Sunday, December 11, 2011

Life Update

As of today I have been living in Uganda for 16 months. At times it has flown by and during others the time has seemed to drag on at a snails pace. Overall I have loved my time here in Uganda, with Peace Corps and most importantly with Walter Reed here in Kayunga. I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while - I've been extremely busy with work, going to an Introduction and dealing with the ups and downs of life here in Uganda.

About a month ago we celebrated Sheila's sixth birthday with her other sisters, mom Cathy and playmates.
Cathy and Sheila

Her party was a blast. Sheila had never had a cake for her birthday before so I made sure to bring one over. We sang Happy Birthday and Sheila made a wish while blowing out her candles. I feel so blessed to have these three little girls in my life as well as the wonderful friendship I have with their mother.

Recently we had a huge scare with the girls. Shemila, Comfort and Sheila were riding on a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) from Kayunga Town to Bukoloto which is about 3 Kms through a papyrus field. The boda-boda rider was driving too fast for the road and traffic and did not signal his turn so when he turned he got in a major collision with another boda-boda. The girls went flying. Shemila received the least serious injuries: she broke her radius and had minor bruises and scrapes. Comfort had serious road rash on her legs with much of her flesh (down to her bone) missing on her right quadricep/knee area. Sheila received the most serious injuries: she had serious road rash and flesh missing from both of her legs, but due to being thrown from the bike and skidding across the road she almost lost her right foot. Luckily it held on by a thin thread, but she lost so much blood that while she was in the hospital she had to receive two blood transfusions. Luckily the girls just recently got health insurance and Cathy was able to take them to the private hospital in Kampala where they received very good medical care. After a month in the hospital they just returned to Kayunga this week. They are (very luckily) happy and healthy. Comfort and Sheila came to see me and were walking and laughing with me while teasing me. They were also very happy to show me that they could still run though it was for a very short distance. I helped Cathy clean and re-bandage their healing wounds as well - they are looking much better, but will the girls will have major scarring. Throughout all of this Cathy was on leave because she was having exams (finals) for University - bless her for not only taking wonderful care of her girls, but also finishing the semester well in school.

The girls add so much love and life to my time here in Kayunga. I love getting visits from them on their way home from school or after school. Once day Comfort wanted to go for a ride in my backpack and how could I say no to her adorable face?

There has been a chapati war going on in Kayunga Town between two chapati men. Chapatis are delicious street food that are similar to a tortilla. A couple of months ago a chapati man built a stall that was called "Obama Chapatis". My counterpart Josh loves his chapatis and always tells me to buy from him because his are the best. I would agree that they are good, but they aren't my favorite. However, after I spent some time away from site I walked down to the chapati section of town to find another stand booming with business located right next to "Obama Chapaits" called "Gadahfi Chapatis". Now this tactfully named chapati stand hit the streets shortly after Gadahfi's death and was trying to put "Obama Chapatis" out of business according to my Ugandan friends. After the battle of chapatis "Obama Chapatis" came out victorious - history does repeat itself.

My girlfriend Lisa who lives near by came to my house one weekend. We were making dinner and wanted to open a bottle of wine, but I don't have a wine screw. We looked up online ways to open bottles of wine without a screw and found a way that required to wrap the bottle in a towel and essentially bang the cork out. She went outside to bang it out on a telephone poll. When I came outside to see how she was doing there were three girls around her pulling the cork out with their teeth. These three girls frequent my house for sweeties and also have started to write me letters. When they saw Lisa struggling they came over to add their Ugandan ingenuity to the situation. Needless to say they were successful.

At the beginning of December the Kayunga District Health Officials had an "Information Sharing Party" for the health officials throughout the District as well as Mukono and Bavuma Districts where Walter Reed is also located. The party was held at the Youth Center again this year and everyone had a blast. After the awards and food were over we all danced and drank together til the end of the night. My staff and I had a blast goofing around together and celebrating another successful year at the Youth Center.

