Monday, March 1, 2010

Unexpected Goodbyes

Hey all, I have an unfortunate announcement: Peacecorps has decided to medically separate me and send me back to the states. I have not full recovered from whatever is plaguing my kidneys. I've been to the doctor numerous times and had several tests but they have not been able to properly diagnose me. Therefore, PC has decided to send me back the states so I can get better treatment. This means that as of Wednesday, when I'll be on a plane heading back, I will no longer be a PC volunteer. Also unfortunate is the fact that, since I'm being sent back for medical reasons, this means my service is over. If I want to return to Uganda as a PCV after I've regained my health, I need to do the entire process over again. So, I've been in Uganda for 13 months and been a volunteer for 10. It's not the way I wanted to end my service, but there's nothing I can do. The decision has been made. I'm a little disappointed at the moment, so I'll post again when I'm in a better mood. I do want to tell you all how I've felt about my service. So, thanks for following and I'll be in the same country with you soon. TTFN-

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Anniverasary: Fans on Fire, R. Kelly is not, Back-to-School

HAPPY 1-YEAR ANNIVERSARY!!! That’s right, I’ve been in Uganda for one whole year today! All I can say to that is wow. I have to admit, during the first week at Lweza, before training, I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for this. It could have been that my first time out of the country would be for two years or it could have been that after a few of the current volunteers had talked about what to watch out for, I had been pretty much convinced that I was going to be over-charged to take a fake taxi that had people who were going to rob me and then turn me into a ritual sacrifice before I was even able to become an official volunteer. Not sure which of those caused the most alarm, but it’s sufficient to say that I was a liiiiitle on edge. However, here I am a year later, comfortably updating my blog from an internet cafĂ© in Jinja that has relatively fast internet speed. I would say that that is definitely an accomplishment to be noted. Ok, now that it has been noted, let’s move on to what’s been going on in the month or so since I regaled you with my S. African adventures.
As those of you know who judged me most ungraciously on Facebook, I went to the R. Kelly concert at the end of January. And, I have to say that it was not worth it at all. First, the line to get into the stadium was over a block long, and it wasn’t even a proper line! It was all clumpified, meaning it was probably ten times longer than it actually looked. So, we waited in line for about an hour and half before getting in, having missed all of the opening acts (by local artists). The concert lasted about one hour. Yep, that’s it, one hour. R. Kelly did not sing one complete song the entire time. He would sing a stanza and a refrain, then move on to the next song. Sucked, sucked, sucked!! Oh, and my phone was stolen as I was getting into the stadium. Picked right from my pocket! So, I am currently on my third phone. I think that’s about normal for a PCV. I’m hoping that’ll be the last time I have to replace the phone, but I do have another year here, so we’ll see what happens.
It is very hot here. Thanks to the thermometer that Dad gave me, I can tell at any time what temp. I’m roasting in: at least 95 in the shade and ~105 in the sunlight. Unfortunately, the fan that had been saving my sanity and sweat glands caught fire and subsequently broke. It had been a little finicky lately, only turning on if I positioned the cord at the right angle to the head (the thing that actually plugs in). Well, one night while trying to find the desired position, I saw a suspicious glow inside the cord. It was orange. Now, my common sense told me that it was probably a bad thing for my white cord to be glowing orange. However, my practical senses told me that it was unbearably hot in the room and the fan needed to be on in order for me to sleep. Then, my fan threw a hissy and decided to do what it wanted, regardless of the evil consequences. The wires in the cord began shooting sparks, the cord itself started melting and turning black and there was a mini fire on the cord. Needless to say, I decided it was in everybody’s best interest not to burn my house down for a crotchety old fan. So, the fan is now deceased, though it taunts me from its corner because I’m not quite sure how to dispose of it. Fear not though! I new fan will be replacing it soon.
The tap outside of where I live is not really working these days. If there’s electricity, it will usually turn on around 7am and stay on for 10-15 minutes. Not enough time to sleep in and not enough water to fill all the empty jerry cans. Consequently, I’ve been frequenting the local boar hole. Let me tell you, when you all next see me, I am going to have the wickedest biceps you’ve ever seen! Those boar holes are not for the faint of hear, or muscle. First I pump, then I carry the jerry cans. It sucks, and I hate doing it, but I decided long ago that I prefer to be clean then covered in a layer of sweat and questionable substances that flew on me as cars pass me on the bike.
Classes started the first week in February. I’m following the students I had last year, so I’ll be teaching S2 Maths, S3 and S6 bio. This term, I’m sharing my S3 class with another teacher, so we’ll see how that goes. The first week was used for the students to check in. Last week was the first week of actual teaching. I’m very happy to be in the classroom again! The students are getting used to my accent again, but in general, their comprehension of me is good. Next week is beginning of term exams, so there will be no classes. I’m also on duty, which means that I’m a slave to the school for the next week. I’m thinking that it will be easier to be on duty when the students are taking exams because all I have to do is make sure that the exams are taken. Otherwise, I usually suck at being on duty. I’m definitely not the worse but, let’s just say that I’m not that close to the top.
This term, I’m trying to get together a school football team. I was supposed to have practice on Tuesday and Thursday last week, but due to unforeseen difficulties, they won’t officially start until the week after exams. However, last Thursday, there was a PE class in which I was able to at least get the ball out. The girls really enjoyed playing and some of them looked as if they know what they were doing. In Uganda, the athletic teams don’t play a different school every week like they do in America. Instead, there is a single tournament that is held near the end of the term. It starts from the district and then reaches nationals. I’ve talked to teacher in charge of sports and she said that our district doesn’t have a tournament scheduled because it’s relatively new (three years! Not that new…). I’m going to try and find out more information. If there’s no way to get them into the competition, then we may just invite other schools to come over and play. I think it’s important for the girls to play against teams from other schools, so they can see the different levels of skill that are possible.
Alright, that’s all I have time to write. I’m meeting a fellow PCV to celebrate our anniversary. Of course, by celebrate, I mean eat all the western food and sweets we can possibly fit into ourselves, and then a little more. Love and miss you all! TTFN!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cereal with cold milk, toasted cheese sandwhiches and movie theatre popcorn

