Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pictures!!! FINALLY!!!

Dear Family, Friends and Love: Here they are! PICTURES! Picasa is a nightmare and only allows uploading of four at a time, so it took me a while to find a way around it. But it's done, and they are up! Let me know what you think!

The whole group minus Stacy who was taking the pic.

Chopping up elephant grass for our cow "Faith"


PCTs and Uganda's future, hard at work gathering bricks.

My beautiful mamma.

Chris, the walking billboard. (Mr. President, we just assumed. Sorry if we made an ass of ourselves.)

Lukas and I with our P7 boys after Life-Skills class. I am DRENCHED after an hour long game of football.

Forgot to flip this one. This is a picture of the latest headlines in Uganda... the burning of the Kasubi tombs. Truly devastating for for the Baganda people... I joined them in their mourning a week later by wearing a bark wrap around my arm with Kabaka (king) written on it.

Riddle: How do you get 30 Ugandan children into a tent? (read my previous blog post for the answer)

A great addition to any lesson on HIV/AIDs. Discuss the fluids that carry the HIV virus. Discuss those that don't. Discuss the paths of entry HIV can take into the body. Finally, have your students draw paths connecting each HIV carrier to the doorways they think can give you aids... (you'll have 4 or 5 lines). Now you take the chalk, and connect every single HIV-fluid/door pathway. And what do you get? A bunch of very silent children. "That's right kids. This is real. This is serious. This is scary. Remember what this board looks like the next time you think about 'playing sex.' "

This was taken during the game of soccer after the life skills class. If I was a casual first time observer the quote that would come to mind is, "AHHHHHHHH, IT'S A MUZUNGU!! RUNNNNNN!!!"

The market in Gayaza.

An interesting shot of a downtown Kampala sidewalk. Quote a scowl from the man in the foreground.

A Ugandan Carwash... and unfortunately, a place for children to fill jerry-cans.

This one is for my brother... we'll call him "Maniel Direnda." (You know who you are, you little cutie!! DDDDdddDDDDDdddDDDD*&^(&^&^!!!!111)

Lizzie emptied her unpopped kernels off her front porch, and a couple months later: I harvested these!

Obama-Love is everywhere.

The farm I live on at Host Stay. Banana's, Plantains, Casaava, Yams, Avacados, Mangos, Jackfruit, potatoes, aloe vera, pumpkin, do-do (spinach esque plant), pigs, a cow, and more!

The front of my house.

L to R: Devon (#2, MUAHAHA!), Alyssa, Pesh (my sis), Natalie, and Esther (my other sis). POOL FUN!!!

PCTs vs. Trainers. It was a massacre.

Our training center is the white building seen just to the right of center on this hazy photo.

The Kasubi Tomb. We visited just 2 weeks before it was burned down by... ? ... The response to this was riots where people were killed by police, and later, during the mourning, another person was killed by trampling. A miserable situation.

A jackfruit tree. The first food I have ever put into my mouth that made me say, "I think I like it, but... I also think I hate it." (fyi, I love it now... quite delicious)

The beauty of a banana leaf.

Carrying Casaava Ugandan-Style. (That is my brother in he far right)

Worth about 60 cents... maybe. Compliments of Robert Mugabe.

My little bro on day one of home stay. He walked right into my room, picked up my bike pump and proceeded to try to inflate his head. A very creative and stubborn little boy. I keep telling my mom about how I was when I was little. I tell her that his stubborn-ness will pay off. She isn't yet convinced, ha.

I was passed the note on the bottom during my first observation of a Ugandan school. This is VERY common. We are asked for money almost daily from children just a few years old up to adults over 50. It is quite frustrating, but it can also be comical. I once heard someone say, "Um, I'm a volunteer. You give ME money!"

Ejaaka (rutooro)/Fene (Luganda) feast. That is my language trainer, Anthony, on the right.

Super sweet food dehydrator. We descended on this thing like locusts, devouring every banana and enanaasi (pineapple) piece inside in a matter of minutes.

Celebrating my first piece of mail to arrive. A post card from a total stranger. Apparently, she teaches children in North Carolina, and while in class one day she had what she refers to as a "vision" that made her mail me. She wants to be friends. I'm just glad I am in africa so she can't truly stalk me... guess that comes later. She once taught for TFA, and I think it crazied her up right good.


Getting my arm wrapped in what I'll carry "mourning bark." Everywhere I walked, people smiled, gave me fist "pounds", shook my hand, thanked me for caring, and jostled those around them to look at most likely the only muzungu that, at least for the afternoon, had become a Baganda.

Methinks the power is out...

This picture may lose me exactly ONE beautiful girlfriend.

Proof that I made it down that tree safely, here the hill climbers are before heading back into town.

Hanging out with the gang in Gayaza during field training. I sincerely thought the plastic thingie was a shower cap (when actually it was a cover for the bread I was happily shoving into my mouth).

That's all for now. I'll try to get more up before heading out to site, but it is insanely difficult to post pictures without a wireless card borrowed from another volunteer. Rest assured, though, I will be picking one up after moving west, and the pictures will come more frequently. Thanks for your patience during he down-times!

I love you all.

Michelle, I love you MOST.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ngonza Uganda MUNO!

Dear Friends, Family and Love,

Life is grand.

