Thursday, August 15, 2013

Reflections After A Year...

Holy cow! It has officially been more than a year of my Peace Corps service in Uganda.  Everyone says this is the hardest time for most volunteers and I have to agree.  You feel like you have been here forever, but that you still have a long way to go (although the countdown to COS conference has begun: 7 months to go!).  You feel like you haven’t gotten as much done as you thought you might when you were first applying, dreaming of saving the world (a feat I now know will take much more than one girl at a food factory for 2 years.)  You generally just feel tired of being on display all of the time, people expecting so much out of you simply because you are white, and in general constantly tired. We could also reflect on the number of illness (mostly diarrhea based) I have had here compared to the US (maybe one cold a year), but that would just be cruel.   In addition to the regular MST problems, my boyfriend who had become a source of sanity for me had to go back to the states in May and even worse my Lunatic, my kitten died after a run in with some dogs.   Luna dying is the single worst thing that happened to me in my service. Sure John leaving was very upsetting, but he is still alive and in December we are going to Europe together and then he is coming back here, so not too difficult.  Luna is gone for good.
However, I feel myself on the upswing already as I prepare for another friend’s visit and another camp (my last one I think).  In the world of work, I am also preparing for World Food Day, trying to come up with new products while marketing the old, preparing for another project (hopefully!) to start either right before I leave for Europe or right after.  I find myself becoming more positive once again and find myself going and staying at the office much more.  So don’t worry people, it is getting better again.
Some things I found out in my first year of service:
1.       America is awesome.  I used to complain all the time about America, but now I feel like I am always going to go all out for the Fourth of July.  Yes, I am still aware that our country has problems, but we are all most fortunate to have been born in the United States.  We have so many luxuries and rights that we take for granted every day.  The knowledge that your food has passed some sort of standards test.  They have them here as well, but it is not a requirement, just a recommendation.  Or the pedestrian right away OR having the same number of people as seat belts in a car OR the general regard for safety and human life that we don’t notice until it is taken away from us.  For example, a taxi driver speeding at 120 km/hr with about 10 people in his Toyota when asked to slow down responds “Eh if Jesus means for us to die today, it will happen.”  It is this sort of nonsense that makes me appreciate America.   Or how about appliances that have become so common we don’t even think about them; refrigerators, washing machines, etc… are still uncommon luxury items here (I don’t have any of them)
2.       Americans can be really cold.  We do not talk to strangers, we do not greet people or wish them a nice day, we do not strike up random conversations with people on public transport.  All of those things are common here.  In fact, you would probably be considered quite rude if you did not greet people on the street (something on that my worse days I have definitely done).   A lot of the time, this can be annoying, especially since it is amplified with calls of mzungu or my size or whatever else.   It can also be nice, like when people are willing to go out of their way to help you or people are genuinely just happy to see you for no reason at all.
3.       Americans should have to travel to the developing world to graduate college.  It gives you a completely different perspective on yourself, your country, and the world in general.  It makes you think about what really matters and what you can and cannot really live without (i.e. you CAN live without running water or electricity, but you CANNOT live without access to clean water of some kind).  I know I have both running water and electricity, but sometimes they are just gone for days/weeks at a time.  There is no calling the water/electric companies because they cannot/will not do anything about it.  In addition, I’m pretty sure my piped water is from a lake on top of a hill that my village set up itself somehow.  I keep being told that National Water had nothing to do with it. So you wait until they come back, prioritize what you need (drinking water) versus what you don’t (bathing daily goes down the drain real quick), and just hope they come back sooner rather than later.  In many situations I often find myself inquiring “What would happen if this occurred in America” often the response is “uproar” where in Uganda we just wait…
4.        International Aid is ridiculous.  How the US gives out aid is improving and Peace Corps is kind of on the right track in my opinion (although their resources are very limited).   We should never be just giving things out, which is often exactly what happens.  Yes, there are extreme circumstances such as war, genocide, refugee camps, etc…but Uganda does not fit into those.  Uganda and countries like it should never be just given anything.  First, the government is so corrupt that any aid or money going to the government almost never reaches the target populations.  Second, years of handouts without accountability has taught many people (*cough* cough* many men) that you don’t have to work or do anything really to get by.  Food and clothes are freely given out, so why would you buy them.  Why would you work?  This is also furthered by the fact that the weather here is wonderful (shelter is not a necessity as it would be in say Mongolia) and everything grows in this region.  Handouts also can destroy local economies in that area.  Why pay a tailor when the US or Europe is sending free clothes?  Again, this is changing; I see a lot of people selling former US clothes now, which is a step in the right direction (also a great way to find cheap clothing). Skills and time in the places that need it most (the rural villages) are better forms of aid.  The Peace Corps is doing this, but it is probably one of the least funded forms of aid.  Instead, USAID, PEP-FAR, and all those organizations just give crap out or start projects that are not feasible in the village context.   