Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Chicken Story

So as I am working at RUHU I am living at a traveler's hostel in Kampala called Red Chili. It's a great place, full of mzungu tourists and overland safari trucks. Most people are transient, but some things never change here- the staff, my goat and her newborn, and the chickens. The chickens run Red Chili and they know it. Each is very territorial and will scare you to death if you walk to close to their domain on a dark night. One particular chicken has decided that my dorm room is his dorm room- particularly the kitchen. He is a black chicken that likes to sleep on the gas stove top at night. The light bulb in there has burnt out, so he tends to scare the unsuspecting tourist wandering into the kitchen to do their dishes. Usually I cook before it gets dark to avoid the showdown but on one particular night I got back late and was too hungry to stand down. I've seen Ugandan women grab chickens my the ankles, but I cannot understand how you do this without getting pecked. After a few attempts at picking him up I have come no closer, but look more like I am doing starting a lawnmower as I fling my arm back each time he pecks at me.

In my next attempt I grab my purse and try to nudge the chicken off the stove top. Aware that he has the upper hand, the chicken ain't budging. As I push harder and harder his squawking gets louder, but still he won't move. I figure this isn't the first time he has had to fight for the stove top bed. By now, people are walking through the kitchen staring so in an attempt to regain a little dignity I knock the chicken as hard as my conscious will allow. This sends him off of the counter squawking and flapping, and in the free fall his leg gets wrapped up in a toaster cord. Chicken and toaster hit the ground with a bang. Europeans are walking in to see if I have slaughtered my dinner yet, because it certainly sounded like it.

Victorious I walk to my luggage to get dinner ingredients, and as I walk back into the kitchen and think to myself "finally the chicken got the hint and went outside". Apparently not. Just as I am thinking this I hit something with my foot and scream at the top of my lungs, waking up the dormers. I punted, literally sent this chicken flying, across the kitchen.

** I know it's not work related, sorry. **

My Jaja

Yesterday, I met up with Patrick in the Kampala taxi park and we jumped onto a mutatu. After an hour and a half ride, we arrived in our destination- Mitala Maria. I think/hope that some of this got lost in translation, but Patrick told me that Ugandans believe this road to Mitala Maria is the path that brought AIDS to Uganda. Either way, all of the children I met lost their parents to AIDS and their personal status is unknown because there is no money to get them to a hospital for testing. We spent the day visiting some households that RUHU supports financially- and by support I mean 2 or 3 dollars when it can be spared. The households all have a fairly similar story; parents pass away, leaving all the children in the care of the grandparents. Most women in the area have taken in children unrelated to them as well. The primary caretakers of these households are too old to work (many are 70 and upwards, usually women) and the children are too young to help with farming. The women do what they can, but there are too many days where the children go without eating.

One woman in particular lived in a 2 room hut with walls of clay and takes care of 8 children. This past year all three of her children have died of AIDS leaving her with no money and mouths to feed. This woman should have been devastated, outraged, worried about her future, but instead she greeted me with a hug and danced with me. She laughed hysterically when I sat on the floor with her as opposed to the provided bench. When I asked how she finds the courage to take care of so many children, she stated matter-of-factly that there was no one else to do it and she knew she had to. She is known to the kids as Jaja (grandmother) and she laughed and danced with me again as I bade her goodbye, saying "Weeraba Jaja!!".

RUHU goes out to Mitala Maria weekly to meet with the grandmothers and orphaned children, holding counseling sessions and seminars about varying topics. The meetings are held on straw mats in a shady spot under a tree on the property of a jaja who takes care of eleven children. The primary focus of the talks when the kids are in attendance is living positively with HIV, talking about how to remain happy and healthy. More than anything else, these meetings are a way to keep the community united in their battle against HIV/AIDS.

Up With Hope

I am proud to say that in the three days I have been looking, I have found 6 CBO's that are seeking interns and are truly making an impact in their community. All of the sites are going to be considered for the interns next year, but one made a lasting impression on me. It is also the site at which I am going to work at for the remainder of my summer.

The organization is called Raising Up Hope for Uganda (RUHU), and it was founded by a young man named Patrick. Patrick was orphaned as a child, and for years survived on the streets of Kampala with his sister and others like him. As a teen he met an American woman, who was inspired by his story and leased an apartment in Kampala for Patrick and his sister. When he was about sixteen he came across an infant tied up in a sack left to die in a pile of garbage. He felt that this child deserved a chance to live no matter the personal sacrifice on his part. He legally adopted the little girl, thus beginning RUHU. By the time he was 17 years old there were 10 street children living in his apartment. In order to get more children into a safe home Patrick made a huge sacrifice- he turned down the chance at attending university in the US. He asked his sponsor to take the money she would spend on his plane ticket and fees and write a check. He took this money and bought a house on the outskirts of Kampala to house all of his children. In Bulenga, the town in which the orphanage is located, he is affectionately known by all of the villagers as "Uncle Patrick". To even an outsider it is apparent that he is revered in his community for the difference he has made.

RUHU functions primarily as an orphanage, but there are many other ways in which the organization contributes to the community. Next week I am going to experience this firsthand, but from what I am told the founding members go out into the Kampala slums to bring new orpans and at risk children to stay at RUHU. They also go out to a region of Uganda that has a very high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and they assist in families who are taking care of orphans. Finally, the orphanage serves as a home schooling site for the children living there. The organization does not have the funding to send the 40 children to school, so two young men are teaching six classes a day. Did I mention that all of the people leading RUHU are all 19 and 20 years old? RUHU is desparate for help, but they are doing some awe-inspiring work. In addition to housing around 40 orphans and vulnerable children, Patrick works with relatives of the children to find them a long term home. Through counseling and persistence, eventually many of the orphans are taken into the homes of Aunts, Uncle, and Grandparents. By finding a permanent home for the children, space is opened up for others in need.

Finding organizations like RUHU makes me wish I had more time in this country to get to know the wonderful people that are making a difference, and assist them in their endeavours. If you get the chance please take a look at their website: http://raisinguphope.wetpaint.com/

As the Ugandans say, "Nice Time!!"

Update from Kasese

I am currently staying in a hostel in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. Seth and I have been traveling for the past few days and although we had planned to trek back to Kasese today, we cannot bring ourselves to do it. The six hour bus ride is very hot, bumpy and crowded and we have spent most of this morning traveling on small crowded mutatus to get to the capital. Not looking forward to sticky laminated seats and chickens pecking at our ankles, we have decided to break up our travel and enjoy Kampala for a little while! In the past week we have traveled to Murchison Falls, where we went on safari. While in the park we saw elephants, warthogs, giraffes, antelope, hippos, crocodiles, lions, and much more. We also took a boat ride down the nile river, where we spotted many hippos and took pictures in front of the falls. Following our trip we went to Mukono district for a dinner with one of the organizations that AGRADU works with. The food was wonderful, and we liked the place so much we decided to stay for a day and see the city! After staying in Kyetume for a few days we went down to Katosi, which is a small fishing village in Mukono District. We visited the two girls who are working there, and they showed us around town. We went to Rhea's english class, fed monkeys on Monkey Hill, and took a boat ride with a local fisherman out on Lake Victoria! It was great to see the girls, and totally worth the bouncy rides on the mutatus to get there (mutatus are rickety vans that serve as taxis and ugandans load 20 or more people on them) It has been really interesting to see the other interns CBO's and where they are living. It is also just nice to hang out together, it is a bit of a reminder of home!
So now, Seth and I are relaxing for the day and updating our blogs. Tomorrow we are back to Kasese, and we plan to go to the local schools to begin teaching or tutoring in whatever subjects are needed. One difficulty we have faced in Uganda is that although there are programs for us to work on, they rarely fill our day. In order to take full advantage of my time here I am going to help out in the schools as much as possible in the next few weeks. I am also working with a secondary school on a health program, and with another local organization that supports children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Many of the children have HIV themselves, and they are often teased in school for it and tend to drop out. The organization aims to counsel the children, give them ARV's, pay their school fees, and push them to get an education. I have also recently begun working with the Rwenzori Empowerment Center, an organization that is doing a lot of good work in the area. The organization has an orphanage for street children, a training center for women to learn how to sew and make a living, and a micro-finance program. R.E.C. also pays for landmine victims to travel to proper hospitals and get prosthetic limbs. I am constantly impressed by how many people are working hard to improve lives in this country. I am also surprised at just how kind Ugandans are, and how willing they are to help out whatever the situation.
I suppose that is everything that has been happening for the past few weeks, I am having a great time but also looking forward to getting home. As the weeks progress its funny how much more often the interns talk about foods we miss when we are all together. I will try to post some pictures, but Ugandan internet is quite different than the speeds we are used to.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Malaria!!!...and Typhoid??