I am actually in the field for a two week technical immersion where we follow around another volunteer and do-as-they-do. Unfortunately, some people didn't get to go to where they will eventually be placed (eventually, read: In about 4 weeks... shit-GUYS, it’s about to get real), so Lukas and I stayed in Wakiso district (the country is broken into small districts much like the States in America. Each state has a local government called LC1-LC5... pretty similar to state governments... I digress). What I was saying is that we are still in Wakiso, the district that the capital city, Kampala, is in. We were bummed, but the experience has been awesome. Lizzie, the girl we are staying with, has a very nice place in a very rural area (even for Peace Corps Standards), and she is a fierce cook. Our mouths have been DYING from eating nothing but miserably bland posho (cornmeal turned into mush) and plantains turned into... MUSH. And Beans... which are actually good, but make my body produce cacophonous music.

So things are good. I have somehow avoided sickness, severe or otherwise, since being here. Knock on wood, but no diarrhea yet. It's all about being super careful with the water you drink, super careful with washing vegetables (which I have not really had to do yet), staying the hell away from meat unless you truly trust the source (or kill/cook the animal yourself) and, well… being very lucky.

Sickness, however, is inevitable. At least I have had a great opportunity to master my aim while pooping into a terrifying fit latrine.

Seriously though? Worst nightmare? Getting stuffed through the poo-hole, falling 15 feet into years-of-excrement, and then staying there, rotting, until death commeth... not on a silver platter, but by suffocation from someone who has a gnarly dose of giardia.

I've been into Kampala a few times, and it gets better every time. We aren't strung out on the fear that everyone is trying to jump us, or kill us, or both, and that really increases the joy of walking around a place. We’ve been shown the good spots to eat (double mushroom cheeseburgers at the java house!), good places to get movies (any DVD you could want for 1200 USh, that is, less than 75 cents), and a great wholesale market (so good that people travel 12 hours from Kenya to buy there… and they have Chaco’s… for around $10.00 a pair. RIDICULOUS).

And things keep getting better. My family is still awesome (I love them, and I’m trying to figure out how to move them all to the US when my time here is through). They feed me well, and aside from a few water shortages, I’ve been very happy. I’ve learned to identify a variety of veggies; enough that I could probably just backpack around Uganda and fend for myself straight from the land. It is just that fertile and brimming with delicacies.

Oh. I mentioned it earlier, but training wraps up soon. And thank god. Being out in the field has opened my eyes to what life in Uganda entails when 6 days a week, 10 hours a day, are not dedicated to learning language and listening to people tell you WHAT to expect but not HOW to deal with it.

I'm being unfair. We have learned a lot about "how to deal with it." But you can only learn so much from trainers. The rest you have to hear from PCVs, and they, those beasts, haven’t been included in the training nearly enough. That is why technical immersion is crucial.

So what have I done on immersion? I've taken three classes so far, and by Wednesday I will have taught 2or 3 more. These are basically 8 and 9th graders (if judged on the US scale), so they are JUST beyond that threshold of middle-school-awkward and only entering the high school-my-GOD-who-am-I?! stage. Then again, the culture is so different here, and the teaching style we have to work into is so screwy that real-strange-factor comes not from the children and their puberty-stricken minds but with the language barrier. I have to speak in a loud (I have 70 students in each class) staccato English that at-first-listen actually sounds condescending but upon reflection is fully necessary.

Yesterday I taught two physics classes, and in the audience was a trainer from Peace Corps along with Lizzie and Lukas. I just went for it and treated the front of the room like a stage, and the kids ate it up. Lizzie was quite happy with the "show," so much so that she gave me the reigns fully for the next class.

I REALLY let loose... I was describing the Kinetic Theory of Matter, and I was doing student demos (making them into atoms and having them crash into each other). I was jumping into the walls showing how the molecules of a gas create gas pressure. So they were definitely entertained: Whether this is because I am funny, funny looking or funny-retarded, I may never know.

I'm going with *just* retarded.

Regardless, judging by their homework grades, they were only confused on only one topic, but it’ll be a quick fix.

Teaching here is strange. Most Ugandan teachers just lecture, and they put a few notes on the board. This doesn't do a thing for the students because they can either write or they can listen, but they can't do both at the same time. So when the teacher talks, a lot of the info is just going in one ear and out the other. Books are out of the question, as each class has 70 students, and the school is having trouble paying for adequate desks for these kids to sit on, so additional texts are on the back-burner. Not to mention that the entire school system is set up around National Exams meaning that every teacher only "teaches to the test.” Logical thinking, critical thinking... THINKING... it is all out of the question. (AMERICA!! Take note…)

So class usually consists of me going into the room, filling a board with notes, letting the kids copy the notes and then me going through the notes. But instead of just saying what is on the board, I can put in filler examples and I can do demos (i.e. pretending that I am stuck to the wall because of adhesion forces between molecules) whenever possible.

Something that I have come to realize is that the system here is flawed... period. And my first priority will be my students, and if that means making sure they know a bunch of facts that would get them a spot on Jeopardy, then so be it. But I also want to exemplify those teachers that I so loved when I was young (fergodsakes… how old am I?!). So I am working on melding the two teaching styles Uganderican of you will. Or Americandan.