They would never know because most NGO’s are based in Kampala and rarely travel to the very rural areas.  Many of these organizations are beginning to move away from that and work with Peace Corps volunteers or hire former PCVs on the ground for these initiatives, but it is still a problem.  People don’t feel responsible for their own country anymore.  My organization is a great one to invest in: it is a business, but it has a corporate social responsibility program (set up before I came!), it provides work to many local women and youth directly, but also indirectly offers local farmers a stable market for the produce.  Investment in organizations like mine that are dedicated to moving their community forward would be money well spent.  Make my organization stable and profitable and they will change their community themselves.  They have already started, but the effects can be (and are) growing.  Third, our forms of aid are not even cost effective.  They are so caught up in shipping, packaging, and other businesses that they are profitable for those business, but at the expense of government money (aka taxpayers).  Localizing aid and focusing on skills not things would be much more cost effective and successful.  Once again, big business takes money from the little people… Fourth and finally, what happens when/if something big happens in the western world.  Do you think Europe or the US is ever going to continue aid at the expense of its own country?  Absolutely Not!  If it came down to it, the US would pull aid out of these countries immediately.  What happens to them then?  Well in the current situation most of the middle class and country in general would collapse.  Not sustainable at all.
5.       Critical/creative thinking, question asking is a luxury most cannot afford.  The US education system (especially higher education—Universities) is one of the best in the world.  Americans are critical and question asking people.  This is not something we are born with, it is something we learned after years and years of education, that encouraged us to be like that.  It is a great way to be.  I feel that many people in Uganda often accept anything that they are told because they do not have that natural question in the back of their mind that Americans do.  “How do you know that?  Where is the evidence?  I want to see all of the evidence on this topic myself and then I will make a decision”  This is fostered by our professors citing all of their facts for everyone to see.  We were asked our opinion in school, but when your class size is 60+ no one cares about your opinion, you just sit and listen and remember what you were told.  There is simply no time for hands-on, critical thinking activities.  It seems to get a bit better with university here, but still not where the US is.   However, this means that as aid workers we have a responsibility to be careful what we say.  They will take what you say at face value and they will rarely question you, meaning you have to tell them the truth.  Sarcasm and subtly do not exist – there was never time for such nonsense in schools here.  You are blunt (sometimes it almost feels rude/sassy, but you get over it quickly) and you better say the correct thing.  A perfect example is the homosexuality issue that is raging in Uganda right now.  Why do many Ugandans believe that homosexuals are fairies here to steal their children?  Or that HIV/AIDS was created by homosexual scientists in L.A. to destroy Africa?  Or that homosexuals deserve to die?  Because they were told that by white people (a specific, crazy group of white people aka extreme evangelicals, but that is a different tangent).  Be careful what you say, they will probably believe it.  This can also be seen in the fact that they are reluctant to challenge the status quo, even if it is ridiculous.  I am always surprised that more people don’t speak up and yell at the taxi drivers or stand up for themselves in government issues. It requires a way of thinking that the US fosters and Uganda cannot.  I also can chalk up to being so religious.  If Jesus/God is in control, what is the point of challenging it? Jesus or God will take care of it, means that you don’t have to.
6.       Change happens slowly with many different combined efforts.  When I first joined Peace Corps I was so excited to “change the world.”  Sadly, this will take much more than one 24-year (almost 25 eek!) white girl at a food production factory.  Change is a hard thing to make happen and it requires stream lined efforts from many different areas of expertise.  A year in, I celebrate the little victories.  The hygiene of the factory has drastically improved and we have some new products with protein.  Protein deficiency is a huge issue, especially in my region of Uganda.  I have gotten some people to eat a little better or even a little earlier in the day.  (Seriously, many people eat a GIANT carb filled meal at like 10/11p and go straight to sleep).  I have gotten to stress how important the nutrition of children and women is (usually men are the best fed and they need it the least AND this country needs them the least in my opinion).   I have done the camps where at the end the kids show so much love and appreciation for you that you forget how damn tired you are or how stressed you had been all week.  The little things make you happy and the relationships you managed to build with people that are completely different from you take on so much more meaning.  Even my supervisor saying he plans to come to my wedding (I am doubting he will make it) or when they say they missed me if I haven’t been around for a bit makes all the difference now.  The best example is how much they all cared that Luna had died.  First, they seemed to love her, which as Matt Gomes said “means they love me.”  Second, when she died they cared so much.  They buried her for me (I was not allowed to as I can still produce children).  Edidah called me just to tell me that she was sorry and she would be back the next day.  Vincet offered to refund the kitten I had given him earlier in the year. Robert offered to take me to a pet store in Kampala.  I came to the office and people said they were sorry to hear about my friend.  Even now, they are all on the lookout for a new kitten for me.  Reaching/Changing even a few people and doing a few things for the better become your goal rather than “changing the world.”  

