Monday, February 28, 2011

The Shadow of the Sun

When I talk with people from back home the most common question I get is "what do you experience on a day to day basis?". I never really have felt like I totally answer this question to the best of my ability. I love talking about my work, my village, my Ugandan and PCV friends, but what I always am lacking is the ability to put the most basic of sensory experiences into words for friends and family back home that does Uganda justice. I realized this about a couple of days ago when I started reading my new book entitled The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life by Ryszard Kapuscinski. I'm currently about half way done with the book and it is probably my favorite story that I have read since being in country. However, the point to this post is that in the beginning of this book there is a discription of the smells and people of village/town life in Africa and to me represents the wonderful culture I'm exposed to every day. Upon reading this I thought it would be nice to share it with you all because it is said more eloquently then I could ever do. This is only a segment of the description, but hopefully someday you might pick the book up and read it all!

"...Something else strikes the new arrival even as he descends the steps of the airplane: the smell of the tropics. Perhaps he's had intimations of it. It is the scent that permeated Mr. Kanzman's little shop, Colonial and Other Gods, on Perec Street in my hometown of Pinsk. Almonds, cloves, dates, and cocoa. Vanilla and laurel leaves, oranges and bananas, cardamom and saffron. And Drohobych. The interiors of Bruno Schulz's cinnamon shops? Didn't their "dimly lit, dark, and solemn interiors" smell intensely of paints, lacquer, incense, the aroma of faraway countries and rare substances? Yet the actual smell of the tropics is somewhat different. We instantly recognize its weight, its sticky materiality. The smell makes us at once aware that we are at the point on earth where an exuberant and indefatigable nature labors, incessantly reproducing itself, spreading and blooming, even as it sickens, disintegrates, festers, and decays.

It is the smell of a sweating body and drying fish, of spoiling meat and roasting cassava, of fresh flowers and putrid algae - in short, of everything that is a at once pleasant and irritating, that attracts and repels, seduces and disgusts. This odor will reach us from nearby palm groves, will escape from the hot soil, will waft above stagnant city sewers. It will not leave us; it is integral to the tropics.

And finally, the most important discovery - the people. The locals. How they fit this landscape, this light, these smells. How they are as one with them. How man and environment are bound in an indissoluble, complementary, and harmonious whole. I am struck by how firmly each race is grounded in the terrain in which it lives, in its climate. We shape our landscape, and it, in turn, molds our physiognomy. Among these palm trees and vines, in this bush and jungle, the white man is a sort of outlandish and unseemly intruder. Pale, weak, his shirt drenched with sweat, his hair pasted down on his head, he is continually tormented by thirst, and feels impotent, melancholic. He is ever afraid: of mosquitoes, amoebas, scorpions, snakes - everything that moves fills him with fear, terror, panic.

With their strength, grace, and endurance, the indigenous move about naturally, freely, at a tempo determined by climate and tradition, somewhat languid, unhurried, knowing one can never achieve everything in life anyway, and besides, if one did, what would be left over for others?..."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Northbound Lane

So this week I got the chance to go with some of the staff that I work with to the northern most part of Kayunga District. I went to visit the two health centers located in Garyrya (pronounced GAL – LEE – LIA), which is a predominately fishing community located on Lake Kyoga. Lake Kyoga is a seemingly pristine lake that not only is filled by a Nile tributary, but also takes up the mammoth horizon off the shores of Garyrya.

Fishing communities are interesting to me because the lake influences their culture. There are two shifts of fisherman that go out in the early morning and evening. Most of the fish go to the bottom of the lake during the day because it gets so hot. Though I haven’t spoken of how hot Kayunga Town and my village is – let me tell you it is the hottest place I have ever lived let alone even visited. An average day here during dry season is 85 to 90 degrees and Garyrya is even hotter. People who live in the fishing communities are very hard working and from an early age start working on the water. Fishing villages are also some of the most underdeveloped and most impoverished in Uganda. Garyrya is no exception. At this point in the dry season all their rainwater tanks have filled and the community is too underdeveloped to have piped water so they rely on the water of the lake. Garyrya also has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in Kayunga District – around 11%, which is astronomically high. My work has been doing routine counseling and testing as well as prevention outreaches with HIV positive children and adults weekly for years. I am hoping to have more opportunities to go back to Garyrya with the Male Medical Circumcision Van as well as working with the midwife Helen, who is also a registered nurse, to do work with the pregnant mothers of Garyrya.

Here are some ‘snaps’ (Ugandan English for pictures/photos) of my visit to the shores of Lake Kyoga.