July 17, 2009
I'm sure you've heard from Mom or Dad that this week has been pretty
rough on me. Finally, it was bad enough
for me to go to a doctor where I found out that I not only had the flu
but I had malaria as well. It was pretty scary and I think it makes it
much worse that I had to run outside to the latrine everytime I felt
naseous. The people here are the absolute nicest my boss called me
multiple times a day and even brought me to her house in Kampala when
I was not getting better in the village. Although the circumstances
were horrible it was amazing to be in her house because she has
running hot water! I can't wait to take a super long shower when I get
home :) (Forget about the water bill Dad!) And everyone else has been
amazing in making me juice and cooking me meals, driving me places so
I don't have to take taxis, and just generally making me feel like I
am cared about and not alone here.

Anyway on Wednesday I went back for another blood test to make sure
that the malaria was gone and as it turns out I still had malaria and
I have typhoid which they missed in the first blood test :( I don't
want you guys to worry because they really do have amazing medicine
for these types of diseases here and I am feeling much better today.
I'm just grateful that I got sick after already being comfortable and
acclimated to this country. Anyway I'm going for a final blood test on
Tuesday and coming home on the next Monday! I can't wait to see you
all :)

Also, being here alone has again made me realize how lucky I am to
have all of you. This is the first time I've been sick that I don't
have Mippi sending me candy, Titia calling me, Kayla yelling at me not
to get her sick, or Mom making me sleep in her bed! I have so many
more stories and cool picture to show you but rather than wasting time
in an email I'll be able to tell you in person soon!

Did a Baboon just steal my breakfast?

June 28, 2009
I had a really awesome weekend which ended unfortunately on a bad
note. I went to Murchison Falls the national park in Northern Uganda
and camped there for 2 days while going on Safaris and cruises down
the nile which was amazing!

Murchison was amazing on the safari the animals get so close like I
could have reached my hand out and pet a lion if I wanted to! And
after we finished I was waiting for the ferry back to the sleeping
camp and like 15 baboons (rafiki from lion king) came out of the woods
and were climbiing on the safari trucks and running around. I went to
throw away a brown bag breakfast that was full of wrapers and a juice
box and before I could put it in the trash a babboon grabbed it out of
my hand! I screamed so loud ahah it was really cool though! I got a
video of it eating my breakfast leftovers which is really funny I'll
have to show you when I get home! The boat ride was really cool also I
saw like 100 hippos and crocodiles and it made me really excited for
two weeks from now when I got to Eastern Uganda, Jinja, the source of
the Nile. I'm going to be white water rafting for 2 days down grade 5
rapids! I can't wait! The falls were really beautiful also I hiked up
to the top and got some really gorgeous pictures!

Camping actually was really fun there was like a tiki hut resturant to
buy food and there were showers and toliets which is more than I can
say for my apartment here! But the camp is in the middle of the game
park so all the time there are warthogs (pumba from lion king!)
wandering around and snorting at you. They are actually really scary
they can smell food from kms away so if you leave food in your tent at
night they charge and tear it apart to eat. The cool part was that the
hippos come up from the nile at night to feed on the trees outside the
tents so at night you can hear them chewing and see their shadows!

I am really thoroughly enjoying my time here now and even though I
miss everyone very much I'm sad that I have to leave in about a month.
Work is going about the same as before I love all the kids I work with
and get really funny questions especially from the older high school
kids. I teach a senior writing class and two guys asked me what kind
of shampoo I use to get my hair to look like this because they were
convinced thta i was born with hair like theirs! They wouldn't believe
me when I said that I was just born different next week I'm taking
them my shampoo to prove that it's not magic!

I'm so sad that I will be missing 4th of July at home with Dad's
delicious grilling! But the US Embassy is throwing a party in Kampala
for all US Citizens and for $10 its dinner drinks and fireworks! I'm
pretty excited to be surrounded by white people for a change. I think
it should be fun. I miss you all so much and can't wait to be at home
with you! I hope you're having fun summers email me!

Me and Obama are the Most Popular Americans?

July 5, 2009
can't believe I come home in three weeks I'm conflicted between
excitement and sadness. I'm already trying to figure out how I can get
another job in Africa next summer because this summer truly has been
the best experience I've ever had!

Teaching this week was great I'm working on the future tense with my
high school kids so I had them write essays about what their lives
will be like in 10 years and one guy said he wants to marry an
American girl because they are pretty like Madam Rhea! But the
funniest one was from this boy Sharif who said that he wants to marry
an American and have two children a boy named Barack Obama and a girl
named Madam Rhea! So as it turns out I'm the equivalent American woman
celebrity. Me and Obama are quite popular here in Uganda!

This last week was really fun it was actually the most American week
I've had yet. On Thursday I came to Kampala because I needed some time
off from work and wanted to spend 4th of July with some friends at the
Embassy party. When I got here I finished my shopping which is amazing
I can't wait to give everyone their gifts all the stuff here is so
cool I'm almost tempted to keep it for myself!

The party at the Embassy was really fun! It was so weird to be
surrounded by white people. I met the US Ambassador to Uganda there
which was really cool because I had never really considered a career
in the state department but talking to him made me think that it might
be something I'm interested in. The burgers which I had been dreaming
about all week were disguisting they tasted like ground up poop :( But
the rest of the food was great potato salad watermelon and brownies!!
I was in heaven. After that my friends Shane, Grace, I decided to
check out the weathly side of Kampala. We figured we did our share of
slumming and were entitled to a little of the good life! We went for
drinks at the top of a rotating resturant which was so cool! It was 15
stories high so we could see all across the city and it was literally
the first time that I've felt like I was inside in a month! After that
we walked around the Golf Course Hotel which is where all the
diplomats stay when they come to Kampala the rooms are $188 a night
which is ridiculous by Ugandan standards!

Anyway we found a lounge with actual leather couches and just sat
there for an hour. I had such culture shock it was so weird to be in a
nice hotel haha we actually had trouble deciding if we wanted to
continue to sit on the couches or go to the casino! It was so nice to
see clean and comfortable things it made me so homesick! Also it made
me realize how integrated I must be into this lifestyle if sitting in
like a Hilton lobby almost made me cry tears of joy! After that we
went to the Simba Casino which was soooo cool since I can't even go in
a Casino at home! We just played the slot machines and I actually won
a couple times but the whole experience was just so surreal. I mean I
was in the middle of Uganda in a casino, with a waiter giving me free
drinks and appetizers!

What is that??? Oh just a 5 foot vulture...

June 14, 2009
I hope everything is going well in the US and everyone is enjoying their summer I know that I certainly am. Being here has made me get rid of a lot of my irrational fears such as getting dirty, killing bugs, sweating, and lizzards. But one thing that certainly has not changed is my fear of birds. Now I'm not as nervous as I used to be about little birds or walking in the same street as a chicken but in Uganda they have these birds which are their versions of the vulture and they are literally an average of 4 feet tall. I thought I was going to have a heart attack the first time I saw one their beaks are the size of my arm and their wingspans are 8 feet. They are the scariest things I've seen so far :(

Other animals are pretty cool thought I'm going to Murchinson Falls in two weeks (a national park) and I hope to see really cool animals like lions there but I see monkeys all the time! I normally buy a banana for breakfast on my way to work and now that it's been a while I walk to work alone (ugh still at least 5 miles everyday through the jungle :/ ) but yesterday I was walking and I was the only one on the path when I looked up and a monkey was staring at me. I got really scared just remembering Mom's stories about mean monkeys in India but it started to walk towards me and I just threw the banana at it and ran! I've never been that close to a monkey in real life looking back it was pretty cool!