I think that is enough of my ranting for today my dears.  I hope you enjoy my reflections a year in.  I feel like I could write a whole book on my experiences in this country.  As much as I can sometimes bitch and complain about this country or missing the US, this has really been an experience of a life time and I wouldn’t trade it for anything (except maybe a site on a beach…haha)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wow it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything, where to begin…South x Southwest Camp GLOW AND BUILD!

I’ve kept myself busy busy up until now, mostly with co-directing Camp BUILD and GLOW in the southwest.  Now that it is over I am relieved, but a little sad and honestly kind of lost.  I don’t know what to start next, but that is a different topic.  South X Southwest Camp was a bit different from other camps.  Usually Camp BUILD and GLOW are separate camps and they get together for one or two sessions at the end of the week; maybe like a field day or guest speaker.  However, in the past this has created some problems.  I’ve heard about some incidences and first hand experienced some hostility from the girls especially.  They are separate all week talking about topics like gender equality and domestic violence.  They girls don’t necessarily know the boys are leaning about these topics as well.  Often when they have gotten together after a week of being apart the girls say things like “I hate the boys, I don’t want them here.”  I have even heard of the girls being too aggressive towards the boys when playing football with them.  Mostly I personally witnessed at National how much the girls shut down around the boys.  They didn’t talk much and they didn’t want to play any of the games at field day.  For their part, the boys mostly were too out there; trying to show off for the girls.  I don’t think that this is a problem, but it did not help how the girls felt about the boys.  So for our camp we decided it was time they experienced life together.  The girls and boys still slept apart and a few sessions (family planning, knowing your body, sexual education, etc…) were kept separate as well, but other than that they were together for everything.  Each girl animal group had a counterpart boy animal group.  They marched, sang, played, performed, and for the most part learned together.  We thought this would bring them together in a way that cannot be accomplished in just one day and after all gender equality is something that men have to be a part of also.  This was our message for the camp.  Females: We cannot move forward alone; men can (and MUST) be part of solution (at least until science catches up and two women can just make another girl baby, but that won’t be for another decade or so probably…I did not mention this at camp lol). Males: You need to be an example to other men and part of the solution.  Honestly, although the week was stressful and busy, I think the new model was a success.  I was amazed by how well it worked.  All of us were kind of worried that someone was going to get knocked up, but as far as we know there were no incidences of fornication at our camp. In fact I didn’t hear about any serious discipline issues at all.  I was also scared that with the boys there, the girls would not come out of their shells.  I was scared they would just be quiet and shy the whole time.  This was not the case either.  The girls were almost more outgoing earlier in the week than at the camp I was at before.  The girls and boys were cheering together and dancing together.  It was wonderful.  There was a big focus on gender equality, teamwork, and such in our sessions and activities, which I think helped.  The campers were all happy and that was the goal.  I think it was definitely good for them not only to spend the whole week with each other, but to get to see Ugandan and American adults interacting with the opposite sex in a non-sexual manner, but as friends and equals.  I even had one group of boys come up to me and ask why family planning was gender mixed.  They thought that family planning is something that you discuss and plan with your partner and therefore the session should be joined.  I was so proud of them!  By the end of camp, there were so many little things that made us proud of the kids.  Boys making sure both boys and girls were included in their end of week performances, girls offering random boys (not in their group) a seat at their lunch table, both sexes laughing and having fun together as friends and equals.  It was wonderful.  A girl also wrote a poem about the directors and mentioned in it that we all have beautiful hair…off topic but still nice.
I think a big help to the camp was the BPU presence.  BPU is Breakdance project Uganda.  It is based in Kampala and Masaka and is free to anyone who wants to join.  They take in all kids (a lot of them disadvantaged) and perform around Uganda dances based on social change (for example they did one about domestic violence at our Camp).  Not only did they perform for us, but they were present as counsellors, staff, and campers. This added a new dimension and I think got a lot of the kids out of their shells.  They were such energetic outgoing people it helped other people to be that way as well.  Plus whenever there was downtime (no matter how much you schedule/plan, there is always downtime), they would just dance/teach other kids to dance.  I believe you can look BPU up online for more detailed information; I just wanted to appreciate them quickly! I hope to visit their center next time I’m in Kampala or Masaka.
