Monday, April 2, 2012

Village Life Revealed

Welcome to Village Life as a Ugandan PCV
You will feel like a celebrity for your first few weeks. But the novelty of the adults’ blank stares and the children screaming “mzungu!” will soon wear off. You will crave any place you can go to not stand out. You will never find one.
Everyone will want to be your friend… until they realize friendship is not a paid position.
You will be paralyzed by the heat and blinded by the dust in the dry season, as you pray for rain.
The rain will come.
All business will come to a standstill as a storm passes, and when you finally move you will be covered in mud. You will pray for the dry season.
The dry season will come. Repeat.
All visitors of the opposite sex will be assumed siblings… or spouses… or “side dishes”… Plan your introductions wisely.
No, you should not expect the carpenters to make what you order, the stores with outside signs reading “_______ sold here,” to sell _______, or power to be on/ your modem to be working/ the internet cafe to be open when you REALLY need to send an email. Yes, you should expect to be over-charged for any and everything you purchase.
You will earn respect by hand-washing your own clothes instead of hiring a neighbor; you will also earn blisters on your hands and aches in your back and arms.
Ladies, you will never become a perfect aim into the pit latrine. Never.
No, you cannot walk to your latrine at night, when the stray dogs and robbers are out. Yes, you will pee into that bucket on your floor, and wash it out each morning.
You will arrive early to prepare your 9am meeting or event; everyone else will show up after 1pm.
You will zoom through the country in speeding matatus (taxis), with 5 people seated in your row, a stranger’s baby in your lap, a chicken at your feet, and curious woman pulling at and combing through your mysterious mzungu hair.
It is very likely that you will either eat an insect or have one lay eggs under your skin… it is more likely that you will experience both.
Yes, those are bats in your ceiling. No, I cannot guarantee that you will never wake to one hanging off the outside of your mosquito net… or to a rat running across the top of it.
You will be desperately lonely and homesick… especially when you get physically sick… which will happen soon.
You will remember that you joined the Peace Corps to better yourself, and you did not move to Uganda to live the way you did in the US.
You will learn to embrace change and you will grow from every challenge.
Mpola, mpola, your neighbors will begin calling you by name and inquiring about your day. You will develop an identity besides “mzungu,” and if you are lucky, it will be an identity reflecting who you actually are.
You WILL find Ugandan friends, who appreciate you for your personality and not your skin… eventually. Be patient.
You may never love the seasons… BUT your US friends will envy your January tan… And you will never again take water or a cool breeze for granted.
Plan your introductions wisely.
You will (eventually) find the businesspeople who stand by their word, and they will become your most valued resources. And the first time you’re not quoted a mzungu price, will be one of your happiest moments.
After months of washing, your blisters will callous and your back and arm pain will turn to strength.
Sorry ladies, the pit latrine never gets easier.
The “night bucket,” however, will be one of your greatest comforts.
You may never get used to waiting hours for everything. BUT, you will read more books than you ever imagined.
The horrors of matatu-riding will remain ever-present; BUT, when you have those rides in which Ugandans are impressed by your knowledge of the local language, or are deeply thankful for your work here, or are serenading the taxi in song, you will think, “I live in Africa. What could be more amazing than this?”
The insects… Well, you live in Africa.
The bats and rats (and roaches and wasps and spiders and mosquitoes and moths and ants) may not go away; but you will learn to live with them in peace. I promise. After all… You DO live in Africa.
“Home” becomes your village and your quaint little house or hut. (Go ahead and nest.) Your PCV friends become your family. (Let yourself be vulnerable.) Your work becomes your life. (Give it everything you have.) You may still miss Starbucks lattes, Taco Bell, sushi, short dresses and heels, driving, Ikea, and your friends and family, but two years will fly, and they will all be awaiting you when your plane touches US soil.
So for now…. Welcome to Uganda. Welcome home.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Finished Product

Joshua and I finished our Hand-washing Station Project and I wanted to share the pictures with you. The stations were given to Kayunga District Youth Center, Mukono District Youth Center, Kayunga District Hospital and other smaller Health Centers around the District. We distributed 12 in total. It was a small project, but hopefully it will have a large impact in the health and hygiene of health care professionals and clients at the health centers.

