and out on a weekly basis, and so at first no one really thought anything of it. After two months, we realized there was a problem. After weeks of going back and forth with the town council arguing about paying for water that is not being pumped, the town council finally told us there was a problem in the piping (which I don’t believe but hey, I guess you have to take whatever excuse you can get).  By the time we got this reasoning for the lack of pumped water, it had easily been three months since we had any pumped water. We had been relying on the rank tank reserve water the whole time (again, this wasn’t really a problem, at first). After having relied on the rank tank reserves for almost four months, we realized that our reserves were soon going to run out (and surprise, surprise, within the next few weeks they did). So, for the past two weeks my site has had no water. I had to get people coming from Kampala, Masaka or Kyotera to bring me water so at least I’d have drinking water. I had one last Jerri can of water I was saving to bathe with (I had reduced my bathing to once a week out of necessity…gross, I know). I had been putting off washing my hair for weeks because it easily takes half a bucket of water just to wash my hair (needless to say, I seriously considered shaving my head). I have been reduced to using the communal pit latrines because I didn’t want to use any water to flush my toilet. I soon became a master of reusing any water that was used for washing the minimal dishes I used for breakfast or tea. I would use the water to wash a small amount of clothes, and then use that was to wash my dishes, then use that water to flush my toilet. If I felt the need, I would use the water to wash my face first, before using it for anything else, but I would never just through the water out after one use (interestingly, the other staff members did not seem to engage in the same level of reusing water, even with the crisis they continued a single or simple double use of water which led to more panic on my part). After weeks of waking up in the middle of the night in a panic, and trying to find ways to get water (including considering going down to the swamp and getting water which was brown or ridiculously trying to figure out how people could ship me water from around the world…I was desperate) I finally decided to suck it up and spend about 4,000 USH (about $2) to get three Jerri cans of pumped water from town so I could wash my clothes (which had piled up for the past month, at least). Of course, the universe decided to play a cosmic joke on me, because as soon as I got the water and started my washing it started to rain, and by rain I mean pour. I was so happy, I didn’t even care that none of my clothes would dry until the next afternoon; I didn’t even care that I’d have to sleep in my sleeping bag because I had washed my sheets as well. All I knew was that I was saved, I wasn’t going to die of dehydration, and I will make it through yet another dry season.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Water for Elephants

Never in my life did I ever expect to be able to say “I survived an elephant almost charging my taxi”…but I’m getting ahead of myself…

I decided to celebrate 4th of July early and late…I guess I’m really getting used to this whole leisurely lifestyle Ugandans live. The day before 4th of July, I hung out with a couple volunteers in my town and their friends who had come from the U.S. to visit. It was nice having a quiet barbeque where I probably ate more different vegetables at one time than I had eaten at any point in Uganda thus far. This was definitely a good way to stay the 4th of July celebrations, which continued the following weekend on the 7th of July.

I decided to spend the weekend after the 4th of July in Fort Portal, a relatively big town on the western side of Uganda. It was my first time heading over there so I wasn’t sure what to expect (I probably should have expected a 9 hour journey though).  There are two routes to get to Fort Portal from my town, I can either go through Kampala which would decrease the travel time by an hour or two, or I can travel through Mbarara. While Mbarara is the longer route, the upside is you go through Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is the main park to do safaris in Uganda (the other is Murchison Falls, where they have giraffes).

Given this information, I decided to go through Mbarara because a) I would be able to go through Queen Elizabeth National Park, which I have not seen yet and b) I would not have to go through Kampala, which I generally try to avoid. So, Saturday morning, bright and early, I began my journey to Fort Portal. The beginning of the trip was uneventful. Usually I get to see zebras along the way, between Masaka and Mbarara but that didn’t happen this time around. I stopped in Mbarara for a quick lunch of delicious palak paneer at City Top, a great Indian restaurant. I was hoping to pick up a sandwich to-go at the sandwich shop next door, but it appears they have closed down permanently. I was a little let down by this and the lack of Oreos in Mbarara, but on my way from Mbarara to Fort Portal I saw an elephant. Not only did I see an elephant, my taxi almost ran into one. We had entered Queen Elizabeth National Park and were minding our own business, looking for animals along the side of the road. When we turned a corner, the taxi suddenly game to a screeching halt (seriously, imagine the cartoon sound of a car screeching to a halt, that’s what happened) and right in front of us was a very large, very angry looking male elephant with tusks that could pierce me without even trying. The taxi driver immediately began to go in reverse, speeding away from the elephant. The elephant took a couple steps in the direction of the taxi, but stopped and continued to cross the road. As scary as this probably sounds, the entire time I was thinking, why are we going away from the elephant? We should be going towards it so I can get a better picture! As we were passing where the elephant had crossed I literally climbed over my neighbor’s lap and hung out the window to get a picture of said elephant. It seemed this wasn’t common occurrence since everyone in the car seemed amazed and there were even a few other people taking pictures.