Local children also came to dance and drink sodas

Chris - he's been a wonderful Youth Center Leader for the past year and great friend. He just got promoted to be a Youth Center Co-Coordinator for the new Youth Center we are opening in Mukono in February.

This is a taxi conductor for one of the taxis that brought service providers down from northern Kayunga District. He had taken far to many beers and was dancing by himself in a dress that he found at the Youth Center (I don't know where it came from). Thank the lord he wasn't the driver.

Due to the ridiculous nature of his character we all decided it was a must to go dance with him.

O.J.! Couldn't have the 3 in 1 Art Project without him

Youth Center Coordinators and Leaders

We have been having team building sport events for the Mukono/Kayunga Walter Reed staffs since October. Myself and the head MMC counselor Idi have been putting them together. This month we had a football and mweso competition for the red, blue and yellow teams. Almost half the staff from both Districts came to participate in the games. It was so much fun - my team yellow did well in football and we won the mweso tournament! I can't wait for more games next year.
Go team yellow!

The positive HIV/AIDS message laden jerseys finally got some use as well! They were one of my PCV projects last year. Four different colors - four different messages.

Monday, November 7, 2011

2012 Calendars

Family Planning Messaging

Every year my work puts out a calendar with HIV/AIDS prevention and care messages being the main focus. This past year I was lucky enough to work with two very talented artists and my youth staff to help put together this upcoming year's calendar. Below are a few samples of how it should turn out. If anyone is interested in having one back home just shoot me an email and I can see what I can bring in December - almost one month til I'm US bound for a visit!

Computer art that was then painted onto a partisan at the Youth Center by the YC youth staff

Two Youth Center youth staff preforming traditional Kigandan dance at Laba! Art Festival 2011

SMC - of course!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Workman Resort: Parasites Are Most Welcome

My liver is currently host to a lovely guest known as schistosomiasis. Now before family back home starts freaking out I am on treatment and am feeling much better then I did a couple of days ago. See I thought I might get schisto while I'm living here in Uganda because I spend more time than I should swimming, kayaking and rafting in the Nile, but I apparently still have my infallibility complex. I won't describe my symptoms verbatim, but I will say that I have felt like a train has repeatedly run into my body for the past 48 hours. The treatment should help me feel better by tomorrow which I'm praying for since Moses' Introduction in Masaka is tomorrow.

Here's a picture for my more sciency friends - enjoy.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mid-Service and Halloween

I spent last week with all of the 44 other PCV's from my class at our Mid-Service Conference in Masaka. We spent the time going over current pertinent workshops, sessions on how to deal with cultural issues that are difficult for us currently and also what we are all doing at site/project sharing. I was so impressed to see all the work my fellow PCV's were doing - they truly are amazing volunteers and people. I got excited because my friend Ryan (same amazing awesome Ryan who worked with me on the basketball court) and I are going to do some water sanitation projects together this coming year. I really want to install a rain catchment system at the Youth Center for the community and I will be sure to keep you posted on the progress.

After Mid Service Conference we all headed to Jinja for a Halloween weekend. There were many PCV's there from different groups so it was great to see people I don't get to see all of the time. On Friday night a few of us had a Murder Mystery party that was themed "Murder on the High Seas". I was A.J. Service, a crew member in charge of costumer relations on the ship as well as hiding everyone's dirty little secrets! The show girl Candy Cane ended up being murdered by the Captain's wife (who were getting divorced) because she thought they were having an affair (which they weren't). Oh the drama! Saturday a group of us did a lunch time cruise on the Nile to Lake Victoria and then came back to Nile Porch where we were staying to get ready for the Halloween Party. This year my costume cost my $3 and was probably the most ridiculous idea: I went as a cyclone/tornado. I liked the costume because it cost so little, but it was fun to spin around and have the pictures attached to the string shoot out like they really were trapped in my crazy winds (note: was not the best idea after drinking....). There were a lot of other amazing costumes as well - it's always super fun to see what people can come up with on a small budget and lack of materials.