A lot of you have emailed me some random questions so here goes...I've been picking a lot of the local language I mean not enough to carry on a conversation but definitely enough to greet people and be polite. Also I know how to say thank you, this was good, and I don't eat liver! I prepare all my own meals sometimes people invite me over for meals but most of the time I just buy vegetables and make stir frys all the time. Let's just say I will never eat another cabbage again after coming home! People offer me food a lot when I come to check their water facilities and since the people here are so poor I feel bad refusing food that is very valuable to them. So I've gotten really good at swallowing. Last week I had to swallow an entire papaya and two pieces of goat liver to be polite! The power goes out probably about everyday or so and it varies for how long. It's really not that bad because I've gotten used to cooking and reading by flashlight but it's annoying because I have a tiny fridge that I use mainly to keep bugs away from food. But the fridge has an ice box which I never use but it's an old fridge so there's no way to turn the ice box off. Basically everytime the power goes out the ice box melts and my apartment floods :( but hey that takes up time so I don't get bored!

Anyway this week I'm only working 2 days because I'm going to visit some friends from UNC in the mountains near Congo so I should be able to email more cool stories on Wednesday or so! Again I hope everything is going well in the US. I miss you all so much and can't wait to come home and see you!

PS-this old lady in my village gave me a Ugandan name! Kisakye (che-saa-che) it means his grace...haha at this point being called anything other than white girl is nice!

Monday, July 20, 2009

"No boyfriend? I guess that means there is no one to miss you."

Thanks again George. I like to think that there are people other than a boyfriend that would have missed me while I am here. Like my friends, or family... but I guess not.

As the summer draws to a close (one week left at the site and then one week left for exploration), I realize that I have missed many people while I've been here! But I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. Unfortunately, I feel like it has taken 4-5 weeks to get completely situated here, and now there is not enough time left for all of the things I want to do, but I'm at least glad I got to this point.

It took me about the first month here to realize that I would need to be in Uganda for a lot longer than two months to affect these people in a way I could deem meaningful. Don't get me wrong - I didn't actually think I was going to save the world in two months, but I hadn't realized the small scope of what I would actually be able to accomplish. It was at that moment that I knew I would not be able to help the people here as much as I wanted, but that didn't mean that they couldn't help me learn.

By the time I leave I will have conducted an HIV test, visited patients on ART in their homes, seen the challenges of microfinance initiatives first hand, and felt the pain of a grandmother living with 9 dependents. I can’t say that I changed anyone’s life – but I know that these people here have affected mine.

Friday, July 17, 2009

"100% Indian? But you are so pretty."

Last week was particularly hard in terms of my nausea. Not too bad, but enough for me to cash in my "mzungu sick cards" and sleep in a couple mornings. Which wasn't so bad. The time alone afforded me some much needed personal space and the walk to work was almost serene.

And being by myself on the way to work gave me the opportunity to speak up. I greeted all that passed me and was overcome by the friendliness of the people here. I will definitely miss that. I guess since I was also by myself, I worked up the courage to conversate with the police officer standing near Bukasa at the road check. Everyone tells you to be wary of the police here, so I was never quite brave enough to say anything other than "good morning" with my head down as I hurried past.

On Tuesday I stuck around a little while after the standard greeting, and after explaining that I was American, but my parents were Indian (amazing, I know), we started speaking about Uganda. I think it's really funny how some Ugandans cannot fathom what I could possibly like about this country, when I've come from America. I've been asked so many times that I now have set responses. I love the greenery, the cheap & fresh vegetables, and most of all the pace of life. I'm never really stressed like I am at home, but I still feel like I am getting a lot accomplished, in general. After he invited me to buy land here so I could stay forever, I finally worked up enough courage to ask him about what he was doing there. He said that they stopped the matatu's to make sure they were not overcrowded and the trucks to make sure they were not overloaded. I wanted to know the punishment if the vehicle did not pass, but I decided I had pressed my luck enough for one day and scampered away before he could tell me that I was overloaded.

Thursday, the police block was up again, but this time with different officers. After I assured madame police officer that she did indeed look very smart in my shades, we began to converse as well about my ethnicity. That's when she dropped the one liner "100% Indian? But you are so pretty." Ugandans' concept of what Indians are is very funny to me. Since there is only one type of Indian that lives here, and I am not that type - people have trouble believeing that I am Indian at all. Reuben the boss man once told me that the texture of my skin proved I was not Indian - my hands are smooth and apparently all the hands of Indians he knows are very rough. I'm pretty sure George fell out of his seat when he learned that I was akin to the Bollywood movies they watch here. hahaha, oh well at least all of my conversations about my ethnicity are never boring.

Since I felt that I had sufficiently broken the ice with this madame police officer, I went ahead and asked her what she would do if someone's vehicle did not pass her test. She said they fine them 60,000 ush. $30 might seem like a cheap ticket in the US, but considering a reasonable month's rent here is 40,000 ush, that might provide you with some perspective.

Reuben told me once that he never drives with his license, because if he gets pulled over then he just tells the cop that his license is at home. Wow, that would never fly in the US - but I wondered how madame police woman could write someone who had no identification a ticket. Since I didn't want to press my luck any farther that day, I decided that was a question I'd save for next time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ups and downs

Uganda so far has been a variety of things to me. It has been a place where it takes 45 minutes of staring at the bar to NOT send an email or post a blog (hence this is my first post), a place where I've possibly never been happier, a place where frustration emanates from a lot of sources, a place where friends have been made, and a place where the only order one can rely on is that there will be disorder and unpredictability in the future. Every day seems longer and yet before you'll know it, you will have a few weeks left to salvage a bit of accomplishment for the summer. We each came with our own somewhat idealist expectations of what development would look like and how it would be practiced, and I'm sure I'm not alone in having whatever I thought turned on its head.

To be more specific, NGOs are not all created equally. While at first glance, it seems like there are a million NGOs in every town because there is a lot of need for them as well as a hefty collective Ugandan conscience, perhaps part of the less rosy reality is that there is no private sector outside of Kampala to employ qualified graduates. To compound this apparent contradiction, NGOs, as well as enterprising businesspeople in general, tend to want to enter an already saturated tourism industry at a time when global tourism is down in mainstays in South Africa, let alone Uganda. Perhaps what is more disappointing is that the skills that many seem to be garnering from universities do not seem to be sufficient to compete with immigrants that settle in Uganda (Indians) or the global economy at large. Business's outside of Kampala lack basic judgment in very intriguing and unique ways. No one, whether in NGOs or upper middle class hotels, tends to do performance standards to check if their product is meeting client demands or their NGO is operating in an efficient manner. Perhaps the largest culture shock interns should be told to expect is the very anti-American way things operate here in Uganda. Fresh off of our teeming final exam university lives, it is very difficult to adjust to the lack of urgency NGOs show in achieving objectives.

I think this internship, much more than others, really allows people to be thrown into the Ugandan environment to get a look at how things actually work in another country. While other internships that run strict, pre-set American programs may further encourage the American idealistic feelings that we each showed up with, I believe this internship is superior to others offered by UNC because, in forcing us into adverse environments where there is no structure or pre-planned program, it makes us respect the huge task that confronts development. While some internships may set up a health clinic and let students get experience treating patients or give students experience teaching entrepreneurship through a project set up by previous interns, AGRADU makes each intern evaluate the resources at a typical African's disposal when confronting a problem and gives us perspective on the less savory aspects of the society.

And for the reality this internship gives me, I'm thankful to have gotten the opportunity to be here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

so soon

As the summer comes to an end I find myself getting progressively sad. I have fallen in love with 90 amazing kids and God has shown me so much about myself, about others and about the world and this amazing place known as Busia, Uganda.

Today I got a true feel for Uganda and it's problems. I teach at Howard Secondary school and although I'm teaching some of New Hope's students the majority of my class is made from other local students. Today one of the students got called out of class and it was just a mess, so I ended up asking him what was happening and he said that they were forcing him to leave because he hadn't paid any school fees for this term yet and they won't let him continue without them. He said they gave him a week to find the money or he would have to wait until next term to continue.. then he also told me that both of his parents have died and he lives alone and he works to try to pay for rent, a tiny bit of food, an an extremely expensive school fees... I couldn't believe it! I realize that all the kids in Africa have a hard time and I was prepared for the ones at New Hope because I came in expecting it but this other boy who was not a New Hope resident and who acted just like anyone else in class has this incredible task to overcome to even attend school. I wasn't sure what to do but I didn't feel okay doing nothing so I brought him to the director of New Hope and asked him to listen to the boy's story. I should have more details next week, but hopefully he will be joining the program or at least be receiving support from the program starting next week. They have to check his story and background and see if its all legitimate, so we'll see, but I'm hopeful :) On top of that however, one of the girls from my class today told me that her younger brother died last week. I never realized how strong these children here are... they are strong strong children and they never cease to amaze me.