The rest of the weekend was fairly uneventful after that (honestly, after surviving an elephant almost charging your vehicle, anything should be considered uneventful). I got to see heaps of volunteers I hadn’t seen in a while, which was really nice. I got to have some good food in Fort Portal (they have a pizza place, a hand-made ice cream place, an Asian Market, and all kinds of other things which caused me to ask, repeatedly, where the heck am I?). A few of us tried to go on a hike, which turned into a 10k adventure to try and find a view on top of a hill (we never found it). After the hike, we spent a few hours at a nearby pool which was absolutely beautiful and dubbed “mzungu central” because all the foreign volunteers in the area seemed to hang out there. The weekend ended with a really nice BBQ (a big shout out to all the people who helped prepare and cook the food) and me spending another 9 hours getting back to site (there were some Irish volunteers in attendance and the whole weekend I tried to explain the phrase “hot mess” to them, and one of the best examples I could come up with was traveling from Fort Portal to Rakai in one day…that was a hot mess).

All in all I'd say it was a good weekend...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard

I recently went to a Red Cross general meeting, which was hilarious and a complete waste of my time (because it was all in Luganda, not because the meeting content were useless). Unfortunately, I fell asleep 5 minutes in and woke up to one of my students staring at me and smiling. I apologized and made sure to keep awake for the rest of the meeting. I made it through the rest of the four hours without falling asleep but I didn’t have anything to contribute. I’m glad I stayed awake for the rest of the meeting though, because it was interrupted (rudely, but still hilariously) by a potentially drunk and homeless fellow. He sneaked in and just sat down, unbeknownst to anyone until he started talking to himself rather loudly. Once this was ignorable no longer, everyone (and I mean everyone, even Prima, the Mayor of Rakai Town Council) just stared at him. Apparently that is the trick to getting an unwanted guest to leave. After the rude interruption, the meeting continued with general elections of the Youth Executive Board. This took far longer than necessary, probably because they made every candidate give a speech, then had to verify the candidate’s age (which proved difficult since none of the candidates had birth certificates, which apparently is required for verification). Finally I was excused to eat lunch (which by this time ended up being more time-appropriate for an early supper) which consisted of rice and peas (big day). I wasn’t complaining though, I hadn’t really eaten anything all day so I was open to anything (as long as it wasn’t meat, but at some point I feel like I may even cross that line). After the meeting, while finding our way back to the nursing school, I discussed possible future events with the two members who attended the meeting with me. This proved interesting, as the chairperson for the school’s LINK group suggested a Red Cross Day in Rakai Town. This would be pretty amazing, hopefully it comes to fruition. 

All in all, the day ended up being okay…I just hope this means I’ll be a little more active in regards to community outreach projects in the future.

In unrelated news, I am getting more and more frustrated with the lack of organization and communication at my site. I was recently asked to proctor an exam for one of the classes, which I happily agreed to. I was told the exams were in the secretary’s office (which sometimes I think should be my office since I am nothing more than a glorified secretary) ready to be distributed. When I got to the office to request the exams, they weren’t organized at all, they were not put together as exams but all separated as if they were freshly printed. So I had to spend a good part of the morning putting together the exams (luckily I got some help from the secretary…big day, he was doing his job). Once I got them together I went to the classroom to distribute and proctor the exam only to find out the exam time was in the afternoon, not in the morning as I had been told the day before. So I woke up, got ready and organized for an exam I wasn’t to proctor until later. On top of all that I just finished type 157 pages of abnormal midwifery which was not only exhausting but it makes me never want to birth children. 

Not only do I feel my skills are underutilized (what skills I’m referring to, your guess is as good as mine) but I’m definitely being over worked in a very monotonous capacity. I am doing secretarial work during the day and babysitting in the library at night (okay, a little harsh with the use of “babysitting”, but seriously, I sit in the office in the library and read until a student wants to check out a book, otherwise I’m just sitting there making sure they don’t run off with the books, stools, or tables). 

So, as you all know, I recently received a rather large package from my family when they went to India. You are also aware of the uproar this package caused not only for me, but for the Peace Corps office, the Embassy, and even more people I probably don’t know about. When I finally got my package, I decided to keep the box (having gone through so much trouble to get it, it didn’t seem right to throw it away, at least not right away) and figure out some use for it, if I could. After a few weeks of the box just sitting around, taking up space, I thought it might be time to just cut my loses and throw it onto the trash pile (where one of the other staff or grounds men would probably take it and use it for something). After pretty much settling on this decision, I went along with my day when I suddenly had a Eureka moment (you know, when you suddenly get the answer you have been wanting for some time). 

The Eureka moment came when I was staring at the pictures of my friends and family I have taped on my wall, with duct tape. As you all know, duct tape is very strong, so I suddenly realized that when I took the tape off upon leaving Uganda the tape would ruin the pictures (I probably realized this before but I didn’t really put that much thought into it). Upon recognizing this dilemma, I noticed the giant box, just sitting there. Suddenly, it clicked! I could cut up the box and use the side panels as a makeshift pushpin/cork-board type thing, where I could pin up all my pictures, letters, notes, and other items that I wanted to keep visible. BIG DAY! So over the next hour I took down pictures, cut up the box, used the amazing invention that is double sided duct tape (seriously, I cannot convey how amazing this product really is), and created very crude looking, but very functional pushpin/cork-board panels! I have to say, I’m very proud of myself.

And now, for your viewing pleasure…

Before I had my Eureka moment. You can see the duct tape frame previously used.

After my Eureka moment...messages of love from family and friends.

Pictures of my family and friends.