I'm happy Josh got to see his idea come to fruition and have such a great impact.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Season of Birthdays

The past three weeks have been filled with lots of birthday wishes in the Kayunga/Jinja area. My PCV friend Lisa celebrated her 24th birthday in style at a lovely pool in Jinja while my friend Maggie had a visitor from the States who celebrated her 24th birthday in Jinja as well. Work has been so busy for me lately that these birthday days have been a breath of fresh air not to mention a whole truck load of fun.

Pool day for Lisa

Natalie's Birthday - NRE Sunset Cruise

The third birthday we celebrate was mine! Birthdays were always very special in my family growing up and my parents always put a lot of effort into making them into amazing birthday seasons for my brother and me. Last year it felt strange being away from my family and friends back home for my birthday, but this year all I felt was love from my friends and family here in Uganda and from everyone back home near and far. On my birthday my PCV friends and I had a wonderful pool day on Bujigali Falls overlooking the Nile and had a fabulous lunch. After traveling back to Kayunga that night (with a delicious pizza in hand from Jinja Town) I got to Skype with my family and best friend for hours. Needless to say I feel very blessed to have had such a wonderful birthday.

Birthday lunch at The Black Lantern on Bujigali Falls

I even got to have a birthday sundae with real ice cream (real ice cream is hard to find here)!

Mom even sent me cake - yummy! They were almost to good to eat, but you can't keep a Maine girl away from mini whoopie pies!

Then a couple days after my real birthday I got to have a second party with my Ugandan family. We celebrated at their favorite spot, which is the local pork joint in town. I love it there too - it has the most beautiful field to watch the sun set. All the people I love in Kayunga were there to celebrate with me and filled my night with fun and love. [Sorry for the blurry pictures - my camera is old and doesn't shoot well in the dark...oops.]

Chris and Francis - double trouble

Susan <3

Best Friends

Three Best Friends (Side note: I played them the song "Three Best Friends" from The Hangover and now it's their favorite song. Definitely my kind of people.)

Shafeke - Alisat's son who is super shy, but just started to like me. I guess I was to scary for the first 18 months - ha!

My Ugandan Family

Monday, March 5, 2012

Former PCV Blog

"He gave me more than a bracelet. He gave me HIV."

When I got back to Uganda after a holiday home I felt out of place assimilating back into my community. So as most PCV's do I started spending my nights watching many tv episodes, movies and surfing the internet to try and stay connected to the world at home that we are so distant from. I found this PCV blog entitled No Going Back. There Is Only Forward while I was surfing one night and have been following closely since then.

This blog is written by the last PCV who was medically separated from her service. To be medically separated by the Peace Corps a PCV must have a condition that cannot be corrected by treatment within 45 days. This treatment can take place in the host country, the medical evacuation of that geographical area (for Uganda it is South Africa) or the United States. This PCV was medically separated in December 2011 when she acquired HIV during her service in Zambia.

I strongly urge people to read her blog. Her story is sad, but provoking. She is a strong, resilient and articulate woman who has been through a life changing event and decided to share her story with anyone who will listen. Her blog talks about her infection and treatment, as well as sharing information on HIV/AIDS that everyone should either know or have access to.

Please take the time to read her blog and send her positivity. She is an inspiring young woman who speaks for so many people who cannot.

Recent Fun Photos


I have the habit of giving sweeties to the children in my village neighborhood of Nakarilo on a regular basis. For the most part the children are respectful and thankful for the time I spend with them so it makes me bend to their constant asking for candy. However, one thing that has started because of my candy dealings is the children are coming to my windows and doors all the time if the curtains are pulled back asking for me to come to them. I love seeing their little faces every day, but sometimes they are relentless with their asking and I just have to laugh ... and give in to their requests.

On Valentine's Day we celebrated my girlfriend Lisa's birthday at a beautiful pool in Jinja. While hanging around the pool Lisa and I decided it would be great fun to shave a heart in honor of Valentine's Day in our friend's absurd amount of chest hair. Success is sweet.