I hate to be leaving so soon but I am certain that my stay here isn't over for good. I have never really felt so connected to a place and not been so sure of why. Some places I am connected to because they draw me in but Busia as a whole is not an attractive place, I suppose it's the community, or the people. Imagine me.. saying that I love children. No one would have seen it coming and certainly not me. I love these kids.

I just hope that I can make the most of my time left here. Keep these incredible people in your prayers because they are certainly some of the most amazing and most deserving people I have ever met.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

back to the border

After an amazing trip to Murchison Falls, safari, and boat trip on the Nile, I was surprised when I realized my excitment at returning to the scruffy border town of Busia that has been my home this past month. I definitely did not realize how attached I had become to many of the children at New Hope nor how much I enjoyed afternoons cooking and chatting with the matrons of Reyo Hotel.

I should not, however, downplay the trip to Murchison. For the first time since our original stay in Kampala, all of the AGRADU interns (besides A-N) were together and once again squished on a small bus together for the weekend.We saw baboons and warthogs galore and at night I was woken up by the munching of hippos grazing right beside my tent.

Back in Busia, the pace of life has once again returned to its slow, African speed.At a conference I attended this morning on providing psychosocial support to disadvantaged children, I was once again perplexed by the lack of work actually getting done. There seems to be a lot of talk and repitition with very little action. When I first watched a few primary school lessons in action I was shocked at the mundane, repetitive call and response methods; and yet, here at an adult conference I was experiencing much of the same. Where is the individuality, creativity, and challenging of the status quo? It seems to be heavily discouraged, one of the most frustrating aspects about life here, especially when working in schools.

I have decided to additionally start working with another local organization (Busia Widows and Orphans Assoc.) because even with playing at New Hope and leading guidance sessions at Howard, I find myself with lots of free time.

Maressa and I will be moving in to a house right next to our director with a Canadian and Ugandan roomate and our very own dogs! Closer to New Hope, we will be able to enjoy posho and beans for supper every day with the kids and dark roads will no longer isolate us from activities at New Hope after 7 pm!

Lastly, on Friday we will be bording a bus at 5 am to take the secondary school kids to Kampala on a college visit to Makere University which all of them aspire to attend yet have never even seen.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Your hands are soft like a baby's. You have done no real work in your life."

said George, as he pricked my finger for an Blood Smear to test my blood for malaria. Hmm... that's debatable, but after seeing 8-year-olds in the field hacking at the ground with hoes to help their parents farm, I am inclined to agree with him.

I guess I should start with how I came to be sitting in the health centre, waiting for the results of a malaria test. Doxycycline, the prophylaxis I am taking to prevent malaria, makes me nauseous every morning. That particular morning had been especially bad, so I opted to take it easy and stay in the apartment. Everyone at Kyetume was convinced that because I was at home, I must have malaria. Since, Reuben will not take no for an answer, I found myself sitting in the health centre, waiting for slides of my blood to dry so George could tell me if I did indeed have malaria or not.

And while we waited, we talked.

I told the lab technician that I was also very interested in science and was studying Chemistry at my university. He asked if I planned to become a doctor, and told him that I was not so sure even though my M.D. father would be happy if I did. After that, George said something that caught me way off guard, “So your mother is deceased?” Um, excuse me? No! What do you know that I don’t? When I replied in the negative, he said, “Ah, so you parents must be divorced.” No… not that either. What was going on? He was a little taken aback to learn that my parents were still married and living together. “The divorce rate in foreign countries is so high. I figured your parents would not still be married.”

And there it was. It took me by surprise that he was so astonished to learn my parents were still married. I came to Uganda very cautious about the stereotypes I had in my mind about Africa, not wishing to offend anyone that I meet. I guess I was so concerned about the potential prejudices I harbored, I hadn’t realized I’d be dealing with the reverse. There are the common – like, “Born in America? No, you are Indian.” and the ever popular one about how loaded I am since I am American and how America handed me money to finance my trip here. Oh, I wish. Well anyways, I thought that this incident of reverse stereotyping was especially bizarre and I’d share.

Overall things here are good. Finally, with less than a month to go, I feel like I have so many things to do that I don’t know where to start. But I don’t mind it. I think I like life better that way.

Monday, June 15, 2009

mzungu bye

After becoming accustomed to life in Busia, despite all the frustrations and oddities, life here is quite amazing. These beautiful kids at the ofphanage truly have my heart... 100%. They are courageous and kind-hearted and just full of such life and joy that nothing could put it out. And talk about dreams- these kids all have such giant and wonderful dreams, one of the older kids even aspires to be the president of Uganda one day.

But with all good must come some bad. And I'd say the bad is the system sometimes. These kids are amazing but I hope they will have all the opportunities given to them that they need to succeed.. Only time will tell. Perhaps that's the whole reason we're here... For the kids, right?!

Being without power (what is it day 7 or 8, I lost count) is interesting, though surprisingly not as difficult as it sounds. Though it gets extremely dark when its dark and it gets that way fairly early- by 7:30!!

Either way life is amazing here regardless of what is thrown our way.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Maybe you are too heavy for the roads here."

Thanks Dora, thanks. That is a possibility, or maybe my chacos know I am an impostor and am not worthy of wearing them. Either way - I completely wiped out two days in a row. Slipped and fell. Just walking on the dirt roads. I knew it was coming, since I am the clumsiest person alive, and I'm surprised it has not happened sooner. Well since I work at a health clinic and everything, I figured it was time to pay the health centre a visit after my second fall.

I waited in the clinic after asking Winnie if she could scrounge up some extra neosporin for me. Then she decided she wanted to take a look at the scrapes. As I pulled back the band-aids, she asked me where I had found them. I told her that I brought them from home. As she was cleaning up my leg, she told me that they don't have band aids here, they use white tape. My mind shot back to just a little while ago when I was sitting in my pediatrician's office (lame, I know) updating my shots before I could come here. After I was done, the nurse let me choose between about 7 different types of children's band aids - ranging from hello kitty to spider man - and I picked the crayola crayon, to cover a dot on my arm. And now I was putting plain white tape over a pretty nasty scrape. It's not as if either did a better job of protecting my skin, one is just more expensive, more aesthetic. I guess this got me thinking about how many amazing things this health centre is doing with limited resources. Like tests for infectious diseases with a 15-year-old microscope for example. The microscope doesn't have to be shiny to work. In a place like the US, it's hard to remember how much is possible without hoards of technology. And places like Kyetume CBHCP are capitalizing on this.

As for my leg, it's fine. The Ugandan roads are going to have to try a lot harder to keep me down!

Under African Skies

We have been unable to post until this point as we have been out on the farm for the beginning of the week, and the internet has been unavailable until recently. There are many things to catch up on!

Perhaps the best place to start is the bus ride out to Kasese. Seth and I caught a cab at 5:30 am to the bus park and upon arrival I couldn't help thinking that it was little more than a mob of people in a dirt lot. Before the car stopped people were opening the doors of the cab and taking out our luggage. John has warned us to keep an eye out for people who tend to run off with bags, so Seth and I sprinted to opposite sides of the bus to ensure nothing was stolen. Finally, after quite a bit of struggle we made it onto the bus and we were off. Although a bumpy six hour ride, the road through Mbarara offers some of the most spectacular views of Uganda that I have seen thus far. While riding through the foothills of the Rwenzoris the road passes by Lake Africa. Our friend Isaac was kind enough to explain the lake to us once in Kasese- he told us that the lake was shaped by volcanic lava, and it is a perfect replica of the African continent. In addition, the water source that feeds the Lake runs out the top in the same place as the Nile Delta. The bus passes right by what would be the border of South Africa and Mozambique!