Group Shot

One of the "Two Black Swans" (for those of you who watch 30 Rock you'll get the reference)

A cyclone and a black swan

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rush Limbaugh vs. Human Rights

I cried this past weekend for the first time reading the news in roughly two years. The tears were of frustration, resentment, anger and shock. Rush Limbaugh, who is a radio talk show host and FOX News regular, responded to President Obama's action of sending 100 special force troops to Uganda and surrounding nations to help advise and aid the hunt for Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Limbaugh is of the belief that the LRA is a Christian movement and thus Obama is sending troops to "take out and kill" Christians. Also, this means that Obama is supporting the Muslims of Sudan who the LRA are fighting [all inaccurate by the way]. Some of what Limbaugh had to say is below (before taking callers):

"Now, up until today, most Americans have never heard of the combat Lord’s Resistance Army. And here we are at war with them. Have you ever heard of Lord’s Resistance Army, Dawn? How about you, Brian? Snerdley, have you? You never heard of Lord’s Resistance Army? Well, proves my contention, most Americans have never heard of it, and here we are at war with them. Lord’s Resistance Army are Christians. It means God. I was only kidding. Lord’s Resistance Army are Christians. They are fighting the Muslims in Sudan. And Obama has sent troops, United States troops to remove them from the battlefield, which means kill them. That’s what the lingo means, “to help regional forces remove from the battlefield,” meaning capture or kill. [...]

Lord’s Resistance Army objectives. I have them here. “To remove dictatorship and stop the oppression of our people.” Now, again Lord’s Resistance Army is who Obama sent troops to help nations wipe out. The objectives of the Lord’s Resistance Army, what they’re trying to accomplish with their military action in these countries is the following: “To remove dictatorship and stop the oppression of our people; to fight for the immediate restoration of the competitive multiparty democracy in Uganda; to see an end to gross violation of human rights and dignity of Ugandans; to ensure the restoration of peace and security in Uganda, to ensure unity, sovereignty, and economic prosperity beneficial to all Ugandans, and to bring to an end the repressive policy of deliberate marginalization of groups of people who may not agree with the LRA ideology.” Those are the objectives of the group that we are fighting, or who are being fought and we are joining in the effort to remove them from the battlefield."*

I see many flaws in his broadcast and here are but a few:

1. Obama is funding the death and capture of a Christian Movement: The LRA has base in Christianity, that is a true fact, but it is also based in mysticism. Kony believes himself to be a spirit medium after following the guidance of Alice Lakwena. Lakwena started the Holy Spirit Movement which once Kony defeated Lakwena he changed the name to the LRA. Lakwena was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God and became a self-proclaimed profit. She believed that the Holy Spirit was within her and God would help the Acholi people defeat the unrighteous government of the President Musevini through the means of a bush war. Lakwena distanced herself from Kony because she believed that the Holy Spirit does not warrant killing civilians or prisoners of war. Once Kony took over the Holy Spirit Movement and changed the name to the LRA he used the spirits that possessed him to guide him on his path of furthering Acholi rights and casting out witchcraft and spiritualism to take power of Uganda. It is difficult to understand the complete ideology of the LRA because it is hard to tell if they want political power or to terrorize and brutalize civilian populations for their own personal gain. Kony and the LRA claim to follow the Ten Commandments because they believe it is the law that governs all people on Earth. That being said Kony has been quoted saying that due to the laws in the Ten Commandments nobody will accept people who steal, nobody could accept to and take someone else's wife and nobody can accept to innocently kill. All of these acts that are found illegal by the Ten Commandments are acts that Kony and the LRA have successfully completed in the twenty years of genocide they waged in Uganda. How is that Christian?

P.S. - the LRA isn't fighting 'the Muslims' as Limbaugh said. The are terrorizing the Central African Republic right now and Kony is said to be hiding on the Congo/South Sudan border.

