Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I'm writing to you from the ridiculous town of Swakopmund, Namibia. We arrived here yesterday after 24+ hours of travel from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. After finding our place to camp, we scheduled our first adventure: Quad-Biking (Four wheelers) in the Namib Dessert right outside town. INCREDIBLE! We did it this morning, and I am sold on the bikes. Very cool.

In other news: I jumped off a bridge the other day, literally. The bridge connecting Vic-Falls Zimbabwe to Zambia has bungee jumping, so we bought a huge package where we did a zip-line, a swing over the gorge and a bungee jump for 155 bucks. HOLY SHIT. Greatest rides of my life.



And then you fall 111 meters into the depths.

We hung around Zim for a few days and got screwed out of a bus ride to Namib, but we got everything figured out.

Note: Zimbabwe is a FANTASTIC country with beautiful people... some of the most beautiful I've ever seen. We're all discovering just how bad Uganda has it by making these comparisons to each country we travel to. Botswana, Zim (Vic Falls, really... obviously not the whole country), and Namibia look just like America. It's truly unbelievable how progressed these places are.

Alright, times up. Just wanted to check in. We're having a blast. Almost went sky diving today, but they were booked. We're headed to Nakuluft State Park tomorrow then down to Capetown in a few days. It just keeps getting better and better.

Thanks for checking in!
I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!)


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Overland: Day 1-3 - Greetings from Botswana!

First thing's first: You can reach me via my MTN cell number (785954285).

Next, here is the summary of the trip thus far.

Day 1: We flew from Entebbe at 6:30 on Monday morning after spending the night with our friend Rob from the CDC. AWESOME guy! He hooked us up with great beer, BBQ pork and, um, more great beer before we all crashed WAY too late for the early flight.

Entebbe is a very nice airport, and we were through customs quickly. Our flights were VERY strange in that in order to get to Jo-burg, we had to fly first to Nairobi, Kenya, wait two hours, board another plane for Kigali, Rwanda, wait 45 minutes and finally board the final plane to Jo-burg, South Africa.

I got HORRIFICALLY ill on the way to Nairobi! Not a good way to start a trip... I was having heat waves crash over me, I was sweating profusely from time to time, my head was hurting and my mind was spinning. I know what you might be thinking: Malaria. Me too. But, thankfully, I don't believe it was anything more than motion-sickness. I puked a bit on the plane to Kigali (I FINALLY GOT TO USE A BARF BAG!!!!!!), puked a lot more in Kigali (they were offering me a doctor... sweeties!) and crashed on the final plane to SA waking in the middle feeling relatively stable and ravenously hungry. The fog cleared over the next two hours, and by the time I landed, I was bright, sunny and stoked to have just finished a small bottle of Concha y Torro Cabernet. For those who have never flown with them, Rwandair is FANTASTIC!

Jo-burg: Dave had a friend in the city who met us at the airport. Gaven. Freakin' incredible human being! He drove us to his place in South Jo-burg where we showered, unpacked and met his wife before heading out to dinner. Tasty food, good beers, great company. The night ended with a long, deep sleep. The perfect end to a strange first day.

Day 2: We rose early, had some granola and yogurt and headed to the airport. After a brief goodbye with Gaven, we went through the issues with money exchange (FOREX at the airport is criminal), and getting Dave squared away with his money issues (he brought no money... only a stanbic card... and STANDARD does not take STANBIC, so he was in trouble). Once that was worked out, Natalie and I got in touch with the Bus-man who gave us some brilliant, though horrifically convoluted directions from the airport to the downtown where we would be able to catch our bus to Bulawayo (our original plan was to go straight to Zimbabwe and then transfer there onto something that takes us to Victoria Falls). Long story short, he along with everyone else freaked the living hell out of us about Jo-burg. Let me explain:

Jo-burg is VERY VERY VERY dangerous. We were told this by every single person we met. "Jo-burg is DANGEROUS. BE VERY CAREFUL!" We heard stories about people getting jumped in broad daylight, jumped in stores, alley's, streets, everywhere... my god. And the city is HUGE! So we were on high alert passing through town. On the surface, it looks amazing... like Kampala might look after another 100 years. Smooth roads, big nice buildings, ordered streets. Perfect. But always in the background, that fear of getting jumped. So we got our business done with the busses ASAP... which took quite some time.

We ended up catching a but to Gabarone, getting there late at night, realizing we had nowhere NEAR enough money to stay in such a nice place and hopped immediately on another bus Francistown.

Day3: After a strange ride (hallucinations from lack of sleep), we pulled into Francistown at around 4 am and left to the bus park to catch another bus to Kasane in the northernmost corner of Botswana. After some tea and fried bread, we caught that bus and somewhere around 6 hours later we arrived.