One funny now/stressful at the time/scary if you think about it thing that occurred was a guest speaker from KIU (Kampala International University) came to help Murph with the “Knowing your body for boys” session.  We wanted to include as many Ugandan teachers as possible without making counsellors leave their groups all day.  We figured he’d be great!  Clair has known him for awhile, he is somehow a part of Jim’s host family (which is quite educated and progressive as far as I can tell), and he is a counsellor for a major university in the country who has counselled hundreds of youths.  After his first session, Michael came up to me and was like “What is with the guy who is teaching with Murph?  He just like hijacked Murph’s session and is saying crazy shit about masturbation and HIV.”  Sigh, this cannot be good.   Apparently he told the children that masturbation does all this crazy shit to their bodies, such as makes your balls sag more (“Have you ever seen a cow whose testicles are very low?  That is because he has had too much sex.  It is the same with people and masturbation”) and it is addicting (which may be true, but so is food and exercise…should we stop eating/exercising?) and it has negative psychological effects (it releases endorphins aka hormones that make you happy).   To be fair, masturbation is a hot topic everywhere and in a very Christian country it can be a tricky topic.  However, Murph did not bring this up. In the first session the KIU guy did and in other sessions, the kids asked about it.  Murph handled it well; saying it is normal and something you do in private, not even at school (they can get kicked out of school for it).  Plus, the KIU guy was not presenting it like God doesn’t want you to do it; he presented it as scientifically bad for you! He even said it makes sex LESS pleasurable.  (In my head I was like “sir it is definitely the opposite”) He also said that HIV can be passed through sweat and saliva; both completely untrue and dangerous to tell people (truth: apparently if you drink like 5 gallons of someone’s saliva you can get it).  In a country where it is stigmatized already AND people are always sweating all over each other in public transport or whatever other situation they are squished into (or at a Camp where children are playing together and doing teambuilding activities all day in the hot sun…) this is not information we can afford to let spread.  Clair and I pull him out of the second session and start trying to calmly discuss what has been said with him.  We were honestly more concerned with the HIV stuff, but he was completely focused on the “science” about masturbation.  He was all “look it up!” and we were like yea we have.  Plus in my head I know that when they are told something by a teacher that is it: it is accepted as fact.  When Clair and I were told something, we were given scientific peer-reviewed citations.  We were encouraged to look at the data beyond what our teacher told us and come to our own decision about things.  Not saying one method is better than the other, but it’s the truth.  Ooo wait to be honest, the way Clair and I were taught is much better…   In the end, after Clair and I talked to him for like 10 – 15 minutes during which both of us were trying our hardest not to yell/punch him, Clair escorted him from the premises (and apparently talked to him some more).  I made sure to ask Ugandans and Americans their opinion of him and it was the same.  The Ugandan counsellors knew he was outrageous and making shit up.  Overall, I see it has a funny story (and as Gomes pointed out a further reason for us to be here!) however scary it is that this man is counselling many youths on this topic.  (I will refrain from any comments on crazy extreme religions pushing their outrageous agenda onto innocent Ugandans…)  This was Wednesday I believe, the day where one thing after another went wrong.  We made it through though and came out stronger!
Overall the camp was a success despite all of the stress leading up to and during the week of camp.  Honestly I don’t know that many realized how stressed the directors were.  After that I had a wonderful rest followed by an amazing visit from Jenna filled with Jameson, beers, cuddling, travel, Murph’s island, boneshaking, and of course wild animals (her one request was to see a wild elephant. Accomplished, although then the elephants wouldn’t get out of our damn way at the end of our day)!  Special thanks to my co – directors: Kendra (Sandra), Robyna, Griffin (Mary), Clair, and Andrew.  Also much thanks to all counsellors and staff that made our lives easier and the camp a success, especially HIV testing and counselling.  That day was stressful, but worthwhile.  TASO: one hour for testing my ass, it took 4.  Plus a tester informed me AS SHE WAS TESTING PEOPLE that she “requires hard corns.”  I told her we didn’t have any really and then as Julia was getting tested she asked Julia for them as well.  I then told her again that we don’t have any AND that it is extremely inappropriate for her to be eating while testing people. Despite the stress and schedule shifting, testing was worth it.  A lot of kids just assumed they were positive despite never being tested.  As Eliza said the knowledge that you are HIV negative is an amazing gift to give someone.  Also, positive or negative, it is better to know your status.  That was our focus, not the results, but knowing your status, getting tested.  Hopefully getting tested in that setting will give them the courage to get tested regularly!  We also encouraged the staff to go first as examples, with 5 of the directors leading the way and the counsellors to be the leaders of their group as well.  As far as I know almost everyone got tested! YAY SOUTH x SOUTHWEST GLOW-BUILD!