Last thing: I just want to mention one part of this last weekend. I traveled with Lukas and Lizzie to a small school in Gayaza. There, he and I put on a Life-Skills group for a bunch of pre-pubescent boys. Our topics were “Anatomy”, “Sex”, “STDs” and “HIV/AIDs.” That session in itself would require a blog post, but let me just say that the best way to describe an erection to kids is NOT to bang on a desk and say “Hard… like wood!” ‘Nuff said.

Anyway, Lukas and I had to sleep in a tent because the girls place was very small. Well, the tent was very interesting to the kids at the primary school. They were all touching it, looking inside, etc.... so I think to myself, "This kids have probably never seen one of these things, probably won't again, and I doubt that they'll get to go in one." SO I say, "Ok, who wants to go in?!" And all of a sudden there are 30 kids ripping their sandals of trying to push in...


I am nearly trampled.

So I got them ordered, which quickly fell apart as soon as I unzipped the door, and like THAT I had unknowingly solved the riddle: "How do you get 30 Ugandan Children into a 3 man tent?”

(Open it’s door flap and say, “Ok, now everyone take turns.”)

What a sight. I think my favorite part was when they zipped up that same door and began to sing...

"Happy Birthday to you! Happy birthday TO YOU! Happy BIRTHDAY to YOU-UUUUU!!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOUUUUUUUUU!!"


What else can I say about my time here? The food for each meal is likely picked earlier in the day or the day before. The people smile, and they mean it. When I look around, I catch people's eyes, and I don't feel like a deer in the headlights... I feel observed, and I so I observe in return, and that is ok.

I explain almost daily to new kids and grownups alike that I love it here; that I love Ugandan's, and they have so much to be proud of. The response?

"EE! (pronounced "Eh!") REALLY?!!"

Because how could someone from the States value a place that so many want to leave?

…because I literally see something new and amazing every day, and most of these are just more reasons to love Uganda. I have seen a lot from those "Can you spare 75 cents a month for this poor child"-commercials first hand, and it is indeed devastating. Tragic. Sickening. Horrendous. You name it. But in those times you have to keep from spinning your wheels... you have to take a break, center-up, and remember why you are here.

In the great end-of-meeting-with-Nakhia words of Kahlil that still echo in CIMSS, “And that’s it.”

Ngonza Inywe! (I love you all)

Michelle, ngonza uwe MUNO! (I love you very much).


Monday, March 1, 2010

Uganda: Where Hot is Hotter and Squirrels are Monkeys

Dear Family, Friends, and Michelle,

Muraire Muta (how did y’all spend the night)?! or Musiibire Muta (how did y’all spend the day??! (Depending on when you are reading this).

I’ve just confirmed to my utter disbelief that we, the Uganda PCTs of February 2010 have now been in Uganda for ONLY TWO WEEKS!!! It feels like three months but in the best of ways. Since my first Uganda blog post so much has happened. We left Lweza training center the day after we took a trip into the city of Kampala, Uganda’s capital. We were introduced to the many trainers of our new Training Center the following day after taking the hour journey there by bus. Shortly after arrival, we were introduced to our new families! My host mothers name is Ruth, and her husband’s name is Chris. She is a business woman who has a salon in town and a stationary store in Kampala. Chris is a retired accountant who now farms a small plantation they recently purchased. I have three sisters, Patience, Esther and Bora, and I have two (or three) brothers, Ezra, Gilbert and another boy who is off in university in Rwanda. We live in a small house on a hill, and the property is about 2 acres in size. We have pigs, dogs, a cat, a cow, a calve, and a goat. The property boasts an impressive number of mango, guava, bitter orange, banana (both plantain and sweet banana) and jackfruit trees, as well as potatoes, corn, yams, kasava, pumpkins and various other greens. My dinner on any given night is almost completely taken from one of their two properties! Incredible.

Since then (that was two Monday’s ago), we have embarked on what has become and what will progress as one of the greatest, most mind-blowing educational CRAM sessions I will likely ever participate in. Among the many things that we are studying, cross-cultural and language studies reign. Our days typically begin with three hours of language followed with the remainder of the day split between language and technical sessions. My language is Runyoro/Rutooro, a language from the western boundaries of Uganda (RIGHT ON THE RWENZORI mountains!! I’m pretty sure I slayed that spelling), and my trainer is brilliant. The cross cultural training involves, well, educating us about the culture of Ugandan’s and what to expect when we reach the field. The word of the day since day one, has been FLEXIBILITY!

As so much happens on any given day, I am hard pressed to come up with a truly good summary from memory alone. So, for this update at least, I am going to post clips from my journal that I have been keeping. I will separate the segments with the date of the new segment so you know when I am skipping forward. I hope you enjoy a few of the stories!


My favorite part of the day was the first run I’ve taken in Uganda. Me and three other trainees put on the shoes and ran out of the compound. 15 minutes out, 15 minutes back. Everyone we passed I said, “Oli Otya!” which is basically just “HI!” As we approached, before saying that, most faces were neutral, stoic even. But as soon as we said hi, enormous smiles broke out on everyone’s face. Oh, and the children. They like to shout and smile as well. With one group we spoke briefly and we ended with “maybe we’ll teach you one day!” They seemed happy. Overall, the run was great, but it was definitely strange. In the US, we run on the left side of the road to run INTO traffic. Here, we started that way until we realized we had forgotten the reverse in road driving direction. After a close call, we switched sides and things were better…. Sketchy, still. But better. While running back, we looked to our right and off in the distance we could see Lake Victoria. I’m thinking it is about 3 miles away, and I have a feeling it will be a destination. There will be no swimming when we get there, as we are trying to avoid coming down with Schistosomiasis. As for the rest of the ridiculous diseases we can get here, it looks like we will be getting around 15 shots to prevent them. Yellow Fever (1), Rabies (3), Hepatitis A (2), Typhim VI (1), Hepatitis B (3), Meningitis (1), Tetanus & Diptheria (1), Flu (1).