My god, I have run away typing again... As of now, we are finished with 18 hours of travel in the last 24 hours, and we are about 70km shy of Victoria Falls. We'll be there tomorrow jumping off of the bridge with buyngee cords on our feet! YEAH!!! Then, we'll likely stay around another day before heading into Namibia and continuing onward.

So! I am safe and loving life. South Africa and Botswana look a lot like America... EXACTLY like America, actually. It's freaky. There is just that damn underlying fear. Ugh. And then there are the prices... if we were coming straight from Jobs in the states, we'd have a much easier time buying the necessities (beer, beer, a place to set a tent, beer and... oh, food). Unfortunately, everything here is two-times more expensive than the states, so we're pinching pennies.

But we're making it.

Life is good. I'm doing GREAT. This is already one of the greatest adventures I've been on, and I am only a tenth of the way through :)

I'm off... I just shut down an internet cafe with this post.

Thanks for reading!

I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!)


P.S. Next update, I expect, will come from Namibia!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November Update

Hi Everyone.

I'm really sorry for the long delay since my last post. I've traveled a good bit recently (to South Western Uganda to put on a Sex-Ed presentation and celebrate the arrival of some newly graduated PCVs, and then again to the SW for what turned into one of the most glorious Thanksgiving celebrations of my life!).

For T-day this year, 8 or 9 of us met up in Ibanda, and everyone got fantastically fat on multiple pies, stuffing balls, green-been casserole, CHEEEEESE, and god knows what else... whiskey for sure... and... oh yeah, a Turkey! By 10 in the evening, we were actually quite sick and regretting our gluttony. Looking back, it as totally worth it.

Let me just say: I hate killing things. I've done it so rarely in my life. Bugs? Yeah, daily. They are basically micro-machines. But real, warm blooded beings? Tough work, that. I did it. This year, I hung our turkey up by his feet from a tree, tied his wings back (so they wouldn't beat my face in), tore some feathers off his neck to expose the skin, grabbed a WICKED sharp Henckel knife and made the cut. It took about three seconds (everyone was very impressed by this), and if I understand the technique used on Polyface Farm in Virginia, the upside down position fills the fowl's head with blood, puts them into a comatose state and keeps the pain to a minimum.

It was definitely an experience. I shook for a while afterwards as we stripped it, gutted it and then put it into a large dutch oven we had fashioned using the large hole filled with coals.

I'll say this: The turkey was a sorry site after a night in which he was nearly eaten by a wild dog. But after several hours of slow cooking with a basting every half hour, he was beautiful brown and fully edible. He was one of the most delicious turkeys we've ever had.


The school term is OVER!!!! Well, the classes and testing is finished. Now, we are focusing on filling in report cards. I put together a digital report card system based on one that someone else had done in the PC office... mine is A LOT better. Overall, it has been one of the most ridiculously complicated experiences I've ever had using MS Office and Excel. I'll save the details of the grading systems here for another post... at least I hope to get to that at some point... for now, let me say that it's been a beast of a project. Now, with the program complete, I am trying to get the teachers to use it. I am starting small using it only for the A-level classes first as they have only 80 or so students. The goal is to slowly integrate it into the lower level classes (first in S4, then in S3, etc...) until the entire school is using the program in about a year. As of now, I've got a few teachers literally giggling with excitement over how much time can be saved with the program, and their enthusiasm is spilling over onto the other teachers. The ball is rolling! We'll see how far it goes.

My S6 students are FINISHED WITH SCHOOL!!!! That's right: Moses, Ivan, Mugisa and Suzie (and Leonard, though he transferred at the beginning of the year), are now finished with their UNEB national exams and are thus finished with their secondary education! I met them over the last few days, and they greeted me with enormous smiles on their faces, their relief obvious. Now they just wait for their results, and when those arrive they can begin applying for universities!

I am happy to report that after taking the tests for the classes I taught, they came out smiling and saying, "It wasn't so bad! We did well Mastah!" I'm Happy. Relieved. Thrilled really. Sure, I don't know the scores, but if their attitudes towards the tests are any indication of their scores, they did quite well! (On the flip side, everyone that came out of the tests for the papers I did NOT teach had only "It was VERY hard" to say about it). We'll know the results in February. Until then, my fingers are crossed.

The school term ends officially on Friday, so that gives us tomorrow to finish the report cards. We've got a meeting at 1 and a staff party that should be a great finish. We'll likely all get together at a local hotel, grab a beer and eat some fried goat. Unfortunately, this lines up with a visit by the US Ambassador to Uganda. He'll be in a neighboring village with my Country Director and a few PCVs. It was requested that all in the area attend, but frankly, as busy as we are here, I just can't make it... further, even if I could I think I'd rather pause to celebrate an interesting year with the staff than sit around discussing the ups and downs of development with bureaucrats.