Hello All! Greetings from the South Africa sickie who will soon be returning to her Ugandan homeland!!! That’s right! I’ve gotten the all clear from Washington and will going back to Uganda within the next couple of days. There was a chance that I was going to be sent back to the States, but I’m happy to say that that crisis was averted. I’m very excited to be getting back and can’t wait to start preparing for the upcoming term. So, I bet you’re wondering what I’ve been doing since I’ve graced this country with my presence. Well, here are the highlights of my med evac trip:
I arrived in SA Dec. 17, so I’ve been here three weeks. I saw a specialist, who determined that I had kidney stones, that’s right people, more than one. The stone on my left side was what was causing all the problems because of its ginormous size (7-10mm). I had surgery, where they removed the stone (Dec. 23). Of course, I asked to keep the stone as a souvenir and they gave me the smaller parts that weren’t needed for analysis. I had arrived in country with a string of battery powered Christmas lights that had been given to me by another volunteer. I proceeded to drape these, alternately, on my hospital bed and myself. Hey, if I have to be in the hospital so close to Christmas, there is going to be some sort of festivity, whether provided by the hospital or by myself! I was released on Christmas day, went to lunch with Dr. Cedric, the PC APCMO and watched Christmas movies when I got back to my room. All in all, Christmas was not the lonely train wreck I thought it was going to be. It turned out to be quite pleasant.
In the three weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve been taking advantage of things that are not readily available in Uganda. I was showering twice a day for the first week because the water pressure is amazing (I have not had water pressure since being in Uganda). There is a TV with a movie channel(!) is my room, meaning I’ve probably killed all the brain cells I managed to grow back from my last 10 non-TV months. I’ve been to three malls, which have blown my mind. The first time I went to a mall, I knew I had a problem when I couldn’t stop smiling, just because I was in an actual, real life mall. I’ve seen a few movies and walk to the PC office for their lightning fast internet. Dr. Cedric took me to a nature reserve, where I saw some zebras and giraffes, up close and personal. I was also unaware of the length of the trip and managed to burn off the top layer of skin on my face, neck and collar bone area. Right now, I look like I’m suffering from a painful skin disease, as it’s peeling off in a non-uniform layer. This means that I have a new found respect for people who still hang out with me and complete adoration for those who pretend like I don’t look like a leper. While I’ve been here, I’ve also caught up so very necessary food options. There is KFC (which might possible be better here than in the US, but I don’t know how objective that opinion is…) and McDonald’s, so I’ve been hitting those up as much as possible (and paying for it later). There is also ice cream, cheese and milk galore, so those have been amply ingested, along with a smattering of candy bars and movie theatre popcorn. You have to get it in while you can!! And I’m absolutely not ashamed, though my body has been punishing me for the excessive intake of processed foods. However, it is a price I am always ready and willing to take. Damn the digestive gods, I tell you, damn them all!!
On Monday, I had my follow-up appt. with Doctor P. and everything went well. He said there was no reason I shouldn’t be able to go back to site health wise. I just need to make a few dietary adjustments and drink water like it’s nobody’s business. These are all completely doable, so I don’t foresee any immediate problems.
So, that’s been my life for the last few weeks. I had fun but am definitely ready to return to my life in Uganda, even if it means less chicken and more pancakes. Hope you all had nice holidays! Until next time-