Well that’s all I have for now.  Hope you enjoyed!t'

Thursday, January 31, 2013

OO that song is bogus…they know it’s Christmas time in Africa

                Hello again, I know it has been awhile, but I will try to update you as much as possible.  (Although most of you know that it usually just turns into rambling about whatever I feel like talking about)
                So, the holidays have come and gone…they were pretty good. I have posted since then, but it was about GLOW, so I’m going to tell you about my holidays!
  First, the best holiday of them all my birthday/thanksgiving.  Sadly, Marburg ruined our big meal planned at Lake Bunyoni, so we actually ended up doing things more in our regions last minute style.  The southwest (and some others), went to this pizza place/”resort” near-by Kabwohe for a couple nights.  It’s owned by a Dutch guy (his name is like boss, bas, something like that…we just call him honey Dutch master) and for pretty cheap he let us have the run of the place for Wednesday and Thursday night.  We had delicious food; Robyn killed the turkey and her sister helped butcher it (for a vegan that girl knows a lot about butchering meat).  We just kind of relaxed, enjoyed our time together and had some drinks for two days.  Then Friday was my 24th birthday celebrations (my birthday was actually Saturday, but people from afar headed home and Robyn had to take her family home).  It worked out well because I got my birthday package from my mom and dad that day and got to wear my birthday dress out. Plus, we got paid, so I got to have wine for my birthday AND Meish found a birthday hat in the resource room…amazing.   We had some drinks, ate some street chicken, went out dancing…as always a good time.
                Then it was Christmas time.  By Christmas, the new education group was at homestay, which is in my village so I got to see them a bunch.  There are nine of them and they are all pretty cool! (so far…)  Sadly they were not allowed to come to Jim’s with us for Christmas celebrations, but we partied with them for the end of the world on the 21st.   Again, we went out in Mbarara (seems to be a pattern…probably because it’s only like 30 minutes from me by terrifying taxi ride).  Street chicken, dancing, hookah, the usual…intro into the nightlife of Uganda.  Erin, Tara, and I got in a fight with the DJ at club heat, at which point drunk as I am get the guy to agree that if he doesn’t play Call me, Maybe in the next 3 songs I get to punch him in the face.  He agreed and sure enough like 5 songs later I’m on the stage telling him I’m going to punch him in the face.  Tara and Erin decide it is time for me to be out of this discussion, so I head back to the rest of the group.  The music didn’t really get any better at all, but it was still a fun night.    Then on the 22nd the rest of us head to Jim’s site (Kichwamba!), which is near Queen Elizabeth national park.  The new ones stayed in Mbarara and a couple used my house in Kabwohe to have a Christmas dinner and such.   At Jim’s we are just super chill – I was sick for the first couple days AND it rained like all day for two days straight.  We watch Christmas movies and cook and such…  It sucked to be sick, but even in the states I tend to get sick around Christmas; kind of a tradition for me.  Plus within a couple days I was over it.  The people at Jim’s were : Tara, Kendra, Jim, Sarah (Jim’s girlfriend), Bryan Johnson (BJ is his new name), Erin Sullivan, Laura Meyer, Pat (or the Scherer as I like to call him), and Andrew showed up early morning Christmas day.  I think that is it.  So first two days a lot of Christmas movies and laying around.  OMG AND THERE WERE DOGS; fluffy ones that let me cuddle with them and use them as a pillow.  Anyway, Christmas eve we explored a Cave and ate some delicious food – I opted for the veggies and had no regrets – broccoli never tasted so wonderful (as I hadn’t had it since being in country; broccoli is a novelty here).  Then that night we had some drinks and went to bed somehow early like 11ish.   We even had some gifts on Christmas day --- white elephant style (some of us were last minute and got stuff from Jim’s orphans, but whatever).  Again, food, hanging out, little more active this day.  All in all it was a good Christmas (perhaps not as exciting as going to zanizbar as many of my friends did); relaxing and chill is fine by me!