Up next:

As always, I am racked by a guilty conscience over not posting enough (stupid Catholic baptism at birth!). I've actually had a picture post ready since October, but I've put it off and put it off. Well, no longer. I'll post it tomorrow for you. So check back.

For the holidays, I am leaving the country! Yep. December 5th starts my Capetown to Cairo over-land adventure! I'm flying down with 3 friends to Jo-burg, and we'll then follow hit the following places:

Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia (bungee jumping at Vic Falls... naked, if at all possible), Namibia (dune buggying in the Namib Desert), South Africa (again) (Capetown, Roben Island, Beaches, Table Mountain), Lesotho (horseback riding, hiking), South Africa (again), Swaziland (chillin), Mozambique(getting SCUBA certified), Malawi (Scuba and Snorkel in Lake Malawi), Tanzania, Zanzibar, Tanzania and then we'll finally return to Uganda!

The only girl on the trip, Natalie, is hopping off in Capetown and heading to Zanzibar for Christmas, but just as she leaves, we're all meeting up with none other than MR. DAVID FICKE!! Mr. Ficke will accompany us for the remainder of the journey, and he'll be stopping in Uganda to see my site, live with me for a spell, help out at my school and then explore the land. Yes. Uganda is about to become a happier place.

That's as far into the future as I care to look... I leave this Monday, and I get screaming excited thinking about it. We'll have video and cameras to document everything, and I hope to drop updates here and there at various internet cafe's throughout the country, so stay tuned.

That about gets you up to speed. Sorry for a total lack of pictures in this post, but again, check back tomorrow and you won't be let down.

Thanks for checking in.

I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!)


Saturday, October 22, 2011

My Women's Group

Warning: This post will not do justice to the beauty that is this women's group. They are the strongest, most hard working, dedicated, beautiful group of women I have EVER seen, and I almost feel like I am doing them a disservice by not putting up a SERIOUS, well thought out post. But ALAS: Time is not my friend (that, and the power in Kyenjojo has been scream-inducing chaotic recently, so better to get the post up than to have everything cut out right in the middle...).

A quick overview: I met this group through Moses, my friend who started a small NGO called UTOPIA along with a group of neighbors in the village of Kyongera (pronounced: "Chone-gera"). Before I even met them, the women had a savings scheme in which they pooled their money every week or two that they all met and one lucky women would get a loan on medicine or a business related expense. She would then pay it back at a later date. Since meeting them, I've introduced the concept of a Village Savings and Loan Association, and their savings has increased from around 60 thousand shillings to around 750 thousand! They are ON IT.

In addition to the concepts they borrowed from the savings and loan setup, they also get together to make arts and crafts. When my Dad and sister Catherine came to Uganda, we all got together for a big day-o-fun, and when Dad and Cat left Uganda, they had a large supply of baskets, necklaces and other craft work from this group. So: If you are interested in getting a piece of BEAUTIFUL Ugandan craft-work and you are fortunate enough to know my father, contact him and, if available, he can show you what he's got [In fact, the women are holding each piece that they made and sent with my Dad! So you'll actually know the women (somehow) who made your craft!]. We're in the process of setting up a supply line where the women ship more products to us by Air-Mail, we sell it in The States, and 100% of the proceeds (less shipping) goes back to the women.

Ok, without further ado... the women of the Kyongera women's group. (Note: I intend to interview all the women, but at the time I only have three. I've included excerpts from the interviews (quite short), put them more into a statement form and attached them to the pictures).

Beatrice Mbabazi, “Adyeeri”

[This is Moses' mother!] My name is Beatrice Mbabazi, and my empaako [nickname] is “Adyeri” [Pronounced: Aw-dyeh-ree]. I am 42 years old, and I have eight children.

Education is very important to me. I completed Primary 2 [The US equivalent of 1st grade], and there are many things I would be doing today if I had a better education. It is very important that my children receive one.

To help support my family, I used to make money by making crafts such as sweaters and baskets. If I have a surplus of food from digging, I will also sell that. When the yield is poor, it is only for the family. I can earn ten-thousand shillings [bout 3.33 USD] in a month. This money is not enough. There are times when I get sick and must use the money for sick affairs [hospital bills], and what I had intended for the money to go to is diverted to the sickness.
When it doesn't go towards medical expenses, I spend the money I earn on materials for arts and crafts for the women’s group. I also buy scholastic materials for my kids, and some of the money is a contribution for school fees.

It is the lack of income generating activities that is preventing the development of Uganda today. If we have something to do [i.e. work], we can do these things and make money. And by hard work we can have a better life. There are some jobs in Uganda, but often they are only for educated people. That means that uneducated people don’t get jobs or are paid very little.

With the money made by selling my baskets in The United States, I hope to invest in making a clinic so that that money goes on generating. Or I would buy a certain place or area where we can continue making crafts so that we can act as an example to others so that they too make crafts, sell them and make an income for themselves.