Fact of the day: Many Ugandan’s believe that when they count people, as in for a census, that those people die.

2-14-2010: Kampala is devastating. The streets are filled with trash, literally piles laying here and there, everywhere. The place was swarming with people, boda-boda’s (motorcycle taxis) and people trying to sell every thing under the sun to you for twice the going price (because we are muzungu). The people were very interested in the muzungu, and in several cases, we had quite the conversation with groups of men, probably more after my trainer than interested in talking with me. Still, it was fun.

The hardest part of the city was the children. They are everywhere, they are dirty and they are begging. We have been instructed not to give money, as many of the children aren’t really homeless but just getting an early start at bumming. Later they grown into thieves. I was shocked to hear that many times, a mother will set her child on a street corner and observe as the child gets shilling after shilling. Then, at the end of the day, the mother takes the shillings. An even more disturbing story is that of the NGO interaction with these children. A lot of children actually come from good homes with good environments, certainly better than the nastiness they currently live in. They then run away to the streets to bum, as it makes them more money than at home. Then, the NGOs come in and pick them up and place them in orphanages and later with good families. The kids, it turns out, don’t want this. Ultimately, they run away back to the streets to get more money, and later many become thieves.

Once back at camp, I organized a bit and then went on a long run up the hill across from the training center. It was a beast of a climb, but after a bunch of route picking, I found myself standing on the top looking out over Lake Victoria in the distance. Beautiful. As I was jogging to the top, there was traditional Ugandan music blaring from a nearby home, smoke stack plumes floating in the distance, the sun setting and the sounds of night beginning. I just kept thinking, I am in freakin Uganda!! It remains surreal. It was one of the more scenic runs I’ve ever experienced.

On the way down from the run, I met two boys, Edmond and Raymond, to local boys from Lweza. They were very happy to meet me, and as we talked, Raymond kept reaching out and touching my skin. As we walked over to our stopping place, he had grabbed my hand and held it. This is not strange in this culture, in fact you can see many teenage boys doing the same around towns. It actually comes across very protective, as if one of the boys is leading the other, looking out for him. Anyhow, Edmond asked for my email address, and I gave it to him. They didn’t have paper, so they had me write on a CD cover. Before handing it over they asked me, “Do you know this man?” And there on the cover was Arnold, the governator. I had to laugh, and I told them that yes, I did know of him. I do hope they write. They were good kids.

2-16-2010: After returning home from the bar, I played with Ezra and a couple of his friends. They are all very small, so I put them on the bike and pushed them around the driveway. They giggled and focused on the road. Each got a turn even though Ezra was pushing through to get more time in. Later, Ezra and I ate porridge (millet flour mixed with hot millk), and I tried to show him out to whistle. I showed him by blowing hard on my porridge and slowly a whistle would emerge. After a few tries he began to follow suit. I found I funny that the one song that popped into my head when thinking of “what song should I whistle for this kid?” was the tune to the Andy Griffith show.

For dinner we had matooke, beans, kasava, peanut sauce and rice. We also had orange/passion fruit juice (both from the gardens here). Dinner was interesting, and I got to talk to my dad a bit more. It turns out that he is a retired accountant who had worked to collect taxes for the government. Now he farms on the other side of Raco on a 4 acre plot that they purchased only a short time ago. He is a funny man, with a great sense of humor, a big smile and an amazing love for his family (especially Ezra). He helps me with my Luganda (though I forget almost as soon as I learn as there is no repetition), and he is impressed with my progress.

I was nearly finished with dinner when my mother came home. She was tired from the day and sat down to dinner while I sat and talked. Among many things, we spoke of gardening and the difference between organic and non-organic. This lead to the discussion of fats and sugars and me introducing the term Calories to her. She told me that they use Banana leaves to wrap the matooke and rice to keep from using oils and sugars to cook with. She told me that the oils and sugars are very bad, and that at her age she has to be careful. To me, this was astounding… here is a woman living 8000 miles away from my home town, and she is telling me that which we’ve known for a while in the US: That FAT and SUGAR in EXCESS is BAD!! I asked her where she got her information and how they had changed her mind, and she said that it had come from the Hospital where she got checkups. For her, simply receiving information from a trusted source was enough to make her change her mind. The method by which the information was distributed didn’t matter. So there, again, is the issue of integration and trust in the communities in order to get your points across. (A side note: She mentioned last night that she had been a little girl growing up in the mountains of SW Uganda (6 km from both Rwanda and DRC), and in those times she had to wear sweaters in the cold season as it sometimes snowed in the morning! Now, however, she says that it is warmer, and residents do not have to wear those clothes. She said to me, “The climate is changing. It is getting hotter.” This is one smart woman.