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Goin' down under

Ok, so I’m not actually going to Australia, the real down under, but I’m going to the southern most country in Africa, so it’s the African down under. That’s right, it’s official. I’m being sent to South Africa for more tests. As of right now, I’m doing just ok. I actually had a really good weekend until Sunday night, when I passed a kidney stone with the oh-so-powerful extra strength Ibuprofen. Yeah, in case you didn’t get that sarcasm, the Ibuprofen didn’t do anything but I survived. I went to the clinic yesterday, where they scanned my abdomen and showed me a nice picture of the rock that is slowly making its way through my urinary tract. The scan specialist and I actually have a relationship now because I’ve been going there so often. In fact, when she found the stone, she just started laughing and pointed it out to me. She asked my why they were so fond of me, to which I was thinking that the feeling is definitely not mutual. All I can say is that it’s not fair that I should have to go through pain that is supposed to be near to that of birthing a child and all I get is a stupid rock. What the heck am I supposed to do with a rock that is obviously too small to use as a weapon and would probably disintegrate upon contact? Anyway, I’m being shipped of on Thursday morning and I don’t have a date of return yet. Hopefully, they will be able to remove any more kidney stones that may be inhabiting my body and fix any other things that have decided to be difficult.
Ok, now for the more fun parts of the weekend. There was a Jica-PC event in Masaka this past weekend that was arranged and hosted by the volunteers. Jica is a Japanese volunteer organization that is very similar to PC. There are probably as many Jica volunteers in country as PCVs. On Saturday morning, there was a football (soccer) match. It was the most fun I’ve had in a while!! As someone who hasn’t been active for the past three weeks, I was a little nervous I’d be on the field for all of a minute before my lungs gave out. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my lungs were working pretty well and I was able to play in both halves of the games (not the whole time of course, come on, let’s be realistic here). For some of the time that I wasn’t playing, I acted as a ref. It’s always nice to have a whistle of power! After the football game, we played American football, powder puff style. I was QB, which BTW is a very stressful position to play, with people running at you while you have to find someone who’s open to throw the ball too and hope that the other team doesn’t realize that you tend to throw it to the same area every single time because you’re too stressed out to switch it up. The final sport of the day was baseball. I was going to sit this one out, and had even bathed, but I felt like they needed a left hander with no glove and a possible hand-eye coordination handicap. While we dominated football, the Jica’s dominated us in baseball. I was barefoot and the first time I ran to first base, I slipped, fell on my back and slid into the base. I like to think that from a distance, it looked like I purposely slid into the base in a cool, calm and collected way. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s how it happened; no way I fell, what with all the grace I posses! The day ended with a dance party. I did my thing on the dance floor and then proceeded to die around midnight or one (which is about 4 hours past my usual bedtime; ask any PCV and they will tell you that they are in bed by 8:30pm). I died because my body severely rejected and punished me for all the activity. I was sore for a couple of days and barely able to move. However, it was totally worth it and I’d do it again!! On Sunday, I just watched the ultimate frisbee game and proceeded to sun burn my forehead and nose. Yeah, apparently I still haven’t learned the importance applying sunscreen in an equitorial region. So, my nose is peeling, which is really annoying and slightly gross.
So, that’s what’s been happening/is happening now. Hopefully, I’ll get to a computer before Christmas, but if not, MERRY, MERRY CHRISTMASS!!! (or as we say it here, HAPPY CHRISTMAS!) Enjoy the snow if you have it and listen to many Christmas songs : ) Love and miss you guys! TTFN!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Good Food and exteneded Kampala Holiday

