Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 21, 2011 6:30 PM

I’m officially a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Today was swear-in and tomorrow we leave for our sites.  I’m going to make this blog post brief because I want to go enjoy my last night here with everyone.  Today was pretty hectic because of the protests and getting shuffled around a little to avoid them.  We swore in at the Deputy Chief of Mission’s (a.k.a. the Deputy Ambassador) house.  Her house was really nice and the ceremony went well.  Even our PCV Trainers (who are still in-country) were able to come.  Anyway, I’m going to enjoy tonight…!!

April 19, 2011 9:15 PM

We got to go to the U.S. Embassy today.  It was like this weird transition between Uganda and America.  It was one of the few places that I’ve found that has air conditioning.  It also has a really good resource room full of books, magazines (current ones from the U.S.) and computers (with internet).  We had a session all morning with different officials in the Embassy explaining what they do and different programs that they run.  It was really nice, because most of the people we met were Peace Corps Volunteers before they got into Foreign Service.  It ended up being a really long session, but it was interesting and informative nonetheless.

After visiting the Embassy, we made our way to the Peace Corps Office, which most of us hadn’t seen yet.  We got to see everyone’s offices and we saw the volunteer lounge.  The Peace Corps Office also seems like a really good resource for PCVs.  And we also got our flu shots, which should be the last of our shots for now.

Finally we got to go to Garden City (a neighborhood in Kampala) to go shopping for a little bit.  After that we were taken back to our hotel, where we had dinner and met up with our supervisors/counterparts.  Tomorrow we have an all day workshop with them.  And then Thursday we finish the workshop and have our Swear-In ceremony in the afternoon.

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18, 2011 10:00 PM

We have officially left our homestays!!  We were taken this morning to our hotel right outside Kampala, where we should be staying until Friday.  When we arrived we got the amazing task of unloading the truck full of all our luggage and then getting it all into our rooms.  I’ve realized that I have way too much stuff.  But our hotel is awesome.  I have not seen any place so amazing here yet.  We even have a pool. 

So we were supposed to go to Kampala this afternoon and get lunch and go to the Peace Corps office, but there were some protests in Kampala and we were put on Stand Fast.  This is the best place to have a Stand Fast.  We have been just hanging out by the pool all day.  We have declared this to be Peace Corps Spring Break.  Thank you American tax payers!  We were told that everything is still on for tomorrow and we are going to the U.S. Embassy in the morning and then the Peace Corps office and shopping in the afternoon.  Honestly, most of us wanted to stay on Stand Fast tomorrow.

April 15, 2011 8:00 PM

Today we found out that our country director, Ted, plays Bridge.  Not only does he play bridge but he is a Bridge Master.  We were playing Bridge at break tea and Ted was at Luweza to talk to us at our next session.  He noticed and so he came over and started giving us tips.  He said that when he served in Senegal, he had a group of volunteers that would have Bridge marathons.  We need to find more people that play or want to learn, because right now there are only 3 of us in the west and 2 in the east.

We also had one of those interesting driving experiences today.  We fit 18 people into a Land Cruiser.  That’s talent!  We had one of the Peace Corps drivers driving us to the Qaulity Supermarket so we could test our new bank card and I don’t think he realized how many wanted to go, so he only brought the Land Cruiser.  Life here is full of challenges and this is one of the more entertaining ones.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Can you hack it and “Live Like a Peace Corps Volunteer” for a week?

I thought this was really interesting.  Even though they do not have it for PC Uganda, Kenya is incredibly close.  I dare you to try it!!

Check out this innovative Challenge launched by a team of currently serving Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) around the world, along with the growing support of others including the National Peace Corps Association. The "Live Like a Peace Corps Volunteer Challenge" started with a simple dare to a PCV’s family to give up a microwave for a week.  That dare wasn't accepted, but the story of it inspired another Volunteer to make a game of the whole thing and tie it into the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps and the 20th anniversary of Peace Corps/ Mongolia where this all started.

The goal of this project is to raise awareness of Peace Corps in America and give those participating in the Challenge a small taste of Peace Corps life, hopefully while having some fun. PCVs in Kenya adapted the challenge to reflect realities of serving in Kenya.  The challenge celebrates our 50
th anniversary while at the same time addressing our 3rd goal.  Perhaps the only things missing from this challenge, things that are extremely difficult to replicate in other settings, are the inherent benefits of service- the sense of accomplishment in mastering your new language, the joy of making a new friend in spite of massive cultural differences, the beauty of the environments in which we serve… Nevertheless, this is a great activity for stimulating discussion about how two-thirds of the world lives. 