One afternoon in Kampala I went chameleon hunting with my friend Nat - we found two in the bushes around his house. I had never held one before and the grippies they have on their feet are super ticklish!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Comfort's Birthday

Comfort turned 5 this past weekend! She's a wonderfully funny, smart and beautiful little girl who I am blessed to have in her life. I found out she had never celebrated her birthday because her adoptive mom (my friend Cathy) did not find out their birthdays until late last year. So we threw her a party and at first she was stunned - she had no idea what was going on! After her mom explained it was a party for her, her face lighted up with joy and delight.

Mom and Daughter <3


Funny faces - Cathy, Comfort and I got the message!

Peace Corps 3 on 3 Basketball Tournament

I've been excited to get some serious basketball action on the court here at the Youth Center since it was built. We definitely have fun with the few adults in Kayunga that know how to play, but I was craving a legit tournament. So this past weekend I put together a Peace Corps Uganda 3 on 3 basketball tournament. It was wicked fun and my friend Matt's parents even got to spend the weekend in Kayunga and be a part of the fun!

Walking from my house to the Youth Center

The kids came and stayed all day

The 'Smiling Towers' were all business...til they lost to my team...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Unnecessary Violence

The other day I was walking to work when I saw a bicycle taxi coming towards me with two little boys on the back on their way to nursery school. These boys live near the Youth Center and almost always come to play in the afternoon here. The bike operator was a man a little taller than myself and lean. As I took my headphones off to greet them I noticed that the littlest boy (who is no more than three years old) was having a temper tantrum over something while riding on the back of the bike. The man riding the bike was furious and preceded to dismount the bike with the utmost purpose. At that moment I watched him repetitively hit this little boy across his face and on the top of his head. I walked right over to the man and grabbed his arm to make him stop. I yelled at him in Luganda and English that he had no right to do what he was doing and to stop hitting this little boy. He turned to me and said sometimes children just need to be hit.

I was stunned. He had at least stopped beating the child and they continued on their way to school, but I was sick at the fact that this man thought it was perfectly okay to do that to a defenseless child. Now, I know this happens in America as well and when I have seen it happen in public I step in a say something always. However, in America I guess I just don't see the lack of remorse, anger and stupidity that I saw from this man.

Here in Uganda children are subject to corporal punishment in their schools and homes due to the fact that they are caned when they behave badly. I don't want to say I've become sensitized to seeing and/or hearing this happen in my community, but it is something that I have grown accustom too. It is difficult to explain to a parent here that beating their child is not the most effective way to teach them to behave a different way. Depending on who you're talking to some parents won't even take the time to listen.

It is hard to accept the fact that while you are here as a volunteer to help with behavior change that most people do not see caning or beating their children as a negative. Therefore the behavior sadly will not change. It is something I have a hard time with on a day to day basis, but hopefully with time people will see that there are other ways to discipline.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Butterflies and Kittens

I got to make a special delivery to my girls from my mom - butterfly glasses and kitty purses stuffed with goodies. The joy these presents brought has lasted and they take them everywhere. Big thanks and love to 'Momma Nancy'!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

American Holiday

Over the holiday season I was able to journey back to Maine for a three-ish week vacation to visit with family and friends. I loved my time at home catching up with friends and getting involved back into daily life with my family. I was even so lucky to arrive home to snow and then have it snow again on Christmas!

A highlight I had was visiting with the Kendalls one snowy afternoon. I love this family and before moving to Africa they were the only family I still babysat for - Kristian and McKayla are two wonderful kids that I cannot believe are growing so fast! While I was over Kristian put on his flirt and sharing hat all in good hopes that Santa would bring him extra presents. I taught him how to carry a basket on his head and by the end of the training he was a pro (thanks for the picture Christine). I did not get hardly any time with McKayla - she is a beautiful, smart and altruistic girl. Her birthday was this month and she has been on a year campaign to collect donations for her SmileTrain page. Please see her story and donate to McKayla's SmileTrain Fund - she is wise and thoughtful beyond her years for a 7 year old.