                Many of you may be wondering about the Ugandan Christmas traditions.  They seem to celebrate it a little longer, but without many of the things Americans (definitely me at least) like best about Christmas—namely no presents (or like decorations and trees and such).  The day after Christmas is also a holiday.  They all travel back to their home villages (or wherever their family lives now) and celebrate from there.  So if you live in a bigger city or at a school, it’s usually pretty deserted.  Mostly it’s church, food, and spending time with family for them.   The food typically includes meat on Christmas, which in Uganda means you have to have “Karo” – millet flour/cassava flour “mingled” together and made into a “bread” that is really more of a grey play-dough like consistency.  That actually makes it sound really terrible, but Karo is one of the Ugandan foods I don’t mind so much.  It actually goes really good with meat (it soaks up all the delicious meat juices).  I do see decorations around, but many are religious themed and at Nakumatt (a bigger supermarket – so mostly only wealthier people can shop there – wealthy by Ugandan, not American standards).   Plus the tress are like super tacky aluminum ones that were popular in the 50’s in the US.  So there you have it … Ugandan Christmas.
                Ahhh and lastly, one of my favorite holidays – New year’s eve!  I don’t know why I love new year’s eve so much…maybe it’s the prospect of a new start or the fact that I’ve had super good ones that past couple years, but I loooove new year’s eve.  We celebrated with the new ones in Kabwohe.  Tara, Kendra, and I made some food and Waap (or jungle juice? Whichever you prefer); to be fair I had to work some, so Tara and Kendra did much of the actual cooking.  Then the new ones came, stocked up on sachets.   **Sachets = super cheap plastic pouches of liquor.  They come in many varieties, including pineapple, gin, and vodka; but favorite is the coffee spirit – put it in some coke (which also tastes better here – real sugar) and it tastes somehow like vanilla coke.  These would totally sell in the states.  It literally comes out to be like 30 cents for around 2-3 shots of liquor.  However, unlike the states, bars in Uganda allow you to bring a sachet in and just order Coke.  Saves money. Wonderful, but dangerous.   We spent the night eating and playing drinking games until midnight.  Some of us had a difficult time understanding some of the games ( JA and “cheers governor” do not go well together) and some of us needed a bit of a nap and then a very tough wake up to ring in the new years at midnight (John passes out early and will not wake up – unless you shake him quite violently).   By midnight, though everyone was awake and the new girls had brought some “sparklers” – which were really very elaborate birthday candles, but they were better than nothing; it’s the sentiment of it that counts.  We stayed up a bit longer and then passed out.  I thought it was a successful new years.
                 Soo those are my holiday celebrations in Uganda; turned out pretty well and since it was warm and sunny/rainy, not snowy and freezing, it didn’t feel like the holidays.  This is good because I didn’t miss them too much.  Since the holidays I have just been working and such; getting started on things, being satellite liaison to the new group.  Actually, the satellite liaison thing was sah-weet because I got to go to their swearing in, which was in Kampala.  Normally, I don’t like Kampala, but it was nice to get away, eat some good food, and hang out.  Kampala can be a bit busy and overwhelming, but if you stick to the area where ex-pats tend to chill, there is much good food and things that are not really found elsewhere in Uganda.  Also, I can’t complain because Peace Corps paid for me to be there, fed me homemade food one night (thanks to the Sullys), and provided travel to and from these events…pretty sweet set up.  The new ones are at their sites already and getting settled in.  They seem to be a good group.
OOO yea! The other day Murph and I were forced by my supervisor, Robert to hold some babies! It was terrible.  I was taken to Murph’s village, Ishongororo without being told why we were going.  I figured it was like seeing if there was any millet/maize we could use, but no it was to visit our technician as his wife had just had twins.  Fine, that’s a nice gesture on the company’s part, and whatever just chilling behind someone’s house, Murph comes along.  We are outside talking and all of a sudden, Robert is like “Brittan you come see the babies you must handle them!”  Murph and I exchange horrified, awkward looks and head into this small room.  First, they pass me one baby and I’m sitting there holding it as far away from my body as I can while supporting its head and not dropping it.  Then they try to get me to hold them both; I expect that they wanted me to hold them both at once, but holding one makes me nervous enough (and quite frankly I didn’t sign up to hold any babies – I don’t do it in the states and I’m not interested in doing it here).  I feel holding two babies at once would have required them to be much closer to me than I care for, so I passed the one baby on and take the other one.  