The final interview question: "Tell me about the happiest moment in your life."

Her answer: What made me happiest in life was when I got a home and got married, [Baptist, her husband, clarifies here: “That is a home,” he says, “when a man and a woman get married. It is a home, not a house.”] and had children. In the future, I want peace and a source of income so that my home stands.

Maurene Tusiime, "Abwooli"

Edrona Kabahindi, "Atwooki"

[Didn't get the name...]

Mary Balyebwoha, "Akiiki"

Beatrice Tibanjurra, "Amooti"

Victoria Timbigamba, "Abwooli"

Violet Banura, "Ateenyi"

My name is Violet Banura, my empaako is “Ateenyi”, and I am 20 years old. I have one parent, my dad who is a peasant farmer, and my mother is dead. I also have one brother and five sisters.

[When I asked about her occupation, I got this response]:

[Baptist says: “That is a completely dead question for her, she is finding it hard for her to answer.” He said this after Violet answered, “Tinsubura.” which in Rutooro means, “I am not able.”]

“Oli mulimi?” I ask (You are a farmer?). “Ehhh.” (Yes.) “Olima ki?” (What do you grow?) “Ebitakuuli, ebijimba, ebilaaya…” (Sweet potatoes, beans and irish potatoes.) “Nootunda ebijumaa?” (Do you sell those vegetables?) “Tintunda.” (I don’t sell them) [meaning she is a subsistence farmer.]

I am helping Uganda's development by digging and making crafts. I will consider myself developed when I buy a cow. For now, my goals are to continue raising my babies [in addition to her three children, she is also raising a child of her deceased sister. The father wasn't taking care of the child and neither was her (Violet's) dad. So Violet took the child into her house to raise it.]

The final interview question: "Tell me about the happiest moment in your life."

Her answer: Having the babies were the happiest moments in my life.

Consolant Kirungi, "Atwooki"

Stanley Rubaire, "Apuuli"

Clophas Kasangaki, "Ateenyi"

Oliver Kakulilemu, "Abwooli"

Anna Akimugabo, "Abwooli"

Sylvia Natugonza, "Adyeeri"

My name is Sylvia Natugonza, and my empaako is "Adyeri". I am thirteen years old, and I am in Primary 7 [the US equivalent of 6th grade]. I have five sisters and two brothers.

The problem in Uganda today is there is not enough education. When I am not in school, I like to make crafts to sell. With the money I earn from the crafts sold in The United States, I will create progress in my life. With it, I will buy more material for crafts and will make them over the holidays.

The final interview question: "Tell me about the happiest moment in your life."

Her answer: [Before giving her answer, I must state this: After hearing the question and giving it POSSIBLY two seconds of thought, her face erupted into a brilliant smile… the girl was literally beaming, and she gave me this answer.] The day when you came with Catherine and your Dad… that was the happiest day of my life.

The most beautiful women I've ever met.

Thanks for reading!

I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!)


Thursday, October 20, 2011

WAH, WAH!!!!

Welcome back!

Today is a very special day: I have been a Peace Corps Volunteer for 18 months! I've completed 75% of my service! Unreal. Recently, I find myself thinking about "what's next?", and I've come to the conclusion that I've got plenty of ideas but am not ready to think about "life after Uganda" yet. Hey... maybe you can help me. So far I've got:

1. Appalachian Trail
2. Pacific Crest Trail
3. Firefighting in California, Utah or Colorado
4. Biking across the country
5. Becoming an astronaut
6. Writing a book

To be honest, I'm leaning towards "all of the above." Figures.

Enough of that...

I wanted to throw up a short post about: H2O. Dihydrogen Monoxide. WATER.

And away we go.

More than likely, you, who are reading this blog from a developed country, take water for granted. In the US, we drink water from sinks, showers and from shiny machines hanging from walls (water fountains) without thinking twice. After all, we pay taxes to insure that someone, somewhere, cleans that water and pumps it to us using something else you probably take for granted: water pressure!

Sure, there are areas where overpopulation is quickly depleting the aquifer (ahem, Albuquerque...), but for the most part, water is not in short supply. Even in those places where water SHOULD be a concern, people still pump drinking water into big white basins and then release it with chrome-plated levers to flush their toilets.

Things are different in Uganda. All water is dirty until purified, chemically treated or boiled. There is rarely a functioning water system and then only in the bigger towns/cities. The following pictures illustrate how I've dealt with the issue of water and also how my fellow townspeople deal with it.

In Kyenjojo, there actually is a small water system in place. Water is pumped from the swamp up to giant tanks on the hill. From there it is dispersed to paying customers around town. As far as I can tell, there are about six paying customers (I exaggerate... there are probably at least twelve)... almost no one here can afford to get their water by such a developed method. Furthermore, the water system is often broken-down for one reason or another. When the water is flowing, it only flows for a short time in the mornings, so during that time, people fill their jerry cans for the day or fill their 50 or 100L rain tanks.