According to all of the guide books Kasese is a hot and dusty town that isn't worth making a stop for on the way to Fort Portal. Although undeniably hot and dusty, I have enjoyed my time in town. Much to my surprise there are a lot of other mzungus around, and when I spot them I almost get the urge to point and yell "mzungu!". The phenomenon must be contagious. Everyone in the CETRUD office is wonderful and has been very helpful in showing us the local markets and restaurants around town. Our stay at the CETRUD garden was luxurious when compared to everyone else- running water, electricity, fans, showers, three meals a day, even air conditioning (for one night). However we made up for it quickly during our stay on the farm. During our three days we learned a lot about the day to day operations of the farm, and the pace at which things happen in rural areas. We also learned that it is possible to survive without running water electricity. The CETRUD farm provides food to local markets and hotels in Kasese, and prides itself on being a teaching farm. Training programs about nutritious farming, produce yield enhancement, and other topics are held for community members. One of the most inspiring programs CETRUD offers is the Caretakers Program, in which proceeds from the farm are used to support over 200 children orphaned and families affected by HIV/AIDS. The money pays for school fees and provides scholastic materials for those who could not otherwise afford school. Despite doing so much good in their community, CETRUD suffers in the sense that the CBO desires to do more than there is funding for. In my time here I hope to find more grant funding for the community so that they can continue to make a difference.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Make Your Last Calls and Say Your Last Prayers"

Dora (the explorer) kindly repeated over and over as we drove through the jungle on my first evening in Kyetume. “I'm going to sell you soon, and since you are from America, I'll get twice the price.” Of course she was only pulling my leg, but she told me an interesting story about the village in which the partner cbo we were visiting is located. When she was a little girl, she was told stories about how at 6 p.m. the villagers would turn into monsters that walked on their hands and grabbed you with their feet to eat you. This was only her second time visiting the village, and she said she was actually frightened the first time she had to go hahaha.

I'm really enjoying the culture here, hearing stories like that, exchanging sentiments with my neighbors. The thing that stuck me most about how different this country is from the United States is its sweeping cohesiveness in regards to culture. It's true that the US has more diversity, but this country seems to be united on a higher level. One of my neighbors asked me if the United States has something equivalent to Ugandan clans (which are still honored today), and of course we have nothing that comes close. I guess at first I was surprised by the general uniformity on certain issues like family values or even homosexuality, but it makes more sense to me now.

The people here are so much more welcoming and accommodating than I've been accustomed too, in the US or in India. Despite living without power every other day or so, I'm having a really good time here. I haven't been bored yet! Especially since my 5 year old neighbors like to jam out to T.I. with me while I cook dinner.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Living the Simple Life

Where do I begin? Life in Kyetume has been great. The weather stays around 75 and sunny everyday with an afternoon shower every few days and the people are so friendly! At the office I am currently working on creating a database for the health center to upload it's health records on to so it is easier to maintain and track trends among the village. It's been quite a task, but i'm learning as I go along...

Life in the village is quite fun. We've spent the nights after work talking with our neighbors and playing soccer with the local kids. They are all very interested in how things are done in America. I'm living beside two teachers from the local boarding school and they both desperately want to come to America to get their masters and PhD. In the week that i have been here i have definitely learned a lot from the people. Whether it's some phrases in Luganda or how to cook a certain Ugandan recipe.

Our accomodations aren't too bad. We have running water and a sink, which is something to be proud of! And we're starting to get the hang of washing clothes and dishes in a bucket versus the spoiled american way of doing domestic chores.

Life is busy here in Uganda and we're slowly getting acclimated.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

First Week on site in Katosi

Hi everyone! We don't have internet in my village so this weekend Rhea and I are visiting some friends in the town of Mukono (about an hour away) to visit an internet cafe. I want to try and describe my life in Katosi as best I can but there's way too much I want to tell everyone, so I'll do my best but I'll have TONS of stories, and hopefully pictures when I get back!

As far as life in the village goes, it was pretty shocking and overwhelming at first but I'm adjusting well and its definitely and experience. The power is really sporadic and there is no running water or inside toilets. We are also cooking all our own food which means the dishes have to be done by hand immediately so the mosquitoes don't come.

Katosi is a bigger village than I thought, theres a ton of produce stands and little food stores with the basics, theres also one gas station, a “post office”, a few restaurants and like 500 schools since theres literally a million kids. Lining the street are storefronts and then the housing compounds are behind the stores and believe me, they are the real deal…some are just like TV: mud huts with thatched roofs, etc. That’s been the most shocking thing…we are definitely in real Africa—the kids with bloated bellies, no shoes, tattered clothes and I want to do so much to help them but I know it will be tough.

So the village is right on Lake Victoria which is GORGEOUS…it’s a fish trading post so theres always boats coming in and out. That also means that there is always a breeze so its really not that hot. Its way hotter in Raleigh or even Sherwood but its just incredibly really dusty here. The “apartment” that Rhea and I are staying in is in a little courtyard thing behind the office and dairy store that are on the street front. There’s a gate that they lock at night so we feel really safe. Also in the courtyard is a nurse’s clinic, a kitchen, 4 latrines, and 3 rain water cisterns. There’s one other apartment where the nurse Esther lives nextdoor…she is the NICEST lady ever. I don’t know what we would do with out her…she’s helped us cook, buy things from town, introduce us to the women… everything! In return, I want to teach her how to use a computer because she's never used one and is really eager to learn before she goes to get her official nursing license in the fall. Also in the courtyard is Gertrude’s house. Gertrude is the mother of the founder of the organization so she’s pretty much everyone’s boss but they all call her mama and we do too because she treats us like her daughters. Unfortunately, she is pretty sick right now so she’s in Kampala for treatment but she’s left her house open for us to go in during the day which is nice because its a lot bigger and cooler than our little apartment. Where we’re living there are 2 rooms and a “bathroom” which is literally a cement closet with a drain where we do our bucket baths (which I’ve become pro at by the way). In one room are our mosquito nets and beds and in the other is a sofa, 2 chairs, and a gas stove. basically a bunson burner for us to cook on. Theres also a fridge which we pretty much use just to keep the ants away from food instead of keeping things cold since the power is so sporadic.

The village is really loud at all times. Theres a loudspeaker across the street that does death announcements and soccer scores like 3 times a day and there are so many animals EVERYWHERE. There’s like 5 chickens and roosters and a goat that live in the courtyard. Deborah also adopted a cat named Maria that keeps trying to get in…I hate cats and Rheas allergic, and all the Ugandan’s think its weird that she had a pet anyway so we’re trying really hard to get rid of it :)

As far as work goes, its still pretty slow to really take off but that’s just how things are in Uganda. I’ve started visiting some schools to introduce myself so I can’t wait to go back and help them with specific projects.. I’ll keep you updated with that as it comes along. Right now we’re working mainly with 2 guys named Fred and Leonard who are in charge of the Katosi field office—they are both really nice and would do anything to keep us happy. There’s also another intern who is here for the same time from the University in Kampala named Musisi.

Its been really neat getting to see all of the projects that KWDT runs and I'm excited to help out in as many of them as possible. Right now I'm working on school sanitation and hygiene which should take most of the 2 months but I definitely want help in other areas as well.

My internet time is almost up! if there's anything you want to know just ask and I'll try to mention it next time..that was mostly a description but more stories to follow.

Love and miss you all,

Cosmo Girl in Katosi

When I first moved to the village there were a lot of miscommunications which pretty much made my first night there as bad as it could possibly be. I live on the same compound as the headquarters for the Women's Trust that we work at. Anyway we were dropped of there and then this amazing man Fred who works for the trust walked us around the village for a while. It was so sad to see the level of poverty that these people are plagued with none of the children had shoes and if they did have clothing it was all tattered and torn. Also most of them had the swollen bellies I can't remember what they are actually called but they signal malnutrition and it just broke my heart. But the village is right on Lake Victoria which is honestly the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Anyway Fred dropped us off at our house and left so Kate and I were completely alone and it was dark so we didn't want to venture out again to get food. On top of that the power was out which is pretty much an every other day thing in Katosi. The worst part is that no one warned me about the conditions I would be living in and now that I've had time to adjust they're not that bad but...we don't have running water at all. I have to get water everyday from Rain water tanks and treat the water I drink. Witht that said there is no shower, it's cold bucket style like India. The worst part is that the 'toilet' which is just a hole in the ground is outside. And there are animals everywhere. For Katosi I'm staying in the best area like the gate is locked at night so it's really safe but the bad part for me is that lots of animals live within the gate. A goat a rooster (who starts calling at 4am and stops at about 6pm), two chickens (which scares me daily), and three cats.