I’m loving the fact that my family is very educated. Ruth, while only having a primary education, is extremely intelligent. Christopher (who calls me ‘Murphy Mathew’ (WHICH IS BEYOND IRONIC) but sometimes ‘Devon’ and others ‘Patrick’) has an accounting degree. Patience, their oldest daughter has a degree in Social Work (I just wrote Socialism… weird), and their son Ezra is always being quizzed by his mother. Education in this family is first-come, first-served, which is NOT the policy Ruth grew up with which was, “Boy’s go to school, girls do what girls are supposed to do: cook, clean, cook, clean, and makes babies.”

The conversations with both Ruth and Chris are getting better and better, and I feel very at home already. Once school begins, Ruth with her 8 languages will be an incredible asset to me, and if I am learning Luganda, I will be speaking to each of the children as much as I can. Which I forgot to mention, Esther is not actually one of their daughters, rather he is Ruth’s brothers daughter, and her brother and his wife are dead. So, the extended family becomes immediate family, as Chris explains it.

2-17-2010: My homework assignment tonight was to ask my host family and neighbors (I only got around to asking my host mom and sister) about the (a) the effects of HIV/AIDS on the economy and secondary education, (b) the factors leading to the spread of HIV aids in the communities and (c) the ways in which the communities here are working to prevent the spread of aids. The answers (summarized of course) are as follows:

(a.) Poorly paid workers cannot afford drugs to keep them well enough to continue working. They must quit work. At which point, the economy of Uganda suffers in some small way. Also, the parent can no longer support their families previous lifestyle, they sell things to pay for medication and other hospital bills. The house falls into disrepair, and the school bills can no longer be paid. The children then must drop out of school to pick up the slack. Prostitution, drugs and running off with “sugar momma’s” runs rampant with this population. HIV/AIDS spreads further.

(b.) Poverty (see prostitution above), lack of education, lack of reason TO use condoms.

(c.) Encouragement to use condoms, Educating about HIV/AIDS and encouraging HIV/AIDS counseling/testing.

Oddly, A and B conflict in that A is the apparent solution but B says that not enough of A is being done. My initial hypothesis is that we’ve worn out the welcome on (a.) and need to find a few more influencing techniques to make some changes.

My final question of the evening involved their take on the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS transmission (I was especially interested in this because they are Catholic). I explained that many Catholics do not believe in contraceptives, as they get in the way of god’s work. The answer that Patience, my sister gave, was brilliant:

“You have to make a choice: you either want to live and do more of God’s work, or you want to die and you leave his work on the side. You have to make a choice.”

2-18-2010: Tonight, I got into a really amazing discussion about the strength and old age of her grandparents (gram lived till 103, the pops until 105). She basically chalked it up to the differences in the way that animals were raised now and in the past. She also focused in on the fact that the diets today are horrible compared to the 100% natural diets, taken solely from the land, that her grandparents had participated in. Regarding the animals, there were no medicines , treatments or injections into the animals. All that was eaten was natural and from the ground. Recalls a time that animals were never treated. If blood was needed, they were able to tap the animal with an arrow and then patch the wound and the animal would be fine. The vegetable population, she said, is changing. Irish potatoes use to be DELICIOUS! Now, you can’t find them anywhere. There are potatoes, but not like the old ones. And today you have to treat everything. In the case of the potatoes, you must treat them 3 times or they will die. Tomatoes: All that is sought today are the big tomatoes. But the little old tomatoes taste so much better. Cabbage: There used to be cabbage plants that grew and then the flower was picked, branches would grow on several sides of the plant. These branches could be cut and replanted and new cabbage would spring up. Today, new cabbages require new seeds.

Here is a woman quoting what I have read in both Omnivores Dilemma and Hopes Edge solely from first hand experience!!

In other news, I picked my first avocado from the tree today. YEAH!! I climbed up with Gilbert, and he showed me which ones were ready (once they are a certain size, they are ready). He has taken to me, as I was there with him last night comforting him when he had hurt his leg so badly.

Finally, I got my first taste of what teaching physics will be like… HORRENDOUSLY DIFFICULT. I began helping Obora (sp) with her homework on Scientific Notation, and I finally came to the conclusion that “One cannot teach significant figures without having PROPERLY taught multiplication by 10s, decimals points, fractions and whole numbers, etc… I was finally able to get her to understand how to move the decimal point and put “zeros above the smiley faces created by moving the decimal”, but it was dinner time before we could finish. The lesson provided me with an even more Intense understanding of the need for well defined objectives and sub-objectives. It looks like we have our work cut out for us!!

19-2-2010: Today I received my language assignment: Rutooro. II will be studying with Chris, Lukas and the other Devon, and we will all likely be placed in the western region of Uganda, likely around Fort Portal. I am incredibly excited for two reasons: (1) The region we are likely to be placed in is absolutely BEAUTIFUL! The Rwenzori Mountains are very close, and there are many MANY national parks near by. And, I have heard that the high elevation of the mountains will cool the temperatures enough that I may be a bit more comfortable (not sweating all the time), and the they will also keep the bugs away. Hell yes. (2) Our instructor is a man named Anthony, and he, from what fathered today, is INCREDIBLE! He used repetition, beats, music and… well… sock puppets (Mr. Purple and Mrs. Yellow) to teach us the words. We have only had one lesson, but Anthony is incredibly bright, very dedicated, and he is already impressed with our pronunciation. I think we’ll go far as a group.