These are the boats that the fisherman use to get towards the center of the Lake. After reaching their fishing destination they use large nets to drag through the water.

Children collecting water from the Lake.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

End of the Holiday Tournament

Our Holiday Tournament ended in January with the completion of the volleyball and football portion of the outdoor games. Both events drew a huge crowd to the Youth Center as well as giving a large spike in our testing and counseling numbers. The volleyball tournament lasted a day and was won by an organized team from the Kampala area. Our Youth Team tried very hard to win, but were overpowered. We gave a goat as a prized to the winning team as well as t-shirts and brand new volleyballs. The football portion of the tournament had an under 15 years of age group and an over 15 years of age group. This part of the tournament lasted most of January and was a draw of most youth still home on holiday break in Kayunga Town. Throughout the days of these tournaments many youth came to participate in the games, counseling and testing as well as life skill workshops that the Youth Center Staff were organizing.

Overall the Holiday Tournament this year was a success. We had roughly 320 participants with the strongest surge of participating females since starting the Holiday Tournament two years ago. I'm excited to have even more successful tournaments over the next year and half that I am working with the Youth Center. My counterparts and I have already started planning the Holiday Tournaments for the next three holiday breaks that are scheduled in this year's school year!

Here are some pictures from the volleyball portion of the Holiday Tournament - enjoy!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

51 Things

So I follow a lot of my fellow PCV's blogs and I really enjoy reading about their adventures they choose to share with everyone (their blogs are posted on my blog profile if anyone is interested in reading them as well). My friend Chelsea has a blog and I loved one of her posts and decided to borrow her idea: a list of things I have never done before joining the Peace Corps and moving to Uganda.