Anyway like I said before it's not so bad now and I've realized that this experience will be really good for me. For one I will NEVER complain about having to unload the dishwasher after having to wash my dishes after every meal outside with rainwater. My work here is amazing. I'm truly impressed with the programs that the women's group has in place and I've already started many projects of my own. Even though I live at headquarters none of my work is there :( I usually walk about 8-10 miles everyday through the jungle to get to various schools and other villages. I work with Water Sanitation and Hygiene so I have two main jobs.
1. The trust has set up 28 shallow protected wells all around the district and they are all run by members of the trust. The member are supposed to collect a small fee montly from the families who use it which equates to about 25 cents a month. So I go to each well make sure it's functioning and check the members books. I record for headquarters how many families use the well, how much it costs them, the location, and anything else I see fit.
2. I help Kate with setting up Health Committees in the local schools. The women's trust works to give rain water tanks, eco-sand latrines, and these things call tippy taps which are jerry cans which tip over when you place your foot on the wood. they are designed to be handwashing stations after bathroom use which is really cool because you don't touch them to get the water out which greatly reduces contamination. Anyway I evaluate their usage of these facilities, teach classes about hygiene, and determine which schools need more facilities or which ones they need.
On my own I have set up a project to encourage drinking clean water. I buy water guard tablets which purify the water to make it 99% safe to drink and donate them to the school I work with so the children don't drink rain water. I give them a supply to last at least 6 months and then work with their budget so they can buy the next tablets on their own.

The people I work with are great and usually so nice. The biggest problem has been the language barrier only about 3 people who I work with speak English and 0 in the village speak it so I've been learning Luganda really fast! But the people who I have met through work are the nicest people. In the village it's still really hard just because according to Fred there has never EVER been an Indian person to come there. They've had a couple white PeaceCorp volunteers but the village is literally 100% Ugandan. So when I walk out of my compound usually about 6 children chase after me and try and touch me yelling "Muzungu" which means white person! The kids aren't bad though they are really nice and thrilled if I stop and talk to them. The adults thought...the men are horrible which I pretty much expected but when I walk past everyone literally stops whatever they are doing and just stares. Sometimes they even shut the music off so they can completely concentrate on me :( I'm hoping with time that will get better.

All in all I am starting to love it here. And even if I am never completely comfortable with where I live I absolutely love my work and can really see how appreciative everyone is of what I'm doing. So even though yesterday I had to walk 10 miles to a school at the top of a mountain where the headmaster wasn't even there so I had to turn around and walk 10 miles home, I'm starting to enjoy the walks a little! Being here has made me have to get rid of my fear of bugs and being dirty to while my daily 20 mile treks are out of character I haven't lost all of myself I'm still the only one trekking through the jungle with bright pink toe nails!

The "Real" Africa--Kate at KWDT

WOW. One week through at Katosi and it continues to surprise me everyday…this is the real deal. Its tough, but this is the Africa from the movies and we are living it. Its been neat to see and experience first hand a lot of the things I learned about in classes this year about the developing world…I’m going to give just a few examples from the first week.

1.Gender differences and the burden of domestic work on women. Its clear now just how difficult life is for everyone here, but especially women. Domestic tasks that we complain about in the US are like a million times more time consuming here…there might not be power, and even so, theres no dishwashers, washing machines, or even sinks—everything is done by hand. The nurse Esther that lives next door is also a house keeper and she is literally ALWAYS working because theres always something else that needs to be done. She told us she sleeps from 12-5 every night and then works the rest of the time. That’s why I think its great that Katosi Women’s Development Trust is focused on generating an income for women. With just a small amount of money coming in (about $1.50 a day) they can make their daily life just a little bit easier.

2. Secondly, is the different conception of time. You always hear about how Americans are the only ones tied to a schedule but Ugandan’s have literally NO concept of time or efficiency (such as what should be accomplished in a work day). Which is kind of tough for me, but I’m adjusting and that’s just how life is…I think my parents would agree that a lesson in patience is probably a good thing for me  To give you an example, on Friday, we were supposed to go visit a school that Fred, our boss, said was “some distance” away. Well, “some distance” ended up being an hour and a half walk both ways through the jungle…it wasn’t that the walk was bad because it was really pretty, but when we got to the school, the man that we were supposed to meet with about sanitation and hygiene wasn’t even there! So we just looked around and walked back…he didn’t seem phased and he could totally have called the man since he had his contact info, but that’s not now business is done here. But that also means they are a lot more laid back and always ready to strike up a great conversation, which is nice. Another example of the time thing is that the taxis here are really 14 passenger vans and the will NOT move until all seats are filled, and by all seats filled, I mean at least 25 passengers on board. The more passengers, the more money for the driver so they will wait until there is absolutely no room left. Like I said, on our way to Mukono yesterday, Rhea and I counted 25 people! It was pretty crazy flying down the bumpy, dusty road with that many people and it made me really glad that I wasn’t driving

3.Another thing I’m experiencing first hand is how much we use as westerners in terms of resources. I mean I know you always see those charts where Americans use like a hundred times more water than everyone else but I’ve never been able to visualize or conceptualize that until now. In our compound, there are 3 rain water cisterns...the community can use them when they are full, but once the get low they get locked and people have to buy their water elsewhere. Since we live on site we get to use them all the time, but I’m paranoid that they will actually run out! If they do, we get our water from a pump down town and it costs about 200 shillings per jerry can (20 liters) of water. I’ve never had to think so much about conserving…I’ve even mastered taking a bucket shower with less than a bucket of water which is crazy when I think about how many gallons even a 5 minute shower takes! Its also really disheartening to see children not in school because they must collect the water for their families. Every day I see kids no older than 4 or 5 toting jerry cans back and forth from their house to the pump so that their families have enough water to bathe, wash, cook, and drink.

4.We also had been warned by the interns last year that we would stick out with light skin but its way more overwhelming than I thought. Walking into the street, everyone literally stops what they’re doingdoing to stare, and then the children start shouting MUZUNGU! Which means white person, which is pretty funny because Rhea’s Indian…Kids chase after you and want to touch your hair and a lot of time their mothers just let them while they stare. Its not like their being rude, but its just a lot to get used to. For me, they also shout “DEBORAH”, who was the name of the Peace corps volunteer before me at KWDT—I guess we look a lot alike since we’re both white  I don’t correct them and just wave anyway most of the time.

Anyway, that’s just a glimpse into the “Real Africa”…its been a crazy week but we’re adjusting well and I’m sure I’ll have more stories next time!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Home in Busia!

We had the most exciting (and cramped) drive from Kampala to Busia! Before being completely out of the sprawling city we found ourselves battling what I would describe as a monsoon. It likes to do that here. Anyways, we drove through the torrential rain and hail (which abruptly ceases after about 30 minutes), passed through an area where the road had been amost completely flooded and a car nearly flipped, and got to cross the Nile! Pulling in to New Hope at around dusk, we recieved the most amazing, inspiring welcome by the 80 plus kids that live and study at the ophanage. The car was practically mobbed, and I was thrust into a swarm of hugs, handshakes and smiles before Ken even cut the ignition. Placing chairs in the middle of the schoolyard for us, the kids began a dance they had prepared and we spent our time in awe of what amazing people they were. I have never felt so immediately loved (we hadn't even done anything!?).
It has now been three days in Busia and the love and excitement continues. We are always greeted at the gate by a crowd, and I think I have been hugged more over the past few days than in the entire past year. We've figured out our schedule for the coming months, and I will begin guiding and counseling sessions at the primary and secondary school monday. I cannot wait!

Off to the market to pick up some fresh fruit! Mwebera!

Kampala (first days at Tuhende)


How have these days flown by so quickly? We landed in Kampala only three nights ago, yet I already feel almost comfortable and at home in this bustling capital city. From the staff at Tuhende Lodge to its deeply spiritual and genial owner, Sam, and the many young Western passerbys, these three days have introduced me to many amazing people. The hectic markets and city streets have yielded the same results, as smiling faces of strangers are almost a constant, usually followed by greetings of "hello, sista" and questions of home country and, of course, the well-being of Obama (except for the guy who claimed to be Barack's brother and therefore was already aware of his status).

After returning from touring the largest Mosque in Uganda (conveniently located a block from Tuhende) which included a half hour of huddling under a church roof during a stint of torrential downpour), Maressa, Kate, Megan and I sat down with the hotel owner Sam. We talked for a long time about Uganda's past and future, and I was disappointed to hear the pessimistic opinion of Sam concerning progress, education, and pretty much everything we are working for here in Uganda. He felt that the people lack all iniciative and instead are happy in mediocracy. While he has lived in Uganda much longer than I and has had many more years to gain wisdom, I can not help but disagree.