I passed it to Robert, but ooo no he passes it right on to Murph.  So here is me and Murph awkwardly holding these babies at arm’s length looking horrified while the Ugandans in the room sit around and laugh at us.  Honestly, I wish we would have gotten a picture…it would have been hilarious and awkward at the same time.  Murph and I are both not really “baby people” and we both had the same terrified look on our faces and got rid of these babies as quickly as possible.  ***Side rant for a moment --- I understand that many people do like babies and I understand that it is quite uncommon in Uganda for people my and Murph’s age (24) to not have babies/dislike holding them.  Most people, if they do not have their own have taken care of siblings and other relatives to be quite comfortable holding babies.  Plus they want to be able to say their babies were held by Mzungu; fine whatevs cultural exchange and whatnot…not a huge deal. I do not understand the forcing of baby holding in the US! It is plenty common and well known that many people do not like/want babies.  Not saying I don’t want babies (in the far far far off future…but I’m sure I’ll like my own kids more than other people’s), but that doesn’t mean I want to hold yours.  When I get home I’m taking a stand – no longer will I be forced to hold someone’s baby just because I’m standing near them.  If you didn’t want to hold your baby, you shouldn’t have had one.  If you want someone else to hold it, go find someone who is obviously interested in your baby (such as my mother…although you may not get it back then).  Babies make me uncomfortable as I’m sure they do for others, so stop assuming everyone wants to hold your baby.  I also don’t know what to say about babies…they don’t do much and it is obvious they are cute.  Do I really have to tell you how cute your baby is? Everyone else has already said that probably.  Duh, baby things in general are cute otherwise why would we bother taking care of them…they are a pain in the ass.  Also, I find human babies to be among the least cute of baby things (esp. newborns; they look like aliens) – I’ll take a puppy any day.  If you had a puppy, you couldn’t pay me not to hold it – I even enjoy holding my kitten more than a human baby (although I tell her often I wish she was a puppy).  Anyway, for future reference…I don’t want to hold your baby.  (Nothing against you or your baby, just not a baby person and that’s fine!)
Anyway I’ve rambled enough for now...Soon to come – this weekend in Kabale – spending the night on Lake Bunyoni, welcome weekend/prom/valentine’s day,  and St. patty’s day in fort portal (I pinky promised Kendra we’d go and pinky promised myself I’d get Jameson)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ooo no no no not the vista...

                So I am back from Camp GLOW! (GLOW = girls leading our world).  I am exhausted from camp, but it was so much fun and one of the most rewarding things I have done so far in country.  Also it was extremely well organized with little down time (aka little time for them to get into trouble).  We had four sessions a day (HIV, teamwork, communication, IGA’s, etc…I taught nutrition!)  We also did camp activities like obstacle courses, capture the flag, etc… It was super fun!  Each PCV counselor had an Ugandan co-counselor with a group of around 10 girls.  My group was the gorillas!  The girls were quiet and shy at first, but by the end of camp, they came out of their shell.  They were loud and dancing and singing our gorilla or camp song all the time.  I don’t think that I will ever get these camp songs out of my head!  Ooo well I will need them anyway because we have a regional camp in april/may (I’ll probably be around for this one) and then one more national while I am here!   
Some interesting things I noticed during the week:
                Ugandan schools are MEAN and they aren’t even effective.  Rote memorization and silence at lunch is the norm for schools here.  Lunch silence is so they eat quickly and get back to their studies.  This means that in the beginning at least, we ate our meals in complete silence until we made an announcement.  This is not school…you can (and should) talk at meals!  I think the silence at lunch things just furthers the lack of critical/creative thinking.  You are to be seen and not heard until you are old.  Don’t discuss things with your peers; don’t ask questions.  Just memorize what I tell you, never question that it is true or not.  This attitude leads to disempowered silent girls that believe everything they are told by anyone in authority.  This means they believe things such as: eating too many mangoes leads to malaria (mango season is the same as malaria season; correlation does not equal causation), condoms cause cancer (thank you once again religious zealots!), and other nonsense such as this.   A good portion of this camp is dedicated to getting those myths out of their heads.  The other portion is undoing the negative self esteem and silence that schools here encourage.  By the end of the week they were talking talking so I hope it worked at least a little bit.  In America kids are so much louder and outgoing from the beginning…not all of them, but many of them!  At camps here a good portion is dedicated to  getting them to voice opinions and ask questions about things.