1. Before working for Peace Corps I had never been to Africa.
2. Before working for Peace Corps I had never called a developing nation my home.
3. Before working for Peace Corps I never had the amazing opportunities that I am presented from working for my in-country work organization (Walter Reed Project).
4. Before moving to Uganda I had never thought I would go days without electricity ever again in my life (thanks ice storm of ’98).
5. Before moving to Uganda I never had to treat my drinking water.
6. Before moving to Uganda I never dreaded doing laundry so much. At home I dreaded folding laundry, but here the whole process is tasking. I do all my laundry myself and by hand: you soak and scrub stains out of your clothes then you wash and rinse them and finally hang them and wait a day for them to dry.
7. Before moving to Uganda I never new how amazing truly fresh pineapple tasted. I have never tasted pineapple back in the United States that even closely compares to the pineapple grown in Kayunga (aside: Kayunga is the pineapple producing hub of Uganda).
8. Before moving to Uganda I never had my own house. Living by yourself is a nice treat though can be lonely here sometimes.
9. Before moving to Uganda I never knew how well I could handle insects (minus cockroaches – yuck).
10. Before moving to Uganda I never had to sleep under a mosquito net every night.
11. Before moving to Uganda I was never special because of my skin color. Here I’m the minority and many things come with that: feelings of feeling like I’m being watched all the time whether due to curiosity or other intentions, been told that my skin can’t be real and that I’m a ghost and never had more of a desire to get a tan. Little children run to touch my skin because they assume it is cold like stone because it is not dark.
12. Before moving to Uganda I have never felt so ashamed of my gross feet. They never stay clean even when I get done washing and I’m just in my house.
13. Before moving to Uganda I do not think I have sweated so much in my life or drank as much water as I do every day.
14. Before moving to Uganda I have never felt so exhausted at the end of everyday not only from a busy day at work, but because every moment there is something new to see, smell, eat or learn.
15. Before moving to Uganda I had never ate a grasshopper. It was pretty good!
16. Before moving to Uganda I have never been called fat or handsome and expected to accept the compliment graciously.
17. Before moving to Uganda I had never bungee jumped, but I will never forget the closest feeling I have had to flying.
18. Before moving to Uganda I never realized the importance I put on my personal hygiene routine. It is quite interesting having to relearn how to brush my teeth and get ready for bed because it is not longer a part of my rote-memory.
19. Before moving to Uganda I never put so much importance on hand sanitizer.
20. Before moving to Uganda I never missed dark beer so much or beer with flavor for that matter.
21. Before moving to Uganda I had never poured liquor into a juice box (mango is my favorite).
22. Before moving to Uganda I had never been 20 feet away from a wild male elephant gracefully walking across the road.
23. Before moving to Uganda I had never peed in a bucket and pooped in a bag.
24. Before moving to Uganda I had never prepared a traditional African meal with a charcoal stove.
25. Before moving to Uganda I have never cut vegetables without using a cutting board. All Ugandan women do not use them and when cooking with them you are expected to cut things while holding the item in your hands.
26. Before moving to Uganda I never knew how much you could do in the kitchen with eggs.
27. Before moving to Uganda I never knew how much I loved dairy and cheese – I go out of my way to order things in restaurants that have cheese now.
28. Before moving to Uganda I never knew how much I really loved strawberries and blueberries. I miss them a lot!
29. Before moving to Uganda I never had taken a bucket bath. I think by the end of two years I will fit into the Peace Corps joke quite well: Q: Does a Peace Corps volunteer see the glass half full or half empty? A: Neither. They are thinking if they can take a bath in that.
30. Before moving to Uganda I have never been so impressed with the resiliency of a collective group of people as I have by the people in my community.
31. Before moving to Uganda I never knew what good Ugandan friends I would make here over these two years. I love my Ugandan family.
32. Before moving to Uganda I never knew how passionate I was about HIV/AIDS counseling and testing issues in developing countries.
33. Before moving to Uganda I had always dreamed of riding the Class V rapid Silverback – and now it is crossed off my bucket list.
34. Before moving to Uganda I had never been called muzungu constantly.
35. Before moving to Uganda I never had any desire to learn a Bantu language, but now I thoroughly enjoy it.
36. Before moving to Uganda I never new how much this experience would change me and force me to learn about myself more so then ever before.
37. Before moving to Uganda I did not realize that I have no idea what I want to do with my life.
38. Since being in Uganda I have yet another reason to appreciate the beauty and power of nature.
39. Before moving to Uganda I never knew the power of rain. Not only how forceful the rainfall can be here, but also how much the water is needed during the dry season and how elated everyone is after the first rainfall.
40. Before moving to Uganda I never have smelt body odor that stung my nostrils. I have joked before that people have smelt so bad it stung, but seriously – here it is true. The smell is like jumping beans in my nose.
41. Before moving to Uganda I did not appreciate the roads in Maine with all their potholes and frost heaves. Now I know that is nothing compared to what I have been traveling on the past six months.
42. Before moving to Uganda I did not know how much more passionate I would become about global sustainability.
43. Before moving to Uganda I did not know how easy of a childhood I was fortunate enough to have.
44. Before moving to Uganda I did not know that I would become more introverted over time.
45. Before moving to Uganda I did not like avocado or ketchup. Now I love them and want to encompass them in most meals.
46. Before moving to Uganda I did not know how to make or cook with a Dutch oven.
47. Before moving to Uganda I never thought I would ride a bus endless hours on an over-crowded, smelly and rundown bus full of people and livestock to see a friend, but I do it every chance I get.
48. Before moving to Uganda I never knew how big of a Foodie I really am.
49. Before moving to Uganda I never really comprehended how much a shower really rocks.
50. Before moving to Uganda I have never been in a community that did not have a word in their language for the color of my hair.
51. Before moving to Uganda I did not know how much I truly loved Maine.

Friday, February 4, 2011

PCV Group Love

As of this week we are the only group in Peace Corps Uganda history to make it this far after In-Service Training still with everyone who started this incredible journey together. All 45 of us from all different parts of the United States, different walks of life, different ages, and different educational/work backgrounds are all still together. I feel blessed and truly lucky to have met all of the people who are in my Peace Corps Uganda CHED August 2010 Class and for better or worse I am hoping that we can all make it through to the end. Next goal we have is Mid-Service: total count 45!

January: Big waves and free falling

So I spent the month of January mostly with my Peace Corps Class in Seeta, which is near Kampala, at In-Service Training (IST). During IST all 45 of the PCV’s in my class worked on project ideas and management/reporting, language refreshers and life skills trainings. Even though some of the sessions seemed to last longer then they should there were a lot of great things to come out of IST: I improved my Luganda skills, the PCV’s who had there Supervisors there had plenty of time to work on a project idea together and get on the same page and we all learned effective ways to do life skills activities with youth in our community. Despite the work we did over the 10 days at IST it was just really magnificent to spend time with everyone that I hadn’t seen since Swearing-In in October! There were many late nights and dance parties that were had over that period of time, which was a great way to recharge the battery after three months at site.