I built a “Tippy-Tap” today with a group. It serves as a way for Ugandan’s to wash their hands after the latrine usage and while working in and out of the kitchen. Many of the nasty diseases here in Uganda are transmitted by the four f’s: Food, Feces, Flies and (I can’t remember the last one). I’ll be building one for my host family soon. Oh, and we also saw how to set up a shower out of a jerry-can and a few spare parts from the hardware store.

Just a few notes, as I am getting too tired to continue writing: I saw a beautiful sunrise tonight, and as I reached the top of the hill to my house, I could hear Michael Jackson singing from speakers far in the distance. My sister and I were chatting about Uganda’s condition regarding one of the most corrupt governments in the world, and she said, roughly, that considering Ugandan’s past, all they want now is PEACE. It is clear that they could rise up and defeat the current government, but the turmoil that it would cause is terrifying to anyone… an interesting point.

I GOT MY UGANDAN NICK NAME FROM MY MOM TONIGHT!!! “Amooti”. Apparently, in the region where Rutooro is spoken, they give everyone a nickname at birth. I don’t know why she named me it, but I am honored. I have heard that it means either “flower” or “king”. I hate that I am being honest about this… bring on the jabs!!

2-20-2010: I split from the group myself and made my way through the downtown area looking for bits and pieces for my Tippy-Tap handwasher that I’ll be installing at my home (maybe tomorrow). I also checked process for a shower unit for my future site bathroom. The shower will be relatively expensive, I think, but the tippy tap should cost about 500 (.25 cents) depending on where I buy the jerry-can. The kid I talked to about it today tried to sell me one for 2000 and I just laughed. After walking out of the store twice, I had the price around 1000, but I think I can get it a bit lower. The challenge is this: try to get the price down to the Ugandan price (the price he would charge any other Ugandan WITHOUT looking like a cheap bastard American (consider that I am fighting for an additional 20 cent savings when I ask the boy to drop his price from 1000 to 800. A part of me hates having to bargain… the other part feels that it is just “getting even” for trying to charge me anywhere from 2-4 times the normal price just because I am white.

The highlight of my day was working in the field with my mom on her property. She taught me to identify banana from plantain (AGAIN! But damnit, it’s harder than it looks: plaintain leaves are only green at the base, whereas banana’s have some brown in them. She also taught me what Yam’s look like, how to harvest them and how to replant the yams by using a piece of the original plants body. The main root can then be cut into pieces and fed to the pigs. I also learned how to harvest kasava and then replant a new plant (but really, several), as with kasava, you simply cut the trunk of the plant into pieces and stick them into the ground. My host mom is extraordinarily talented in the gardens. She can look at plants and tell exactly how long things need before being picked, and how much longer they needed (if they were picked already). It was during this time that I was walking into the field and my sister looked at me and said, “You’ve become a farmer.” YEAH! Well, maybe not full fledge. But I am learning, and I hope to apply it at my own place as well as educating some of my fellow PCTs.

I am more and more convinced that my mom should write a book. She is just so in touch with what is happening in her country with regard to the culture lost to “advancement”. She wants in no way to stop progress, but she understands how important it is to be connected to the land. She sees land as completely useless unless it produces food for the person on it. And when not used? It should be moved along to someone else who will respect it.

Dead Goats and Hippy Ugandans. I’ll start with the dead goats. When I arrived from school, my mom and dad were out and about. Within 5 minutes, they had returned, and my mother was exclaiming, “Wild dogs have eaten my goats!! Our dogs were warning us, but we didn’t go see what was going on! I wish I would have checked sooner!” I gathered that there have been packs of wild dogs that band together and roam the towns in search of food. It had not been a problem around here, but today nature struck. While her goats were tied in her nearby field, the pack came up to hunt. Our dogs went berserk, but no one from the house went to check on the commotion. The wild pack ended up killing our two babies, these really cute, tiny little things, and they went for the third, the mother of one goat. The mother broke free and ran down the roads, dogs in chase, when our neighbor saw what was happening and scared the dogs off.

I saw the results shortly after. Two young goat heads/necks were brought back and set down. They looked like abstract art, or a new breed of mammal. Ezra began examining them by picking them up and poking their eyes (disturbing to me, and also to his mom and sisters, as they made him stop immediately). The whole event was very sad, and my mother kept exclaiming, “the poor things! They died in pain!” It is the morning now, and the mother is still calling for her young one. It will take 3 days for her to forget. We found out later that the dogs had taken a few of the nearby neighbors’ as well. I may check on whether a regular neighborhood watch of sorts has ever been sought.

Hippy Ugandan’s! I believe my family is a hippy family! We are on the modern side, with the girls allowed to wear pants and the men allowed to wear shorts after work at night. There are certain cultural standards that remain (the children kneel before the parents at night when they greet them, is one), and the fact that they USE the land for food like their ancestors is another. The hippy side I am seeing is really just their shunning of oils and sugars so they may be more natural and wholesome. Further, I asked if they would ever consider using a water treatment like chlorine, and the reply was this: “We don’t want to use a chemical because we don’t know what it does to the body in the long run. Boiling works fine, and it just takes a few minutes longer. And we KNOW for a fact that it will not hurt us in any way.” Unbelievable!! The Sempungu’s are agricultural and social trend-setters in the most wonderful of ways.