                They often asked me why I don’t have children; don’t I like children?!?!  Well actually I do not like children…they are kind of the worst.  Ugandan children aren’t quite so spoiled and snotty though.  Also I do eventually want kids, but I had to explain that I am still young.  To people who are used to people having children and getting married in their early teens, I am old.  Also to people who typically don’t live past 50 years old, I am old as well.  I had to explain: 1. That I don’t want children until I am like 30 or 35.  They found this to be outrageous; I will be too old.  This led to the discussion that in the US life expectation is like 80, not 40.    2: I have a lot of things to do before I am ready to stop being selfish.  I want to travel, go to school more, and get a steady job with money before I have kids.  I hope this got them thinking about what they want to do before having kids.  I can’t travel/go to school, etc…with kids; at least it would be much more difficult with them.  I really hope this got them thinking about what they would be giving up by getting married and having kids soo early! And 3: I only want 2-3 kids, not 8.  Most of these girls are from the deep village, where having only 2 or 3 kids is unheard of.  You start early and keep having children until you aren’t able to anymore.  I had to explain that I would rather give 2 or 3 kids a great life and education than have a ton that I cannot take care of.  Once again I hope this got them thinking a bit. Uganda has the 2nd highest birth rate in the world…they need to STOP having so many children. We also went through all the mzungu counselors and staff asking if they are married.  Also had to explain why I don’t date Africans, which led to them asking why I am not with any of my ex-boyfriends anymore…akward.  They don’t really understand that sometimes these things just don’t work.  Getting married isn’t the most important goal in my world; my own selfish desires come before a man. That doesn’t really  compute well with them, but I think that somehow understood.
                They eat A LOT and are wonderful dancers.  They informed me that mzungus don’t know how to eat and don’t have rhythm.  I thought I had taken a good amount of food..especially since I HATE UGANDAN FOOD.  I sit down and “Eh Brittan, you have taken little!  You do not know how to eat…none of you do!”  I explained that I prefer to eat little amounts more often throughout the day…why?? To keep my metabolism up…”eh what is metabolism”  so that got a discussion going a bit.   We then go to the talent show.  Most of them did skits/dances or songs.  They have some rhythm. While we are waiting they are playing some music and the girls start dancing.  THEY LOVE TO DANCE.  Then one of them informs me that she knows how mzungus dance and they have no rhythm.  She proceeds to start doing a waltz-like dance with another girl.   I show them how to do a little dip with their leg up and they all find this hilarious.   The talent show was pretty wonderful – most of the skits were hilarious, especially the crocodiles and buffalos.  Crocodiles counselors had the girls be their arms and do various things such as brushing teeth and drinking water and eating a banana (without peeling it).  Buffalos did something where one girl laid down and another girl was sitting on top of her.  So the legs with one girls with the arms and torso of another girl.  They told a little story, which was hilarious and the girls could not stop talking about it after!  It was awesome.  My gorillas sang and did a little dance.  It was great, but I had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Ronah, my co-counselor worked on the whole thing with them!  This was Thursday.  Friday (the last day of camp) was the dance and my god they love to dance.  It worked out well because to get them to do things Friday all we had to say was “well if you don’t have energy I suppose we could just cancel the dance…” and they immediately got up.  They were even taught the cupid’s shuffle, which they LOVE! It was soo great seeing them all let loose and get out of their shells.  You noticed a bit more each day of camp, but Friday they really got to show who they are as individuals.  I don’t think they get to do that often, so I think even for this week it is good!
                They are outrageously clean.  We had to schedule in two bathing times a day AND a day for washing clothes.  In the mornings I had to get them to stop making their beds so they would bathe on schedule.  Compare this to American children…you could not pay them to make their beds or do laundry at camp.  They are perfectly happy being super disgusting all through camp.  You are lucky if you get American children to bathe once a week at camp, let alone twice a day!  They get upset when they aren’t allowed to bathe twice…weird!! I kept thinking of “wet hot American summer” where that kid hasn’t bathed all of camp (soo like 3 months) and they have to force him into the shower.    I spent a good portion of my week encouraging them to be disgusting…most of the time they refused.  If they had to sit on the ground or take their shoes off for running I often got “eh but we will get dirty.”  It also was a chore to get them to not look smart.  They kept wearing skirts and dress shoes.  Every morning I’d say If you want to play football maybe wear trousers and atheletic shoes.  Granted some of them do not have these things, but most of them do.  They are just soo used to having to look presentable and people finding trousers offensive.  They must think the PCV counselors are gross…most of us showered once a day and didn’t wash our clothes at all.
                All in all it was a good week though.  Exhausting, but good.  I enjoyed watching them grow and learn, however quiet they were in the beginning.  I also learned some great camp games/songs that they loved…”get loose (thank you Caitlin!)”  “little sally walker (meish and tara)” and “flea fly (mary!)” were among the popular ones.  I did so many songs/games that I have bruises on my thighs from clapping too much!  I doesn’t hurt..I just bruised them lol.  So now I am directing the regional Camp BUILD in the west, which should happen sometime at the end of april or beginning of may.  We will see how the boys are compared to girls…getting out of my comfort zone YAY. 

My mighty gorillas at the dance!