2. Limbaugh is supporting the LRA's objectives: Limbaugh is supporting the objectives and doctrine of the LRA without knowing how it is implemented. Throughout history there has been doctrines and theories that sounds great in the first place, but in actuality either do not work or are not good for society. Look at communism, great in theory, but because it is manipulated by man it turns into an oppressive government force. It seems like Limbaugh is trying to justify that the ideas of the LRA are positive just by their doctrine and it seems like a cyclical debate similar to whether the topics covered in The Prince are immoral or not. Everything in paper form is for interpretation and if Limbaugh is interpreting the doctrine of the LRA on paper then he is entitled to his own opinion. However, it is an opinion - not fact. When you look at how the LRA upholds and carries out their doctrine it is an appalling feat of brutality and callousness. Why would the International Criminal Courts have a warrant for Kony's arrest since 2007 if his doctrine was moralistic?

3. Limbaugh doesn't even know the basic facts about the LRA: Limbaugh did not and does not know the atrocities that Kony has caused around Central Africa til the end of the show. Upon hearing the news he said it was his/their obligation to do research about the issue. I find it difficult (or not difficult if I'm speaking with bias) to hear that a talk show anchor went on air to speak about a very delicate humanitarian issue before doing research. The LRA started terrorizing northern Uganda in 1987 and the fighting did not end until late 2006. For twenty years the LRA destroyed villages, communities and cultures, stole children in the middle of the night to create child soldiers and wives for their generals, raped and killed young girls and women, and cut off hands, arms, ears, lips, tongues and noses as a form of punishment and torture. These are just a handful of the heinous crimes that the LRA and Kony forced upon the people of northern Uganda. All Limbaugh would have had to do was Google search "Lord's Resistance Army" to find more truths about their 'Christian' efforts.

I think what makes me the most sad and discouraged is that Limbaugh has one of the most broadcasted shows in America. He has a wide listening audience who might have not heard of the LRA before this broadcast. To paint the picture that the United States Government is waging a war against 1,000 Christian soldiers trying to better Uganda is not the truth. It is false reporting and a flat out lie. To misrepresent the facts is something that happens in the media, but this gross misrepresentation needs to be corrected.

*Full transcript can be found on Rush Limbaugh's website.

Snaps To Smile About

My ladies

Evan and I - MUWRP PCV's

Chris teaching me his oh so popular finger dance

My best friends in Kayunga - I love how they are trying to smile in this picture ha!

Source of the Nile

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kigandan Happenings

I wish I could say that I have been looking at the beautiful fall foliage of New England these past few weeks, but alas I have been drenched in sweat or rain depending if Kayunga wants to be ridiculously hot or pouring down rain with a vengeance. Nonetheless, things at site have been going well. Work is busy and springs up new challenges daily, but is rewarding almost every day. I have been spending my time for the past month mostly in Kayunga and it feels good to not be traveling.

This morning I waked into work and one of my Youth Staff came up to me singing. Morgan was singing a line from a song I thought I knew so being the 'Goal 2' conscious PCV that I am I decided to finish the lyric for him or should I say what I thought was the lyric. I belted out the lyrics from a Lonely Island song and that definitely was not what Morgan was singing. Needless to say I have now opened Morgan's musical comedy world by showing him a video or two on YouTube. I think I'm going to Peace Corps hell...

During the evenings and weekends I usually have a gaggle of children outside my house playing and sitting on my porch. I enjoy their presence and hearing their laughter, but sometimes the lack of privacy when they peer through my windows is a little much. One Sunday morning I was out back in my compound listening to music while I was doing my laundry. The kids were out front playing - apparently they decided to have a rock fight similar to the Dodgeball quote: "If you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball." When I came back from inside all the children had vanished. I looked out my front door to see if their parents had sent them to fetch water from the bore hole, but they were no where to be seen or heard. I thought it was strange, but shrugged my shoulders and went to clean the rest of the house. Upon enter my bedroom there was glass everywhere. Apparently my bedroom window as an innocent victim to their rock fight. It got fixed the next day, but all I could do was laugh at the fact that they thought a rock fight was a fun idea.