Hello All! This is me updating my blog before you think I’ve been swallowed up. So, I have good things and some not so good things but, no worries, everything will be A-OK!
First, I had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I celebrated it in Tororo with ~20 other volunteers. We had the magnificent feast on the Saturday following the actual holiday. I made apple pie, which is a holiday classic and tradition. There was no pie pan to be found, so my pie was actually baked in a square, glass casserole dish. Even though it was not round, the pie was very yummy. All the volunteers contributed a dish, so we had quite a feast. The final count was (homemade) mac-and-cheese, fried chicken, Amish bread, stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, mashed irish (regular) potatoes, vegetable kabobs, vegetable medley (I helped to cut the carrots! And then lied when they asked if I had washed them… they looked clean enough and nobody got sick!), and pumpkin-apple soup (absolutely delicious, it tasted almost like cider). Then, there was the dessert table. I had cheated and already used my second stomach, which most of you know I reserve for desserts, to get a second plate of mac-and-cheese, so I was bursting at the seams. However, Thanksgiving is all about eating until you want to die and then eating a little bit more until you actually die or fall into a food coma. Oh yeah, and being thankful too : ) Besides, one cannot pass up homemade desserts in this country because they are very few, far between and the smell alone makes you lose control. So, our dessert table had cheesecake with chocolate drizzled on it, apple pie, cherry pie, chocolate cake, brownies, frosting, and banana pudding with dolce de leche (which I’m pretty sure is French for caramel) topping. And, some very nice sangria was made, where I also helped in cutting the fruit for it. All in all, it felt like Thanksgiving. Everybody was in the kitchen, cooking, helping, washing or shouting. I couldn’t have asked for more and I’m very thankful for all the friends that I’ve made here. They have, truly, become my second family.
The term has officially ended and all my girls are back home for holiday. I gave my exams and graded them all before I had to go to Kampala. After grading them, and comparing them to the beginning of term exams, I was a little disappointed at first because they were a bit lower. I thought that maybe I hadn’t spent enough time teaching or that I had gone to fast. However, I ran into one of the students in my S1 math class. She asked me what the high score was and I told her. She was very impressed and said, “Well taught.” And that was all it took to lift me out of my funk. Really, the scores and the average of the students are not, and should not, be the only indicator of success. My girls are getting scores that they hadn’t gotten before. The high score in my class is higher than the average. I should be happy that the girls are really and truly trying. They are now comfortable enough with me that they ask questions when they don’t understand, as opposed to nodding absently. I have more girls participating in class then when I first began. So, even though the scores aren’t what I hoped for, this last term was still a success. I’m trying my best and so are the girls and that’s really all you can ask.
So, that’s the good stuff, now for the not so good. I’ve actually been in Kampala for the last week and a half for medical reasons. I originally came the weekend of the 21st to cheer people on in the annual Kampala marathon. The following Monday, I went to the PCMO (PC nurses) to get checked out because I had been having kidney pains. Now, I just had a UTI at the end of October, so I was expecting to just be given the drugs and go on my merry little way. That, however, was not meant to be. I will not go into the details because I don’t think you all are interested in the specificities of my body functions, but it was not a UTI and the pain in the kidneys has noticeably increased. But, they still do not know what it is. This, combined with a blood test and the fact that I have peed the entire rainbow (except for the most beloved colour yellow!) means that I am most likely (~90%) being sent to South Africa for more tests. Now, there’s no need to worry. Hopefully, I will be back here for Christmas, but I just wanted to give a general FYI. So, the good thing is that I get to tick another country off my list and I can investigate World Cup things.
So, that is what’s happening right now. I’ll let you all know if something changes but, I’m not dying and beside the kidney tenderness, I don’t feel sick at all. Hope you all enjoyed Black Friday shopping! As always, miss and love you all!!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Swine Flu, Hannah Montana and Cramped Legs