I decided immediately that I hated bucked baths and doing dishes in trough filled with dirty food-water, so I plugged a small tap into a 10L Jerry-can and made a portable water system. Here, it is shown acting as a sink (Steve and Tiff, do you recognize anything in this pic?). This pic also shows my "kitchen" where I chop my veggies and prepare my pancakes. The counter is made of rough boards, and the supporting pedestal is made of beer crates (taken from the hotel... I don't drink THAT much).

I live on the third floor at my hotel and in a wing that is not connected to the giant rain tanks outside. Thus, in order to shower I take my sink from my room and hang it on a nail on the wall. By opening the tap slightly and allowing only a trickle of water, I can usually take a shower with 3 Liters of water (3 Nalgene's full) if I don't wash my hair... which is often. This is like lathering up and rinsing off using a small water-gun.

Side note: When I tell my stories to Michelle, many times she answers with "Ugh..." or "You're gross." For Example, and I'm almost embarrassed to admit this but... : There are periods where I will not wash my hair until my head itches. It takes about 15 days to get to that point... This usually occurs during the dry season when I am beyond anal about how much water use.

Ugh. Gross.

These are my 20L jerry-cans. I use about 2.5 of these a week. I accomplish this by: (a.) Showering every 2-3 days (only on the days I work out), minimizing dishes (I rarely wash my pots and pans... you know... because the heat will take care of the germs!), and wearing the same clothes multiple times before washing them (I cannot believe I am admitting this... I'll wear a shirt boxers 4+ days before putting them into the "for work outs"-pile where they get a few more uses before going to the laundry pile. If I do that with boxers... imagine how I treat t-shirts and pants).

Ugh. Gross.

This is quickly becoming an article about how disgusting I am as a human being. Whoops!

Anyway... I thought I'd pose a challenge to you readers: Disregarding the water you use to flush your toilets and the water used to wash your clothes, I challenge you to use only 50 liters of water in a week. Try it for just a week, and let me know how it goes.

General Ecology First Need Water Purifier: Hands down the BEST water purifier on the planet earth. Notice: I said PURIFIER, not FILTER. This bad boy takes everything out of the water all the way down to Viruses. Today is not only my 18-months-as-a-volunteer celebration, it is also the 8 month-a-versary since I put this particular purifying cartridge into the first need. The website rates these filters as good for around 150 gallons of water. But check this out: at an average of 4 liters a day for 8 months, I've purified around 960 liters of water or 253 gallons of water! And it is STILL going strong. (The trick, of course, is that I am purifying water that has been allowed to settle, so I am not mucking up the filter with large particles.)

When not using a filter or iodine tables, bottle water is available everywhere in Uganda for around 1200 Ugx for a 1.5 L bottle.

Why use a filter? Easy: I don't have the time to boil my water (nor do I want to spare the fuel on my gas stove), and I hate the taste of the chemical treatment known as "Water Guard" that amounts to nothing more than diluted bleach. I use iodine when I'm in the mountains... but for every-day use, nothing beats a First-Need.

The rain tank: My primary source for water. You would not believe how quickly a hotel where almost no one stays can empty this multi-thousand liter tank. A week?

The spring: My secondary source for water. As you can see, the spring often goes dry. Even when it flows, it is nothing more than a small trickle, so it takes about 30 to 40 minutes to fill a jerry-can. The good thing about the spring is that I've never seen it swarmed with people. As it takes so long to fill cans, people are more inclined to take their water from the borehole or the swamp. The benefit of using the spring is that I can kick back and read a book while technically fetching water.

The Borehole: My tertiary source of water. There are several boreholes around Kyenjojo where people go to get water. Boreholes are drilled by NGOS all over Africa, and they often fall into disrepair. In Kyenjojo, for example, I've come across three that are broken down. (The most common problem with the bore-hole occurs from broken handles. The next most common is from failures in the one-way valves deep in the hole.) Typically, as the community has no ownership of the hole, when they break they simply stay broken until (a.) the original NGO returns to pay for the repair or (b.) a volunteer from another organization comes in and pays for the repair. (c.) There are instances in Uganda where PCVs have organized water committees and pooled community funds to make the repairs, this in an attempt to instill a sense of ownership of the hole in the future. There is a committee for this particular hole, and members who wish to use it must pay a few dollars a year for access.

Water that comes out of these holes is often clean, as they are drilled to such great depths that the earth has acted as a filter to anything nasty. However, it does not mean that a hole is impermeable to disease. Unskilled repair-men can soil the components, and often (as is the case with this particular hole which is drilled at the level of the swamp, and thus not very deep), they are NOT deep enough to act as a proper filter.