The Challenge: Kenyan Rules 
For one week you are asked to give up some of the everyday conveniences that we PCVs and our communities do without. The levels are arranged from more common to less common living conditions of PCVs in Kenya while also taking into account the difficulty of completing the challenge in the US.  So while none of us here have a car, it ranks quite high in the challenge as it is much more difficult to do without one in the states.  Kenya is known for its beautiful safaris in which you can spot the “The Big Five” animals, for which we’ve named our levels (they are in order of rareness in the Mara).
  • First, decide which month you want to participate.  The first week of the month you choose (the 1st-7th) will be when you need to forgo certain items.
  • Next, look through the list below and decide which one of the five levels of difficulty you want to take on, and which items you will abstain from  (although your items may come from multiple difficulty levels you are only trying to complete one level, the most difficult you think you can manage).
  • Finally, let us know that you’ve taken up the challenge by completing the Accept the Challenge section of the general “Live Like a PCV”

LionDifficulty Level I
(choose two) 
  • Forgo the use of the microwave.
  • No checks, no debit cards or credit cards, cash only all week.
  • No washing machine or dish washers - plus you must attempt laundry by hand once. (Let’s be honest you probably have enough clothes to easily go a week without washing.)
  • Cook dinner by candlelight.
  • Keep a journal or write a handwritten letter to a friend about your experiences this week.
BuffaloDifficulty Level II
(choose two plus one item from Level I) 
  • No television (This includes Hulu and Adult Swim online, they are not available outside the US)--You can listen to the radio and read local newspapers.
  • Baths or showers allowed only every other day-  You can wash yourself at the sink with a cloth each day.
  • No fast food, no restaurants (this includes coffee places, bars, and delivery).
  • Internet only every other day. (You can use the internet for your job but you're on the honor system here.)
  • Start and finish a book this week.
  • Buy your fruits and vegetables for the week locally.
  • Wild Animals! You can't leave your yard between 7:30 PM and 6:30 AM unless accompanied by 3 or more people.

ElephantDifficulty Level III
(choose two plus one item from Level II or two items from Level I) 
  • You can use your toilet but you must manually fill the tank or do a bucket flush. (Turn off the water to the toilet.)
  • Lack of temperature control - No heater or air conditioner in your car.
  • Greet everyone you know with a handshake and genuine questions about their family, home, and health.
  • You can only use one burner on your stove and no oven.
  • Ration your water to only 10 gallons a day.  This includes cooking, drinking, bathing, and washing clothes.
  • Teach someone the 4 ways the HIV virus is transmitted.

LeopardDifficulty Level IV
(choose two plus one item from Level III, or two items from Level II, or three items from Level I) 
  • Reduced living space.  You may only use your living room, bathroom and kitchen.
  • Bathe only once this week. (You may wash yourself with a cloth at the sink each day.)
  • No driving.  You can use public transport, bicycle, and walking.
  • Internet one day this week.  (Again, you can use it for your work only.)
  • Power outage.  Throw a dice (6 sides) every day for how many hours you will be without power sometime between 5.00pm -11.00pm (turn off your power breakers).

RhinoDifficulty Level V
(choose one item from each Level) 
  • No running water from your house, you must go fetch it from somewhere else (a neighbor’s house is fine).
  • No English for the entire week.  (You can speak English at work only.)
  • You can’t use any toilet in your house, you must go somewhere else or improvise.
  • No refrigerator.
  • Spend the whole weekend in one room of your house. Using no electricity - you are allowed 3 books and the battery life of your computer (no recharging).

Questions for Reflection:
  • How did you find this challenge- difficult?  Easier than you had anticipated?
  • What surprised you about participating in this challenge?
  • What did this challenge teach about how people in developing countries live? 

When you’ve successfully completed your Challenge check out our “Show Support” page at  for gear to let others know of your triumph and help us spread the word.

April 13, 2011 6:00 PM

Training is finally winding down.  Most of my stuff at my homestay is being taken tomorrow by the Peace Corps driver.  And we officially move out on Monday.  Next week should be really exciting.  Swear In is only a week away!  It will be really nice to get to site and finally have all my belongings in one place at the same time.  This Saturday we have our Homestay Thank You.  Each language group has to prepare a short presentation to thank our homestays and possibly teach them something about America.  My group is making a video.  It should be a lot of fun.

