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 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!