While the Ugandan's I've encountered are aware that water must always be boiled before consumption to avoid illness, the number one killer of children under the age of 5 years old remains dehydration caused by diarrhea. Thus, the battle to implement better water/sanitation systems around the country rages on.

Women carrying 20L jerry cans from the bore-hole back to their homes. "A pint's a pound the world around!" meaning these women are carrying around 42 pounds of water each for a half-mile or more. Beast.

If all else fails, I could (but never would), get water from here: The swamp. This is probably the dirtiest water around, as it contains the runoff from the city and shallow latrines around the area. A layer of oil shimmers on its surface.

In the center of the picture you can see fish-ponds. Kyenjojo town can be seen in the distance.

When I first arrived in Kyenjojo, this road was nothing more than a walking path. I guess you can call this "development," but frankly, its done little for the residents except increase the likelihood that they'll be hit by a car in a place where once only pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles traveled.

This is James and Stetson. They have nothing to do with water. But just look at those smiles!

Thanks for reading!

I love you all (but especially you, Michelle!).


Friday, October 7, 2011

The stick.

A student ran from me today when I entered his (teacher'less) class with the aim of trying to quiet it down.

I quickly caught him by the arm.

"Why did you run from me?!"

"Sir, I thought you were going to beat me," he responded with tearing eyes,

After explaining that I would never beat him or any other student, EVER, I let him return to class without the typical trash-duty punishment. I simply lacked the heart to punish someone who had been genuinely frightened.

I also felt terrible. I was the object of fear instilled by someone else's brutality.

To anyone who feels that they can beat respect into the young: Damn you to hell. You've failed us all. Enjoy your Karma.

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Market (Akatale kange).

I'll begin this post with a sing-along.

"Making your way in the world today
takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries,
sure would help a lot.

Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name."

When the stresses of this two year existence get me down, I'll often escape to the cherished serenity of the mountains. There, I am one with the hills, nothing more than just another trudging mammal, quads burning, sweat streaming, steam rising. In the depths of the green, my skin color loses all meaning. The only thing begging for me to look their way are the rolling hills peaking through clouds in the distance. The only creatures staring are the startled monkeys peering from behind limbs. All the while, spectrum-colored birds flit about me.

Lately, I find that another place will brighten my day. Paradoxically, I escape the stress of being surrounded by jumping into a deep pool of activity. I return to the one place in Kyenjojo where quite literally everyone knows my name.

I go to my market.

For a new PCV, the market, any market, is a scary and exciting place. Transactions are happening all around you. You're dodging people, vegetables, carts and mud-puddles. And when it comes to making your own purchases, you just never know when you're getting a Mujungu-price. Your market, after all, didn't come with an instruction manual:

"Tomatoes should be 1000 shillings for a stack of 5 'big' ones and 500 shillings for a stack of four 'smaller' ones. Often, a woman will offer you 'enyongeza' meaning 'bonus' just because she is happy with your business and your attempt at speaking her local language. If not offered 'enyongeza', it is fully acceptable to ask for it using the phrase ‘Enyongeza?’, as the women often find it so hilarious that they'll give a bonus-'bonus' because you are just so damn cute!"


No. No instruction manual.

When you first arrive in town, the market is shark-infested waters. Everyone is trying to make an extra 500 or thousand off you. Why? Well... why not. They don't yet recognize that there is a dramatic difference between you and the other white guys that are driven to the market by black drivers of white Land Cruisers.

With time, however, perceptions change. It becomes known that you are the water-sanitation work/teacher/health-worker from America, that you're here as a "volunteer" and you just want to help a little bit. You're no longer seen as a mark, but, if you’ve played your cards right, a friend.

I love my market women. When I enter every Monday, I am greeted with giggles and shouts of “Osiibire ota, Amooti?!” (How have you spent the day, Amooti?!) I do my best to carry on using the extent of my language skills. My progress is slow, but every step is noted. “Nokyayega, kurungi!” (You are still learning well!) they say through bright smiles. They defend me against those calling me Mujungu. “Onu, ali Mutooro!” (This on, he is a Mutooro!)

When I’m happy, I leave the market happier.
When I’m upset, I leave the market happy.

Last week provides a great example: a man tried to overcharge me for a SIM-card for my phone. It was the first run-in with a shark I’d experienced in months, and I was absolutely livid. A ‘Mujungu-price’ is nothing more than racism packaged in a pretty box with a card that reads: “Don’t worry, it happens to all white people in Africa. It comes with the territory!”

In seconds, I went from stoked about life to pissed off and filled with loathing. Sadly, my disgust with one asshole spilled over in a sickening display of transference. Leaving the store, I wasn’t just angry with one person. I was angry with “these people.” I had pigeonholed an entire society in a span of just 5 minutes.