We hired nine new staff members for the Youth Center. They start their first year of their three years at the Youth Center as volunteers and they are more than excited about starting. They have to be trained as counselors/testers before they can start work so two weeks ago they started their training from the Ugandan Ministry of Health. I have my reserved opinions about the people leading the training, but overall they receive a great knowledge base and the practical skills they need to work at the Youth Center, Hospital and go to the field. They finish their training at the end of this week and I'm excited to finally get them on the schedule. With MUWRP expanding their SMC projects more and more youth staff are being given advanced contracts to work in that department. I'm always excited for an advancement opportunity for one of our youth, but it definitely gives strain to our scheduling day to day activities.

One thing I find interesting here in Uganda is the choice/style of dress that is chosen. So much emphasis is put on being 'smart' or well dressed and pressed every day. One way to gain respect in a working environment is to be clean and smart - not necessarily to do your job well. However, 'smart' dress here is completely different to what one would think looks good in America. There are people walking around in shirts that have wordings on them without knowing what the words mean, the short tie fad is alive and well in the work place along with wearing clothes for winter in an equatorial climate.

One of my co-workers made me laugh so hard when he came to visit Josh, Cathy and me at the Youth Center the other day. He fit the description above of looking 'smart' on an Ugandan standard. Now I have always loved the Christmas sweater parties where you would find the most obnoxious knitted sweaters to wear and the craziest one at the party always gets a prize. I explained this to him so he would understand my laughter and I told him he would have an epic appearance wearing his sweater at one of those parties. Luckily I didn't offend him and he asked me to take his picture - he was proud of his gaudy Christmas sweater. He also asked me to have a Christmas sweater party at some point - not a problem.

The basketball court is seeing a lot of action this past month. It has been amazing to watch how many kids come play after they get out of school and then the adults come after work. I have been able to play at least two on two any night of the week minus Sundays. Evan, the other PCV that works for MUWRP, came out and taught the younger kids how to play Knock-out and now that is all they play! He also had a senior in secondary school come up to him and ask him the procedures of dunking in a very Steve Urkle like voice. The kid couldn't touch the rim, but here's to dreaming.

I am lucky to have three little girls in my life who I cherish greatly. They are Cathy's daughters: Shelila who is 6, Comfort who is 4 and Shemila who is 3. These girls are Cathy's brothers biological children, but the brothers do not want to take care of them. So Cathy has taken them in as her own. Every day after they get done at nursery school they come by to say hello to me, give me a huge and usually play a little bit. Then they run home to see their mom who's eating lunch.

They really like the idea of taking pictures, but don't want to sit still for them!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Three Weddings and a Funeral

Since mid September I have been busy in my village being a part of talks about engagements, weddings and babies. Luckily, the conversation hasn't been directed at my personal life for once (my co-workers/neighbors still ask to this day how I can be an unmarried woman with no children at my age - crazy). Three of my good friends are either having their Introduction or wedding in the next two months and I have been able to be a part of their planning.

In Uganda the Introduction is the cultural wedding (also known as kwanjula in Luganda), which with a very far stretch is similar to an engagement in the U.S. The kwanjula is when the bride is introduced by her Aunties to the groom and his family. It essentially is the ceremony of giving away the woman to the man through the dowry. The groom presents the dowry for the bride's family and is granted permission to take the woman as his own/wife. Usually dowries include livestock, food items, traditional clothing for the bride's family as well as paying for the event. The Introduction is for the groom to plan for the bride. After the kwanjula is completed the new culturally married couple plans for their wedding. A wedding here is very similar to a wedding in the U.S. Their is a religious aspect to the ceremony followed by a reception that has great food, cake, sparklers and cars wrapped in ribbons. The bride usually wears a western style white dress and this is when the couple is recognized as legally married.