In Uganda, will widespread corruption, there is often no reward for hard work and accomplishment. If this were to change, if the government and bureaucracy were to become more legitimate and accountable, people would have something to strive for and this lack of desire and committment that Sam described could be overcome. I am optimistic and I choose to believe that conditions can and will continue to improve. Being submerged in a society so focused on personal, human interaction over material possession gives me this hope, and makes it impossible for me to believe that this is the best that there can be.


A few updates on life here: I live with a family of four now and I fit in so wonderfully. The family is Maureen, Moses, Marica, and Maurice and of course, me! There is no running water, no indoor plumbing, my toilet is a hole in the ground and I've gotten bit my more mosquitoes than I can count, and I'm struggling to type this on a semi-working computer and internet in town but even with all of that said: I'm loving life here!!

Some exciting things to mention: We spent time in Kampala where we met so many nice people and peace corps volunteers, visited a mosque, and got caught in a torrential downpour. Life is Busia is very different from city life though. Even the journey here was interesting: we saw a baboon, crossed over the Nile, and even had to drive though a small flooded part of the road. Everyone has been so so nice and welcoming though, its been incredible. We had a welcome unlike any other that I've ever had before. When the kids at the orphanage saw our car approaching on Sunday night they were so so incredibly excited and we couldnt have been prepared for the greeting. They drug us out of the car and hugged us and told us how welcome we were and were just so wonderful. Then they took us to some chairs where they sat us down then sung to us. It was amazing. Since then we've seen the kids every day and grown so very fond of them. I didnt think falling in love would be so easy but I'm quite certain I have fallen in love with about 90 kids since Sunday.We brought them soccer balls, volleyballs, and even a frisbee. The kids love the volleyball and I don't think they had even seen a frisbee before! It is so wonderful to see them enjoying a game so much. I love just getting with them, playing with them, or just sitting and listening to them talk. We brought photos of our family and friends to show them and they loved that too! and now they also know many of the people close to me and they ask about them from time to time, haha. The kids are great. They are perhaps the most well-behaved group of people I've ever seen. They are so respectful of us and our things- when we get to the door they greet us and take our bags and set them down on the chairs and watch over them. They also ask for our cameras and then take so many photos and bring them back to us. Its so cute. I dont even need to worry about taking photos because they will for me! They are truly amazing.

We start teaching next week and we are setting the schedules today. We went to the secondary school around town and I will be taking over a math class for seconary level 2 starting next week, two days a week. Then I should be doing a younger aged math class and also I'll start working with the music group soon. I played some drums with some of the kids yesterday and they were surprised at me playing as I did- I tried to explain I study drums at school but I'm not sure they comprehend that. Either way, they loved it and I did too and now I have pictures because of the girl (Asha) who loves taking my camera for photos! haha

all for now :) more later. mwebera!

Busia Week 1

So here I am in downtown Busia at an internet cafe... it's a miracle I made it to this page at all between the virus warnings that keep popping up and the computer's tendency to freeze completly.

Other than that minor set back, things are going wonderfully here. Yesterday we met with the headmaster at New Hope to discuss our teaching schedules, and today we went to Howard Christian High School to establish when we (Grace, Maressa, and myself) will be teaching there. I am very excited because I am teaching English to primary grades 4 & 5 in the mornings and to the secondary level 1. I will have the whole class to myself and be free to generate my own curriculum and activities, even tests! Very exciting!

I spent most of yesterday teaching Samuel (a man who works at New Hope) and Brenda (an older student there) songs and dances to perform in Church on Sunday. I was very excited to share my love of singing with them, and proud that they apprecaited my efforts.

Although things have been somewhat trying here, including the water cutting off at the hotel, being locked inside the room (yes, you may laugh at me), the very limited selection of food, the 5 hour drive to Busia crammed between suitcases and duffle bags, and the never ending heat, I am throughly enjoying myself. Everyone is so kind and accomadating here, people continually bring us food (including tons of fresh pineapple!) and invite us over for tea or dinner. Everyone stops to greet you and welcome you to Uganda.

A few of the girls at New Hope shared their life stories with me about before Uncle Ken found them and brought them there. It was difficult to even bear hearing it and watching the girls cry as they recounted their painful lives. We discussed how lucky they were to have such wonderful lives now and how they will be muhc stonger women because of their trials. It was horrible but surprisingly cleansing and wonderful expereince. I think we will be working more with the girls on overcoming their lives and making sure that they don't fall victim to the diseases and circumstances that caused their mothers to leave them to such childhoods.

Anyway, off to the market to try to haggle for some fruit. Hopefully I can write more next time... on a computer without a million viruses...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Finally Taking the Leap... *sharp inhale*

I started packing my suitcase sometime in March, first there was just a few little things, like the travel journal I picked out and an extra contact case. The pile has gotten steadily larger almost daily, shifted and reorganized weekly, and most certainly weighs more than 50 lbs. Today I finally (I hope...) got everything officially situated, zipped it up, and have sworn that I will not mess with it again.

My second suitcase is a different story. It's filled with 2 tons of art supplies including 75 one-subject notebooks, at least 50 boxes of crayons, children's story collections, and enough pipe cleaners and craft sticks to build a (very colorful) bomb shelter. Where did all this stuff come from? The collection started with my wonderful mother and then spread to her office, and my community church (Bethany United Methodist). After I shared my goal of collecting a notebook for every child at New Hope to journal in and personalize, the community pulled together and made everything a reality. IT TRULY IS AMAZING! Of course I will definitely be paying a fee for that suitcase weighing more than 50lbs...

Although I am getting very excited, I mean jumping up and down, singing, reminding every near me the exact number of minutes remaining until I board the plane, there are odd moments when I get a little sad and nervous. I'm used to being on my own and spending time away from my family, but the distance from Chapel Hill to West Jefferson versus Uganda is a little intimidating. Of course there is also the ominous thought of (**sap alert**) of being away from Eli, whom I've never been away from for more than a week in the past three years, for 9 whole weeks. GASP! I have begun speaking of it in terms of the rock quarry sometimes. No matter how many times we have been, first looking over the ledge, down 40 feet into the water is scary. You get excited, you scoot up to the edge, back away, scoot back up, count to 3 several times, and then finally take the leap. Once you jump everything is fine and you actually feel quite exhilarated, but you still have to take the leap.

HERE I GO! 1...2...3.... well at least I'll be officially taking the leap on Tuesday at 2:40 pm. Think about me when I do!

Friday, May 22, 2009


"Do they take showers in Africa?"
"Do they kill babies?"
..the questions continued.

I was shocked to hear the questions of fourth grade students at a local elementary school after I finished my presentation on East Africa and Kiswahili. After traveling to Kenya in the summer of 2007 and experiencing the amazing culture and hospitality of these people, I could not fathom that generalizations of savagery were still so commonplace.

While frightening events continue to consume many countries of Africa and media attention brings to light accounts of wars, starvation, HIV/AIDS, piracy, and so much more, I cannot help but feel that many outsiders are missing such an important aspect of the story. There are problems, yes. But there is also great potential.

I am not so naive as to assume that in Busia, Uganda I will not face potential dangers that my life in Alexandria, Virginia and Chapel Hill have sheltered me from. As I promised worried parents and grandparents, I will, of course, be alert and smart with my actions. However, I hate the idea that leaving for a summer in Africa brings with it as much fear and anxiety as excitement. This was not the Africa that I experienced, and it is not the Africa that I want the world to see. Life may be different and often volatile and insecure, yet at the heart of it there are a people who care, who listen, and who welcome with open arms. I cannot wait to be introduced back in to such a personable society and am counting down the days until I will step off the plane and feel completely alive once more.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Off to Save the World

I'm leaving on Saturday - to stay a couple days with "family" in Dubai. I've never met them, so it'll be an adventure before an even bigger adventure!

These past two weeks have been incredibly busy. I stopped to say my hello's and goodbye's to everyone at least once. It was fun answering the question, "So what are you going to be doing over there?" with "Save the world!" every time since I'm not entirely sure. I am incredibly excited about this CBO though, because it seems to have all of my possible interests packed into one place. I'm not too worried that I don't already have a set agenda. I think the flexibility is freeing and exciting.