I resolved, even in my angry state, to go to the market to get vegetables (I had had pancakes for the last 5 meals and was in need of change).

On entering the market, I was met with the same cacophony of greetings. I tried to smile and greet back, but I just wanted to get in, out and back to the seclusion of home. I walked quickly to my friend Abwoli’s stall and told her what happened…

“A man just offered me a terrible price on something only because I am white.”
“Oh, nooooo. He should not have done that.”
“I’m just so angry! I’ve not felt this mad for a long time.”
“Are you sad?”

No. I was angry. Was I sad also? I had to think about it. Yes. Yes I was very, very sad.

“Yes, I’m sad. I’ve worked so hard to be accepted here, to be thought of as one of you. It hurts my feelings when someone treats me like a stranger.”
“Otofaayo.” (Don’t mind.) “He is a bad man. Forgive him.”

Forgive. I hear it a lot. “Forgive us.” “Forgive him.” “For me.” And something in Abwoli’s eyes sparked it in me. She then poked some fun at me, and soon we were laughing.

I spent the next 20 minutes making my purchases, catching up with the women behind each stall. With every smile, the weight on my chest reduced, I felt it easier and more natural to laugh. And on leaving, I had all but forgotten why I’d been upset to begin with.

Of course, I still remembered. I had come into contact with an asshole. But my market experience reminded me that it was only one asshole among many, many beautiful people.

I’ll say it again. I LOVE the women at my market.

I’ve often talked about the freshly-picked and incredibly affordable vegetables I eat every day, but as far as I know, I’ve never actually shown them. Surely, I’ve posted pictures of markets around Uganda (out of respect for the women at my market, I’ve never ventured there with a camera), but I never got into details about what is available, prices and how they are called here. This post is meant to remedy that. Last week, I took my camera to my market, reluctantly removed it from my bag and began to inform everyone around what I was doing.

“Nkwenda kusomesa ab’omuka mu America hali ebyokulya mu Uganda, nka ebijuma, fruits, hamu n’enyama…” (I want to teach people back home in America about food in Uganda like vegetables, fruits and meat.)

They were beyond receptive. Many, who I had thought would shrink from the camera, were asking for their pictures to be taken. They sent me to other stalls to “take their pictures!” Kids in swarms crowded around me asking to have their pictures taken. And of course, there was all the food.

So, against my fingers wishes, I’ll now cease typing. I hope you enjoy the pictures, and as always, if you have questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me (deevo at vt dot edu).

[FYI: The current exchange rate is 3000 Ugandan Shillings per 1 US Dollar.]
My market!

These three pictures sum up why I am a vegetarian at site. If I really missed meat (I do not), I would probably cave, buy it, and boil it for a few days before eating it. It could be done. But again, I could care less. That said, it is always nice to have a burger or a cut of meat from a nice restaurant in Kampala or Fort Portal every now and then.

Beef - Enyama y'ente (6k /kg, ($2.00))

Fillet, anyone? Actually, my buddy has really taken advantage of the fact that butchers here haven't a CLUE as to what a "cut" of meat is (they simply take a machete to whatever slab of animal is in front of them). He pays a bit more to get meat without bone in it, and he brings his own knife to do the cutting. In doing so, he's getting fillet at less than a dollar per pound! I asked him, on average, how much meat he eats per week:

"Oh, it varies from week to week, but usual around 6 kilograms."
Guy is extreme.

Banana(s) - Ekitooke, Ebitooke (12k/bunch, ($4.00))

Bananas are steamed after being removed from these green skins. The finished product is like hot mashed potatoes, but instead, it is bananas. It gives me horrendous heart-burn, so I rarely eat ebitooke.

After being shipped in, produce is stored in these big, lockable bins. The women pay 25k shillings each to a security guard who prevents theft from the markets at night.

A typical stand: a few poles covered with scraps of fabric and plastic. I feel for the women when the harsh rains move in. Everyone gets wet on those days.

Tomato(s) – Orunyanya, Nyanya (Small pile (4): 500 ($0.17) or Big pile (5): 1k ($0.33))

Abwoli. This is the lady who sets me back on track on the down days.

Orange(s) – Omucunguwa, Emicunguwa (1k, ($0.33))

You may not see the oranges. That's because they are GREEN. A bit more tart than those in the states but no less delicious. The best are those random ones without seeds.

Egg(s) – Ihuli, Amahuli (7000k tray of 30, ($2.33))

There are two types of eggs: Village Eggs (free range) and large-scale chicken farms. The villagers are partial to the free range eggs, as am I. They are a bit smaller than the others and a bit more expensive, but the yokes are tremendous and nearly fill the shell. They remind me of the $5/carton eggs Michelle and I would get every now and then back home.