Hello to all! I know I've been bad in updating lately, but I'm here and ready to impress you with all the exciting happenings of my life the past month and a half. Ok, maybe not so much on the exciting side, but at least vaguely interesting : )
Something interesting: Swine Flu has started making a dent in Uganda. I know there have a been a lot of people infected with it in the States already, but it is just beginning to get a foot hold here. And, people are terrified! I think it's more because of lack of information about what actually happens upon infection, than of the flu itself. Anyway, the government has been trying to quarantine it to the few spots that the virus has managed to make itself known. This has met with limited success. There were two schools that became infected with it outside of the initial infected area. As a result, all visitation days were cancelled, which caused major difficulties. A large number of students attend boarding schools, meaning they are at school the entire term and only see their families during visitation days, if then. These are important days not only because the students can see a family member but also because they are re-supplied for the rest of the term: pocket money, snacks, essentials (toothpaste, pads, soap) and school fees, among others. As a result of the decree, students were somewhat panicked because they had to make due with the little they had and school were panicked because they were without means of getting owed money. Without the money, some schools may have to close early because they don't have the means of taking care of the students (aka food). It was interesting to me because many of the problems that arose as a result of the canceled visitation days would never have occurred to me. It just shows how one difference can have many repecussions.
The last week of October, I had Life Skills training in Kampala. We were told to bring a counter part from site, so I brought a fellow teacher, Madame Kwaga Godia. I chose her especially because she's an assertive, smart and opinionated woman, whom I thought would get the most out of the training and be most likely to want to use what we learn at our school. I should probably explain what life skills means before going into the details of the training. Basically, when PCVs talks about life skills, we're talking about giving people the ability to use the knowledge and resources available to them to lead a healthy, positive lifestyle. One of the big problems here is not the lack of knowledge, though that can be a contributing factor, but the inability to use the knowledge to make good decisions. If you ask any student about living healthy while in school, they will spout off a whole list things to do or avoid: delay sex until marriage, don't accept gifts, HIV/AIDS kills, complete you studies etc. However, if you were to ask, what would you do if your boyfriend pressures you for sex? Or can you get HIV/AIDS through kissing? Many students would not know. They have a list of facts that have been pushed on them since primary school, but the great majority of them have no idea how to connect the facts with their actual life. The Life Skills Manual, which is made by PC and is an excellent, excellent resource, has a variety of interactive game and activities that tries to bridge this gap. It tells stories culturally, so the target group (primary/secondary students, youths, etc.) understand and asks questions that forces them to think instead of memorize and apply instead of recite. During the training, specific activities were chosen out of the book and the volunteers, with their counterparts, did them. The first day was led by the facilitators and the rest of the week, each of the sessions was led by a different PCV and their counterpart. Godia and I did a session on Danger Signs and rape. It was an interesting session because the Ugandan and American takes on rape are different, both in the judicial sense and cultural sense. For example, what we call statutory rape they call defilement. Here, if someone is actually convicted (which happens rarely), rape is life imprisonment and defilement is death sentence. Yes, an intense subject but enlightening as well. Understanding how things are viewed differently here than in America is an important step in adapting to life. Godia and I each got a copy of the Life Skills Manual and are excited about doing activities at our school.