21-2-2010: Today was the first day off we have had since coming to Uganda. Technically, last Sunday was an off day, but that involved the whirlwind tour of Kampala, and considering that my brain was on full alert for pick-pockets and men harassing the girls in the group, I never got a chance to relax. Today was much nicer. I woke up around 7, and I got started on my big pile-o-laundry. My sister Ester show me how to clean the clothes progressively from one bucket to the next, so that each piece gets cleaner and cleaner (which you can identify by the clarity of the water). The final bucket should have no suds and be clear. Let me just say this: Laundry is a pain in the ass. Aside from taking a long while, it wrecks havoc on the clothing, as you have to scrub it out and then twist the hell out of it to get the previous suds and water out of it. Like I said, pain in the ass.

Today was a chore day, and while my mom was out helping our neighbor with the preparations for their daughters baptismal party, I cooked myself breakfast (eggs, onion, tomatoes and avocado has NEVER tasted so good), I answered a few questions from my weekend homework assignment and I set the posts for my Tippy-Tap. I am really excited for the hand-washing station, as it is really needed her, and it’ll be a permanent fixture (that is why it took so much beating and sweating today… I had to get those posts into that ground solidly so they cannot be moved by a 20 liter jerry-can). Tomorrow, I’ll acquire a can from somewhere, and I’ll tie everything together. Pretty soon, I’ll be living at handwashing central.

I took the invite to the Baptism party, and I got ready around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. My clothes consisted of nice gray slacks and an unwrinkled (still haven’t washed it) maroon shirt. As I was about to walk away, my sister Bora stopped me and signaled that the rubber at the soles of my shoes was not “smart enough.” I scoffed a bit, but took the brush from her hands and began cleaning the soles off. She noticed my distaste and remarked, “I want you to be the smartest.” I hope I made her proud.

The party itself was held in our neighbor’s yard. Many sat under a tattered tarp, and the rest sat outside in the shade. A DJ had been hired, and the music blared for the better part of the afternoon. Shortly after our arrival, we all got up and ate food. At the request of one of the family members, I had exchanged my back-row seat with one in the front, so I was among the first to eat. Christ, can Ugandan’s eat. Matooke, White Rice, Brown Rice, Potatoes, Soup, and Meat (which I later found out was Goat, which might as well have been rabbit or tougher chicken for all I could tell). With my plate piled high, I sat back down and enjoyed the food accompanied by coke, bottled water and a luke-warm Bell Lager (brewed on Lake Victoria). After eating, I sat and enjoyed as the children began dancing to the ear-splitting music; you haven’t heard bad gospel until you’ve heard Ugandan gospel. Absurd. I ended up getting the go-ahead to roam about and take some pictures of the crowd, the family and especially the little girl who had just been baptized. My thought is that I can get a few of these pictures printed to give to the family as a surprise. I think they will love it.

I was still sickly full for the remainder of the evening even after walking for about 40 minutes with Pesh and Natalie to the top of the hill where the Sempungu’s Church is. Dinner was ready shortly after my return, and I reluctantly took a small plate. My mom later augmented it with Kasava because I had, in my desire to remain intact and not burst all over their walls, had neglected to pick a piece up. I ate it, hesitantly, and then spoke with my mom for a few minutes before going to bed. before going, she looked at me and with all sincerity said, “If people at like this all the time, they would get stupid.” Amen. True words of wisdom from an outstanding women.

22-2-2010: I am reading a book called “The Age of American Unreason” which discusses the decline of intelligence of America and its roots in our culture. The book references anti-intellectuals often, and in the few pages I was able to make it through uninterrupted today, I caught a glimpse of something that made me think of my current situation. In an attempt to answer the reasons for an emerging fundamentalist culture among churches in the 1920s, the book pardoned the mindset by attesting it to a desire of the people to go back to “the way things were” when there was just good friends, good family, good food, good work and god on Sunday. That is, the fundamentalist movement was, at least in part, nostalgia driven. The book aims to explain the roots of the current fundamentalist foothold that has been gained in our society. So far, I find it fascinating.

So what did it spark in me… so for the past week (I just wrote “Weeks” but quickly realized that it is only 2 weeks since I left home… it feels like a month), I’ve been writing about all the exciting things that I have been doing; the new things I learned, the amazing things I’ve seen, the people I have come into contact with. It is an ADVENTURE. It Struck me today that the life I am currently living is that simple life that the Americans in the 1920s were trying to get back. Good family, friends, food and god (well, at least the first three). Simple. I was disgusted with the culture in America before I left, and my opinions have not shifted. The formulaic life promoted by the majority of those living in the US is twisted.

So why were feelings stirred? I guess I just started to think about who I am, where I am from and where I am now. While my life here is the simplicity that I desire, it isn’t all that I want. While the complexity of America is nothing that I want, it is not all that I will get. And there it is: I have a choice. I can take a little here, give a little there, and I can build the life that I want. So when two years is up, I’ll head home with these life-changing experiences, and I will progress down any number of roads that will with time present themselves… But my family here, Mom, Dad, Pesh, Esther, Bora, Gilbert, Ezra … it is likely that they will continue the same path that they happened to land on; which isn’t necessarily a bad one.

But it is far less than they deserve.