And now as I begin/finish packing I am beginning to get anxious, as is everybody. A million things to do and one day left. I feel like I'm going to get over there without anything and everything even though I've been packing for a week. Right now my main concerns are the immediate about traveling by myself and if my iPod will hold battery through the whole plane ride. Perhaps my 12 hour flight will give me time to take in the gravity of an experience I've been dreaming about for years.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Heading up and moving out...

Its been less than 2 weeks at home since exams ended and I've already grown bored at home, so its definitely time for me to leave for Uganda. This entire experience is going to be an incredible adventure, and I'm so lucky to have a chance to do something like this. That being said, like everyone else, I'm pretty nervous too. Preparing for this trip over the course of the year has been an emotional roller coaster, at times more excited than nervous, sometimes vice versa...but now the excitement is building. I can say one thine for certain: I put more time and energy into this summer's plans than ever before, and now that everything has fallen into place, I can't wait to get started!

Like alot of what the others have posted, my family and friends are pretty worried, which only adds to my anxiousness. It was my sister's graduation this past weekend so alot of my family was in town, and needless to say, not a conversation went by without someone expressing some concern about my wellbeing and saftey this summer. While its nice to know that they care (alot) about my saftey, it almost makes me more nervous when they bring up questions and concerns that haven't even crossed my mind. One of the most difficult things is explaining to loved ones that no, I don't know exactly what I'm getting myself into this summer. The best I can promise is that I'll be smart and use good judgement, but I know thats not enough to settle nerves. For me, the graduation was also bittersweet in that I was reminded how much I will miss my family this summer. My extended family is really close and this will be the first summer ever that I haven't spent months living with my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all together. I'm glad I got to see everyone before I leave, but it was hard to think about not being with everyone this summer.

Luckily, alot of my extra energy generated by the excitement and nervousness has been able to be channeled into endless preparations for the trip. I've been to Target and REI at least 4 times each, and probably will go 4 more times before Monday. I love making lists so this trip has been just one big exuse to make tons of them: to do lists, to get lists, to pack lists, check lists...you name it :) Casey and Lea have been SO helpful answering any and all questions, I'm not sure what we'd do without them. Deborah, the peace corps volunteer who has been in Katosi for a while has also been incredibly helpful...its been really nice to communicate with someone in a similar situation, especially since no one else from AGRADU has gone to Katosi before.

So now after months of anticipation, I'm off, but not exactly sure as to what awaits me. From my job description with Katosi it looks like I'll be working in schools alot, which is really exciting because I love working with kids. When people ask, I tell them I'm doing an internship in health behavior eduaction, which is what I've pieced together from the e-mails, but won't know for sure until I get there, get settled, and meet Margaret and the other amazing women for the first time. It kind of worries me that I don't know exactly what I'll be doing since I'm someone that likes to be busy and productive so I think that this summer will definitely be a personal challenge in patience, flexibility, and self-reliance...but I'm ready for the challenge to begin!

The Adventures of Cosmo Girl-Part I

"I'm Rhea and I'm ready to take my place as the smallest and cutest person in Africa. I'm worried that I may need a third suitcase for my new evening gown collection and I hope to become even smaller and cuter, if possible. Kisses!!! xoxoxoxo Rhea"

According to Seth that's what my first post is supposed to say...and sadly it's pretty accurate :/ I'm so excited I can't even begin to describe it but I'm also really scared. Mostly about how I'm going to get all of my stuff from the airport to the hotel! I have spend the past two weeks like Shane rushing around trying to buy everything and fit it into two 50 lbs suitcases. Which by the way is ridiculous how am I supposed to fit enough stuff for 9 weeks in two suitcases? But anyway some how I managed.

I honestly can't wait it blows my mind that in one week I will be in Kampala and a few days after that I will be moving into my own cottage in Katosi. Honestly I'm not entirely clear on what I will be doing but I know that I am working mostly in the office helping with bookkeeping and checking the efficiency of Katosi's Water Sanitation Programs. I'm just excited to start even if I had to clean houses I would be excited about going to Uganda I've always wanted to work in Africa and I can't wait to get there.

I'm not sure how my 9 weeks in Uganda will go but I do know one thing for sure, after I leave the women of Katosi Uganda will be equipt with many skills which will be invaluable to their lives. After I'm gone those women will be able to give the BEST mani/pedis in Africa.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"I bless the rains down in Africa"

There is no end to preparation for a trip like the one I am about to begin in Uganda. From filling prescriptions, to finding good teaching tools, to copying documents, it feels like the pre-departure work never ends. It's really hard to believe that in about a weeks time from I will finally by on my way.

I'm so excited and so very ready to go. It feels like everything has just fallen into place. Yes, I'm stressed about making sure everything is ready to go, but I know the feeling of getting on that first (of many) plane will be such a relief.

The reality of leaving is one that hasn't taken too large of a toll on me yet, though I wish I could say the same of some of my family and friends. I think my biggest worries right now are just getting everything in order to leave and then being prepared enough for the children at the orphanage when I get there. Of course, I want to do the best job possible for them while I'm there but without knowing really what to expect, preparing for it is very difficult. I only hope I'm a good teacher to them. Though I'm sure they'll probably end up teaching me much more than I could ever teach them.

As I prepare for this journey, it makes me re-examine my entire life and think of everything I have to be so extremely grateful for. Not only this experience, but everything God has given me - from my beautiful family to my Chapel Hill education. Though it seems as I think about the summer and what lies ahead... I can't seem to get Toto's "Africa" out of my mind. Thank you Clef Hangers :)

Anticipation of a New Adventure

At the moment there is almost too much to do get done to stop and consider the fact that I will be leaving the US in five days. Moving out of the apartment, purchasing supplies for the summer, and making copies of every document in my name is turning out to be quite a project. At the same time, a sense of nervous anticipation is moving to the forefront of my mind as the departure date arrives. I think that as everything comes together this feeling will be replaced by total excitement (at least I hope).

My greatest fear about the trip is not being accepted by the Kasese community, and dismissed as a muzungu. In hopes that this does not happen I am excited to get to know my co-workers at CETRUD whom Lea has told me wonderful things about. I hope to bond with these people and learn as much as I can from them in my short time in Kasese. Although I am not entirely sure what I am going to be working on this summer I feel ready to take on whatever is thrown my way. I look forward to learning first hand about Ugandan culture and language. I am ready to learn about the programs that CETRUD offers to the community, and get a feel for grassroots operations that make a big impact in people's lives.

Perhaps more than anything else right now I want to see the Rwenzori Mountain that I have seen so many pictures of, and eat some matooke!

The Final Countdown

I've been running around like a mad man trying to get everything together for my summer in Uganda. Much to everyone's surprise I have started packing well in advance for a summer that is sure to bring adventures and surprises. I'm exited for my experience, but more appropriately...I'm anxious. I have my thoughts of what this summer will bring but I know that i am completely underestimating what I will experience in the next 10 weeks.

It's funny to tell people what I'll be spending my summer doing; they all give me a look of surprise and then it never fails the next comment is always, "did you get all your shots?" Cracks me up every time.

As for what I will be doing when I'm over there...that's a good question. All I know now is that I will be working in a CBHP (Community Based Health Programme) with young men and women with HIV/AIDS. I'll be meeting with the director when I get there to figure out where I fit best and what exactly my interest are and what skills I want to learn and develop while I am there. It's neat to think of what I am going to do while I am there, but to be completely honest...the things I do for them will be much less then what they do for me. I'm excited to see where this summer takes me.

Fears, Hopes, Excitement

With one week left to go before I leave, it is finally hitting me that I will be in Uganda for the majority of the summer. After taking about an hour to go through previous posts, the threat of malaria seems a lot more real and the problems seem a lot more daunting. While the idea that my problem-solving in Uganda will amount to more than just a grade is scary, perhaps it's scarier that my problem-solving in Uganda may amount to nothing. Many of last year's interns voiced frustration over how little they could accomplish but I suppose that's more a realization that 8-9 weeks is not as long to a country as it is to an intern far away from home.

I'm hoping, as I stated repeatedly in my interview for this internship, that I will see and pet a variety of exotic animals. I'm also hoping that I can find a way to be productive there. Beyond that, I'm hoping I don't catch malaria or anything else.

Regardless, I'm excited to go to what sounds like the complete opposite of my hometown, Richmond, Virginia. 1 week!