In the middle of training, Wednesday, we had a Halloween celebration, with a rockstar theme. It was aaawesome! I was dressed as (drumroll please) Hannah Montana! Yeah, I know you all are very surprised at my choice of costume but I like to keep it real. As you may imagine, it was impossible to find a blond wig in this country, so I ended up with pieces of yellow yarn arranged on my head in what I thought was a passable wig. However, upon picture inspection the next day, it was concluded that I looked more like an incomplete, color challenged Raggedy Ann doll. Oh well, I give myself Kudos for tryin'!! Also, Celeste and I were in charge of the music for the night and accepted our DJing post with gusto. On the whole, I'm going to say that our music stylings were highly appreciated and any negative comments were conveniently drowned out by the playing music.
At the end of training, I stayed in Kampala for a few days with my engaged neighbors, Nulu and Hussein. In Uganda, there are several steps that are taken before two people are happily wedded. They each need to be introduced to their families (informally first), the bride price needs to be decided, the dates for the introduction and wedding ceremony agreed upon and then that actual ceremonies need to take place. It is a long, and somewhat laborious, process. I will explain later what happens during the introduction ceremony, but for right now, just know that it needs to take place before there can be a traditional wedding. On the weekend following training, I was invited to attend the meeting that would decide the dates of the introduction and wedding. Hussein's family was supposed to arrive at 1pm (didn't get there until 2:30pm) and Nulu's family spent the whole day cooking. I'm happy to say that I earned my keep and peeled matooke, helped with fruit salad and with making juice. During the actual meeting, which was in Runyolee, I sat on the floor, listened for the occasional English world and tried not to fidget too much. However, the floor is a most uncomfortable place to sit for 2½ hours, so there was a lot of adjusting of the legs whenever they fell asleep, which was quite often. Eventually, I sat cross legged, even though I wasn't sure if that was culturally appropriate. However, since I wasn't flashing anybody and none of the men, all of whom got to have chairs, responded to my mental frustrations and cursings by offering me one, I figured it was ok. In the end, January 10th was decided as the date for both ceremonies and we ended the meeting by stuffing ourselves silly. So, on January 10th, I'll be going to my first Ugandan introduction and wedding.
Upon returning from Kampala, I finished teaching my classes. I use “finish” in a loose interpretation of the word. It was more like I was forced to stop teaching because of the end of term exams. I am far from finished with my subjects and my only goal next year is to have them caught up! So, right now, the students are taking exams and I am contemplating how I'm going to spend my two months (!) of holiday. That is a lot of Rachael time and, as entertaining as I know I can be, I will eventually get tired of having only myself as company. I know. Hard to believe but, trust me, it will happen. So, I'm planning on doing a lot of traveling around Uganda during holiday. There are a lot of PCVs spread throughout the country, so it'll be a nice little adventure. I'll be celebrating Thanksgiving that weekend in Tororo. There's going to be a nice group of us here and I am very excited about the food prospects. I predict it'll be the best meal I've had since getting to Uganda. Not that I'm anticipating too much : ) Personally, I'll be making apple pie. I know it's a big leap, especially considering my cooking history, but you'll be happy to know I'll have access to a toaster oven and will be supervised. So, no fires in the kitchen!
That's all I've got for now! I promise to make a better effort at keeping you all informed of the going ons over here. Love and miss you all and Happy early Thanksgiving!!
PS- Lauren, I got your card and I laugh everytime I open it! You are very much forgiven and thanks for making my day a little more fun : )

Friday, October 9, 2009

Dedicated to my sister, Shannon (she knows why!)

Hey all, I just wanted to give you my new phone number: 075-708-6861. The same applies to this one as the last. You need to put in the country code, which is 011256, and then my phone number, omitting the first zero. I have a new number becuase my other phone was either lost or stolen. I'm not 100% sure which, but I'm more inclined toward the stolen. It was a brand new phone!! Seriously. My old phone had flew out of my bag when I was riding to school and got a crack in the screen. So, I decided to buy a new one, which I did in Tororo. However, it didn't even make it back to my town! In less than 4 hours, my phone was gone and I was forced to buy a new sim card and return to my battered one. So, in protest, I've decided not to buy another phone until Christmas. Oh yes, this will teach a lesson to anybody who tries to steal my phone, because it's not me who's suffering with this peice of junk, but anybody who decides to take it. Hahaha! Haha! Ha.