23-2-2010: Not a lot new going on today. The morning language class went well, but we have about six new verbs that I have yet to memorize. Flash cards will prove essential. I also think I need to stop asking so many questions (my group mates included), as it is driving us further and harder than we need to be going at only day three or four. The other classes were so-so. We had a hilarious discussion of food borne illnesses, that terrified most of us to our cores. It turns out that every one of us will experience some wicked diarrhea sooner or later (likely both), and there are many opportunities to get parasites, bacteria and virus’ while here. Awesome. Renee and I were discussing a new treat we can serve to PCVs called Ugandan’s Gummy Worms. We’ll acquire pin worms and die them various colors and voila! Salmon(ella) is also a thought I’ve had. I figure it would be egg(cellent). In all seriousness, I do think these sicknesses need to be taken just as the PC teaches them: VERY SERIOUSLY. Vigilance is often only temporary as we grow more comfortable with the country and our site. I hope I can keep strong on the fight for clean water and vegetables.

2-24-2010: After work I ran with Brennan, Natalie and Renee. The run started at RACO and turned left out of the parking lot up the hill. It remained single-track trail running for about half a mile and then turned into dirt road (which is still the same as trail running). We ended up exploring the back side of the hill around RACO, running one direction out to the main road we come in on from Wakiso and then backtracking beyond our entry point to see what lay there. What we found was exactly what we knew: UGANDA IS STUNNING! Little kids shouted “HI MUZUNGU!!” and men and women alike broke into face-breaking smiles when they heard our greetings. We ended up taking a route that ended in a dead end, but along the way we met what appeared to be an ancient Indian hobbit. He was very happy to see us and directed us further down the road, “down until the small house, no not go straight, go right, there is a small path” and that was supposed to take us back to the main road. Welp, “E” for effort. We made our way down the road which continued onto single-track and eventually turned into a path that split kasava crops from potato mounds. We dead-ended at what appeared to be another house, turned around and began making our way back. It was all in good fun, however, and we had a great time identifying the plants we new, ogling at the world around us and eventually made it safely back to RACO.

Following the run, we all gathered up and went to the Wakiso market. It felt more like a state fair to me than a market, as people swarmed the streets and more than produce but EVERYTHING was being sold there (especially shoes). Of course we stood out in the crowd, but we made our way through and observed as some of us tried to buy things (being offered first muzungu prices and then haggling our way down to a more reasonable price). It’s funny that we haggle over what turns out to be a few cents, but 1st, it is necessary, and 2nd, we get paid 35,000 USh a week. That is 15 bucks. NOT MUCH.

As I returned late to home, there was little to do but grab a quick workout on the webbing and transfer some verbs and nouns from my daily language notes to their respective pages.

Dinner was fantastic, as I only had a salad and felt very happy with it. I also got into another phenomenal discussion with my mom about the developing world and the dangers of the fast paced, look for the easy, simplified way, of doing things that so many Americans rely on. It started with the topic of Alzheimer’s. It progressed from the hypothetical causes of the disease being linked to aluminum deposits in the brain. It evolved into the topic of how do people get these deposits (likely from aluminum cans and deodorant). And it finished with a long discussion of the food industry in both Uganda and America and where Uganda is headed if they are not careful. I was very vocal about the power of the individual to begin the grass-roots movement, and I told her that it is up to her to spread the word to her friends in a convincing way.

The cool thing about my mom is her either immediate understanding of things or that she already knows what I have only just learned in a recently written book. She knows not because she read the book. She knows because she has lived first hand through that which the author of the book had to research. THAT is impressive. She recognizes the desire of the Uganda to be like the US. She also realizes that Uganda need not follow the same staircase (as she put it) in order to get there. And I tried to communicate to her that the US, as the developed nation who has stepped on many a land-mine in development, needs to take responsibility that Uganda does not do the same. We have a chance to help a country develop in such a way that allows them to be good to their earth while reaping the benefits of sustainable agriculture (staying way from mono-anything), that allows them to be more healthy because they are connected with the land and stay away from processed-anything (and more importantly the culture that relishes the microwaved meal), and as important as anything, allows them to retain their CULTURE during the development.

I truly feel like I am living within a chapter of Hope’s Edge while I am here.

*** end journal segments ***

So, friends and family, life is good!! I can’t say that I have experienced a culture shock, per se. Yes, the level of poverty that I have witnessed has been painful at times, but I don’t feel overwhelmed by it. Instead, I just keep thinking, “Alright. It is here. Let’s work.” And that is good. I do walk the largest permanent stage I’ve ever been on as I make my way the two-plus-miles to work, always accompanied by shouts of “BYE MUZUNGU!!!!!” but even that has not begun to bother me.

I am slowly developing a daily schedule that allows me to get my language studying and assignments finished while still working in time to work out, grab beer with friends and spend quality time with my home-stay family. With most everyone in the city lacking electricity (and that includes us), my idea of night’s darkness has been redefined. I’m only just adjusting to using a small solar lantern for everything from going to the Tooyi (pit latrine), bathing (splashing water on myself from a large bucket) and reading/playing guitar/etc…

I’ve written (i.e. copy and pasted) far too much already. For those who made it through all of this, I owe you a beer. Split it amongst yourselves and you see fit.

I love you all, and I miss you dearly.

Michelle, I love love love you and Miss you most of all!


P.S. Pictures soon.