I also got to spend some valuable time with my closest girl friends. They are all amazing individuals who are beautiful, successful and driven. I'm so lucky to have them in my life.

I was so excited to see the Kings - they are an amazing family and I think of them as my second family. I even got to go into Kathryn's classroom to give a few presentations while I was home for the World Wise Schools program we do together. Plus, when I left for Africa Jeff (to my right) was not, I repeat not, taller than me - that was more of a culture shock then being in America was!

Most importantly I got to spend a lot of fun and quality time with my Mom, Dad and brother. It was the best holiday present to be able to hang with my Dad and watch the NBA games (Go Celts!), have long life discussion with my brother and spend time out at the movies with Mom or at the gym (she can run circles around me!). Coming back to Africa was surprisingly hard emotionally for me the second time around and I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I feel so whole when I'm with my family. When I am away from them my heart is with them always, but you develop coping mechanisms to handle homesickness. When Dad took me to the airport all those feelings of loss and distance smacked me square in the face. I can whole heartedly say that coming back to Africa for the second time was one of the hardest things I have had to go through emotionally.

Mom and me after our last session at the gym together - she kicked me into shape from all the food that I ate :)

Despite my sadness, going back home to America also made me realize how special my friends and family are here in Uganda. It is an emotional sacrifice to be away from my family and closest friends, but I don't know what my life would look like if I wasn't able to have my family and friends here in Africa either. I love them both and I am very lucky to have two places I can call home.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Appropriate Projects: Hand Washing Stations

Joshua and I recently applied and received money from an organization called Appropriate Projects to carry out a water and sanitation project in Kayunga District. I'm really excited about the project because it is to build 16 different hand washing stations in health centers around the District. Below is the basic write up that we submitted along with the grant money paper work - you can also find this write up on our page on the Appropriate Projects' website.

Kayunga District Hand Washing Station Project - Uganda

Location: Kayunga District, Uganda

Community Description

Kayunga District is a rural district located in Central Uganda along the River Nile. The residents of Kayunga District are very ethnically diverse: There are 52 different tribes that comprise Kayunga District.

The majority of the population belongs to the Buganda Tribe of central Uganda, Banyala Tribe, and refugee populations from other East and Central African countries fleeing hardship. Most of the population earns their living through farming a variety of crops, herding livestock, and fishing along the River Nile and in Lake Kyoga located in northern Kayunga District.

Kayunga District Youth Center was established in 2006 to build District capacity in identifying and providing HIV prevention, care and treatment services to the surrounding population of Kayunga District. The objective of the youth center is to build infrastructure, capacity, and systems of local public and private partners in central Uganda to ensure sustainable, quality, comprehensive HIV and other health-related services for the surrounding communities. The Youth Center Staffs daily go to rural health centers to service the populations for HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment, TB assessment and referral, and malaria prevention.

The hand washing stations located at health centers throughout the District are lacking. Though hand washing is taught at health centers and stressed for clinical workers, it has become apparent that the means to keep a person’s hands clean is unavailable. Having unclean hands after using a latrine can lead to a variety of fecal to oral transmissible diseases such as cholera, typhoid, giardia and other gastro-intestinal problems which greatly affect people accessing health care who most likely already have a weakened immune system.

Project Description
This project is to build 16 handwashing stations in health centers around Kayunga District, Kayunga District Hospital, and Kayunga District Youth Center. The hand washing stations at Kayunga District Hospital will be located at each of the three latrines as well as located in all five wards.

In addition, hand washing cards will be laminated and placed at the hand washing stations to direct proper technique. The cards will be in written in the local language of Luganda as well as English, which is the national language.

Members of Kayunga District Youth Center will go to the health centers to set up the handwashing stations as well as give health talks on the proper way to wash hands. They will also train a health official at the centers on how to give the sanitation talks.