After IST almost all of us (I think there were 38 of us) went to Nile River Explorers (NRE) to go on the Sunset Booze Cruise and rafting the next day. The Cruise was amazing – we traveled down Lake Victoria to the Source of the Nile and back. The cruise lasted about two hours and was filled with delicious food and an open bar. I didn’t know this, but on Lake Victoria near the Source of the Nile there is a memorial for Mahatma Gandhi because some of his ashes were sprinkled in the Source of the Nile. That area, right before the Nile starts, is breathtakingly beautiful and to see it around sunset with some of the most amazing people I have ever been able to call my friends was a sublime experience.

After a night full of laughs and perhaps one would say to much partying we embarked on our day full of rafting the Nile. NRE is the rafting company that I participated in the Rhino Raft Race with and also the company I would highly recommend for any of you who would think of rafting the Nile at some point. The day started early with a delicious rolex to curb any reminance of an ominous hangover (note: a rolex is probably my favorite street food here in Uganda and I find the most delicious Rolexes are made in Jinja. My favorite to have is the one made with a chapatti with fried egg, tomatoes, chips (fried potato pieces), cabbage, onion, salt and a slice of avocado rolled up.). After making it down to the river near the old damn and putting in our guide Jane took us through some safety/rafting lessons and then it was time to set off down river. Throughout the day we went through Class IV and Class V rapids of aerated water. During the day on Nile we road every gnarly wave possible. Between rapids we were able to jump off the raft and swim around in the Nile while floating down river. It was one of the most relaxing feelings just floating down the Nile with the hot equatorial sun beating down on your body.

I was hoping for a perfect record during the day of keeping the raft up, but alas we flipped! Myself and another member of the raft got stuck under the raft, but managed to get out quickly and get back on the raft once Jane flipped it back upright. We then proceeded to scoop up the rest of our crew and push on down river.

After a day full of sun, paddling and most likely dehydration we all settled back into camp for a night full food and drinks. Most of us were returning to site the next day so it was a nice night to continuing catching up and of course making plans for the next adventure.

My new adventure came very quickly after rafting – the next day myself and three other PCV’s went bungee jumping. ADRIFT rafting company also has a bungee jumping platform that when you jump you can touch the Nile below. Matt, Alexi, Chelsea and myself all took the 140 ft. plunge together. Matt and Alexi jumped out in a perfect swan dive form without much show of being nervous. They said after the fact that they were nervous as hell before the jump, but like true adventurers they did not show it to anyone watching. Sadly, I wasn’t on the platform for Chelsea’s jump, but she looked great from below! Now for my jump (hahaha): I was totally cool, calm and collected watching Matt and Alexi jump before me, getting my feet strapped into the slip knot before jumping and shuffling up to the yellow line where people jump from. However, things took a slight detour from cool “I can do this Becca” because I did what you should never do before bungee jumping: look down! I started to sweat, get a dry mouth and somewhat panic. I looked over at the crew who were all there on the platform to support me and started to ask some poorly worded questions in affirmation of my ability to jump. After about three minutes of wrestling with myself on whether to jump or not I brought my hands down into a diving position and jumped straight out into what my friends said was a great swan dive. The feeling of falling that I feared so much was actually probably one of the most freeing feelings I have ever felt. It felt as though I was flying down to the Nile. Once it was over I wanted to climb back up and go again! I am sure that this bungee adventure will not be my last in my lifetime.

Happy 2011!

Happy New Year to everyone back home and here in Uganda (sorry it is belated)!!

So it has almost been five months since I have been in country and I have learned a lot about the people of Uganda, the culture that dominates everything Ugandans do and/or say and most importantly myself. I am sure that over the next year and a half there will be more trying moments, learning moments and moments of pure elation. I think one of the hardest and most important things I have learned over the past couple of months is to enjoy the alone time that comes with Peace Corps Service. I definitely am a person who goes through people withdrawal due to being an extreme extravert, but there is something very peaceful to be found in the solitude of being alone in your house at site. Over the next year I hope to embrace this seclusion while at site after work, but to cherish even more the time I have to spend with friends and family here in Uganda.

This New Year’s I spent at home fighting off an infection that went away shortly after starting the New Year. New Year’s Day I was invited to my counterpart Josh’s home with his beautiful fiancĂ©e Susan. They have become my family here in Kayunga and I miss them terribly when I am away from site for a prolonged period of time. They are supportive and unconditional with me which is a wonderful friendship to have here in country and when I come home. We had a wonderful lunch together and then proceeded to enjoy some ‘tasteful’ Ugandan soap operas for the afternoon (note: Ugandans love soap operas. They stayed glued to the TV. During every episode and do not pause to talk. The soap operas available here in country are all spoken in Portuguese and then dubbed over in English. Most of the soaps here come from Brazil – go figure!)