Devil onions. Smaller than a quarter, and wickedly hard to peal, every volunteer I know has made the mistake of buying these bastards on more than one occasion, declared they'd never buy them again (aloud and in texts to other volunteers) and then, of course, they buy them again after forgetting just how miserable they are. BAH!

Millet – Oburro (1.5 – 2k /can, ($0.50 - $0.67))

This is pounded to remove the shell and then ground into flour. Mixed with cassava flour and then boiling water, you get a sticky gob of food called "carro" which is served with "felinda" a soup made by removing the skin on beans and smashing them into a fine liquid. Sounds strange, but it is my favorite traditional Ugandan dish.

Irish Potato(s) (lower picture) – Ekilaya, Ebilaya (500 – 1k /stack, ($0.17 - $0.33))
Sweet Potato(s) (left and right center) – Ekitakuli, Ebitakuli (1k, ($0.33))
Cassava (upper right) – Muhogo (1k, ($0.33))

Starch, starch, starch!

Mushroom(s) – Akatuzi , Obutuzi (1k, ($0.33))

Cheese! After mutiple "Seka! Seka! Seka!"-s (SMILE! SMILE! SMILE!-s), I finally got one with some teeth. Getting Ugandan's to look anything but serious for a camera is truly a challenge. But as soon as the camera is down, they RADIATE.

Ginger – Tangawuzzi (500, ($0.17))
Avacado(s) – Vacado(s) (200 – 500, ($0.07 - $0.33))

Bean(s) – Ekihimba, Ebihimba (1 – 2k /basket, ($0.33 - $0.67))

Looking down the main isle. This is the route I take every Monday or Tuesday, jumping this way and that to share a laugh at the stalls. Notice the obstacles...

Salt – Ekisura (500, ($0.17))

This salt is taken from a lake in the middle of Queen Elizabeth National Park. There are some gnarly stories about the workers who mine this stuff (salt does terrible things to your reproductive organs when all you do is swim in it day after day). Interestingly, this gray, seemingly un-pure salt is more popular and more expensive than the iodized salt available in shops around Kyenjojo. My neighbor couldn't get the translation out. She just said that the white iodized salt is "thicker" than the gray stuff.

Carrot – Carroti (500, ($0.17))

Onion(s) – Akatunguru, Obutunguru (500 – 2.5k, ($0.17 - $0.83))

Pea(s) – Ekaho (2k, ($0.66))

Cabbage – Cabbagee (500 – 1k, ($0.17 - $0.33))
Pineapple(s) – Enaanaasi, Enaanaasi (1k – 2k, ($0.33 - $0.67))

Charcoal Stove - Sigiri (3.5 -10k, ($1.17 - $3.33))

This is how the average Ugandan cooks EVERYTHING. A small pot, clay or metal, filled up with charcoal, boils the water than steams their posho (corn meal), beans or ebitooke. I ran the numbers when I bought my last propane tank, and based on the price of charcoal vs. propane, it is far more economical for a Ugandan family to continue using these stoves or the three-stone fire method than to upgrade to gas. Why? Because everything they eat requires boiling water for hours on end. Gas stoves aren't made for that.

The results are disastrous for the environment: trees are being cut down at an astonishing rate that increases every year as the population explodes. The policy is: Cut down a tree, but plant two. But the policy is rarely if ever followed.

Blasted: They get'em started EARLY in Kyenjojo!

I totally arranged them.

Cassava is often dried after removing the hard outer root covering. After being dried, it is ground into a flour. Nasty, stuff. I can't eat it without a lot of water on hand, as it is so dry it gets stuck in my throat.

Small fish – Mukene (500, ($0.17))

Nasty stuff. Most volunteers crush it up and feed it to their cats or dogs.

Peanut(s) – Ekinyoobwa, Ebinyoobwa (3k, ($1.00))

Dry beans. They are usually around the same price as the fresh beans.

Pumpkin(s) – Ekikeke, Ebikeke (But we call it Omwongo where I stay.) (2k – and up, ($0.67 – up))

The lady at this stand tried to charge me to take a picture of her pumpkins. She is new to the market and clearly does not yet understand my place in Kyenjojo.

Green Pepper – Green Peppah (200 – 300, ($0.07 - $0.10))
Eggplant(s) – Biringanya (200 – 500, ($0.07 - $0.17))

A beautiful stand of vegetables. It took me a month to get the word "Mujungu" to stop coming out of this lady's mouth and to stop charging bad prices. We've since reached an understanding, and she is one of the ladies who stands up for me. We have a very teasing relationship.

More bananas.

Charcoal – Amakara (15k – 17k/HUGE bag, ($5.00 – $5.67))

The baskets that tomatoes are shipped to market in.

The Magical Fruit

Thanks for reading!

I hope you've learned something!

I love you all (But especially you, Michele!)