The hand washing stations will each be comprised of a 20-liter tank on top of a metal stand. The tank will have a nozzle for maintaining a stream of water while hands are being washed. There will also be a soap shelf located on the metal stand. The laminated card will be attached to the 20-liter tank at eye level.

The health centers all have a local source of water that will be used to keep the hand washing stations full. The health officials at the different centers will also be in charge of keeping the tanks full.

The project funds will be used to buy the materials to build the hand washing stations: 20 liter tanks, nozzles, metal frames as well as the lamination fee for the hand washing cards.

Project Impact
This project will benefit the following people on average:

  • Kayunga District Hospital: 350 people per week
  • Kayunga District Youth Center: 140 people per week
  • Health Center IV (2 Total): 280 people per week
  • Health Center III (3 Total): 545 people per week
  • Health Center II (2 Total): 270 people per week
This project will lead to the improvement of the hygiene of the patients and staff of the health centers as well as the children and youth using the facilities. It is designed for extremely high impact for the funds expended, and is being implemented to serve for many years to come.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Moses' Introduction

It has been about a month since my last post - sorry for the delay! Life here in Kayunga has been busy to say the least- plus I got to visit home for the holidays this year. At the beginning of November I able to attend my first Introduction Ceremony. The Introduction was for my friend and co-worker Moses. Moses is HIV Counseling and Testing Coordinator for Mukono and Kayunga Districts. Moses has been with his wife for over ten years and they have four beautiful children together. Typically a couple has their Introduction and wedding before having children, but Moses is apparently a non-traditional however much committed man.

We traveled to rural Masaka (west of Kampala) for his Introduction. Sixty staffs from Kayunga/Mukono all traveled together - setting off at 6 am. It was an early start to a very long and fun-filled day. Upon reaching Masaka Town we all stopped at a hotel to change into our traditional wear. Susan, who is my counterpart's fiance as well as a very close friend, helped me change into my gomez. We walked into a medium sized hotel room that was filled with woman all changing into various color and styles of dress. The room was abuzz with chatter and laughter - I was overwhelmed by the site. I was also amazed by the process of putting a gomez on - it was a process to say the least. Susan said I needed to put a kikoy on underneath my gomez to add some padding to my back side because she said it wasn't big enough - ha! When she was tying my kikoy right above my diaphragm so that it would hang down to my knees, she tied it so tight I could barely breathe. I think put on my gomez by buttoning the top two buttons and then Susan did the rest. There is a long piece of fabric that is left open when the gomez is initially put on. Susan folded the long part of cloth that hangs down from the left side of the dress upon itself like she was making a paper fan until the layered folds where against my body. She then took thin black string and tied it as tight as she could along my stomach - again making breathing difficult. This string kept the folded pieces together which ultimately I was thankful for because my whole dress would have fallen apart if it wasn't for the string. She then tied the traditional gomez belt on hiding the black string and I was all set. I told her how hard it was to breathe and her response was "beauty is pain" which made other women in the room laugh. Apparently the joke was on me, but I was dressed and ready to go.

The women lined up ready to enter the Introduction to represent Moses' family and friends

Mike (who is a British pre-medical student and completed a rotation in Kayunga) got to come too

The Introduction was full of formalities and was mostly spoken in Luganda. The guests belonging to the bride sat under one tent and the guests belonging to the groom sat under another tent. The first part of the Introduction is preparing the bride's family to hand over the bride to the groom. The women of the bride's family come out in different shifts to talk to the groom to decide whether or not he's ready to be a husband. Then the 'Aunties' come out to identify the groom that they know his face. Once he is identified that he is the groom the bride is allowed to come out.
The bride is in the middle in the blue gomez - her first of three outfits.

Bridal outfit number 2

After the ceremony of the bride's arrival there is some discussion about their love. Then the presents and dowry is presented to the family and the bride goes away to change her outfit and rest.

Joshua helping to bring in the 'presents'

The presents/dowry: lots of goodies for the price of a woman...

The rest of the Introduction is full of happy pronouncements of the couples love and eventually by the time the meal is served the bride and groom are allowed to be together and are culturally married.

The bride (outfit number 3) and the best man Henry passing out cake