My good friend Moses, who is the head counselor for MUWRP Kayunga/Mukono, is finally having his Introduction with his partner of 10 years. They have a wonderful family together: twin girls who are approaching 8 years, a daughter who is 3 years old and a new born baby boy. His meetings are every Wednesday and are consumed with talks of completing his dowry requirements and how to get everyone he cares about from Kayunga to his soon to be bride's home of Masaka (the other side of Kampala). Moses has been working hard on transportation issues for the event: trying to figure out how to transfer safely a cow he bought for his wife's parents from northern Kayunga District to their home in Masaka. The meetings are pleasant and moving forward very well. I can tell that Moses and his wife are getting more and more excited as the days pass. I can't wait to go and help them celebrate their I'll be rocking a gomez or gomesi in Uganglish (a fashion must).

Probably my closest Ugandan male friend and co-worker here, Joshua, has been tentatively planning his Introduction to Susan since March. That is when he received his dowry list from Susan's parents who live in Aura (northwestern 'blue nile' region of Uganda on the boarder with the Congo). Astonishingly, the dowry is summing to around $2,000.00, which is out of control. Susan is beautiful and a clear catch for Josh, but his dowry is almost unmanageable. He has been doing an amazing job acquiring items and saving money. There is no doubt he will be successful. However, his elder brother is having his wedding this October and until he is married Josh won't start his Introduction meetings.

Joshua's brother, Ivan, is having his wedding this month in a suburb of Kampala. He has already had his Introduction so it is now time for him and his bride to be married in a church. Ivan has been having meetings to have his friends and family help plan his event, raise money and to get the community aware of his big day. Wedding funds are raised by the groom's and bride's families, but also by community donations. The meetings are held mostly to talk about money - what has been raised and what still needs to be raised to buy certain items. Right now in the meetings we have been focusing on food challenges. To not feed all your guest at your wedding is a social crime in the US as well as here in Uganda. Apparently caterers here will take some of the food aside to take home for their families before presenting the food to the guests. That is a huge fear of Ivan so we have been brainstorming how to avoid this problem. Myself and Joshua came up with the unoriginal idea of making a contract with the caterer and only giving them 75% of the money up front. Upon satisfactory completion of their job they will receive the last 25%. I'm happy that this issue got resolved, but this conversation lasted for 45 minutes while Joshua and I watched the members of the committee dance around in circles not able to comprehend an idea that could help them. To say the least it was a little frustrating because things that are common sense to me are not always the same when working in Uganda. I enjoy these meetings and I'm very happy for Ivan, but they are a true test in patience.

Last week I attended my first Ugandan funeral. One of my Youth Center staffs that works closely with the safe medical male circumcision project at Kayunga District Hospital lost his father. His father was a loved man in the community and was blessed to have 19 children. The burial was held at his family home and lasted for about four hours. Roughly 1,500 people attended his last rights which was an overwhelming number of people to see gathered in one small village lawn. There was much praying, singing and many people got up in front to speak about the man who passed. Not many people wore black like it is accustomed to do in the U.S. - all the women had on their bright gomez and the men were in normal attire. The members of the direct family tied thick black ribbons across their bodies like sashes over their clothing. At the end of the funeral right they took Isaac's father's casket to the back of the house to be buried in the family plot. It started to monsoon style rain during the burial, which sent many of the daughters into tears because they were forced to move from out of the rain. The men stayed outside and buried their father. The funeral overall was a beautiful event for Isaac's family, but an overwhelming event for me. However, I am very glad I was able to support him with the rest of the Youth Center staff through his difficult time.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

3rd Annual Rhino River Raft Race

This past weekend was the third annual Rhino River Raft Race in Jinja. This year over 20,000,000UGX was raised for Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary which was amazing. The race is a flat water paddle for five miles - by the end of the race your whole body is shaking, you can't move your arms or abs and you want to puke from exhaustion. The Peace Corps team paddled hard and came in first place! We had a time of 22:37:61 which was a whole 1:40 ahead of the second place team. We set a new course record - can't wait to paddle that hard next year.

Peace Corps representing

Love them

Coming into the finish - breaking the course record

Rockin' team organizers

Peace Corps at the finish

It came down to two teams - we were waiting and then....we won!

Waiting for our prize and trophy


The official Rhino River Raft Race Trophy - it will be ours next year too