April 11, 2011 6:40 PM

The way Ugandans tell time is really interesting and kind of nonsensical.  If they are saying the time in their language, 7 AM is the first hour of the day.  So at 7 they would say it is 1 o’clock, at 8 it is 2 o’clock and so on.  And then it starts over at 7 PM.  In a way this kind makes sense, because the days never change here.  We have sunlight from 7 in the morning until 7 at night all year round.  However, (the part that really gets me) their clocks look exactly the same as ours do.  And they also will tell time like we do if they are speaking English.  For us learning the language, it is like translating twice.  First, you need to convert the time and then you need to translate it.  This whole concept blows my mind and I don’t think I will ever understand it fully.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

New Address!!

I finally got a more permanent (hopefully more reliable) address!  My school is letting me use their P.O. Box to get my mail.  So if you want to send me anything (letters, cards, packages, padded envelopes, ect.) you can send them to the following address:

Jennifer Harkins PCV
Kinoni Girls S.S.
P.O. Box 984
Mbarara, Uganda

Also, remember that the same precautions apply as before.  I've found that cards and letters get here faster than something bigger and I don't think I've received anything that doesn't have religious stickers on it.  So make it look religious and it will probably come through.

April 10, 2011 11 AM

I got back from Kinoni last night.  We had quite the adventure getting back.  I got a ride to Mbarara from the people I was staying with and I met up with Emily and Ryan.  Bailey and Galen met us a little while later.  The restaurant that we were going to get lunch at didn’t have much food that we wanted ready so we ended up at a different restaurant.  After looking at the menu for a few minutes, we tried to order and we were told that power was out and we couldn’t get what we really wanted (which was pizza).  I ended up with a burger and I was very pleased, but some of us weren’t as happy.  The food took about an hour and a half to get (it was good but not that good).  We ended up finally getting on a bus at 2 o’clock, which was later than we intended.  The bus was not nearly full and it didn’t actually leave for two hours.  Every so often they would fake us out and drive a few hundred feet or so to try and get more passengers.  So we finally got going at about 4.  Along the way, the bus makes many stops.  At one of these stops a fight seemed to be starting right outside our window.  Apparently, the conductor was fighting with a taxi over a customer.  I’m still not quite sure how that ended.  We realized that we would be getting in well after dark, so Emily and Ryan called their host family and asked them if they could come pick us up in Kampala.  They said they could pick us, but asked if we could get off at a stage outside Kampala.  After inquiring a little, we thought we had figured out where to get off only to later find out that we were not passing that stage.  After some debate and their host dad talking on the phone to the conductor, we got off the bus and soon found their host dad who was kind enough to give all five of us a ride home.  I didn’t arrive until after nine, at which point I bathed, ate and went to bed.  What a day!

April 8, 2011

This Sunday is Staff Sunday.  I have yet to figure out what that is exactly, but they really want me to stay for it and they don’t want to take no for an answer.  I’m beginning to understand why we had training in dealing with guilt and assertiveness.  These are very valuable skills here.

Tomorrow I’m meeting Emily and Ryan in Mbarara.  We are getting lunch there and then heading back to Kampala.  I can’t wait to talk to them and find out how their time was.

April 7, 2011

I got to go with the girls netball team to a huge sports competition today in Mbarara.  They pretty much pile them into the back of a truck and drive them there.  They were so good about it.  If I was being transported like cattle, I wouldn’t be very happy but they are so enthusiastic and they cheer and make a ruckus the entire way there.  I got to see them play.  It was the first time actually seeing netball played.  Its most closely related to girls basketball but it’s still very different.  They don’t really dribble and if they have the ball they can’t move.  So it is move passing the ball than basketball.  The nets also don’t have a backboard, which makes it more interesting.

April 6, 2011

Today I arrived at my site for the first time.  I like it here.  It’s only about 15 minutes from Mbarara and it’s right on the main road.  Unfortunately my house is not ready yet.  They have me staying with a family here.

April 5, 2011 7:10 PM

Today was kind of like Christmas for most people.  A lot of our packages came through finally.  I got 5 padded envelopes and one card (all from my mom, obviously!).  It was almost all food.  I got oreos, crackers, peanut butter crackers, chocolate, cheerios, chocolate covered almonds and a few other things that I’m probably forgetting.  It was really nice to get them before I leave for my future site visit.

Tomorrow we are getting a ride to Kampala from Peace Corps and then we are taking a bus to Mbarara with a couple of the PCVs who are heading back to their sites.  From there I am going to get a taxi to Kinoni.  I spoke to the headmaster of the school today, so they should be expecting me.  I’m still not sure if I’m going to be staying in my house or not (hopefully I will be).

Monday, April 4, 2011

April 4, 2011 6:20 PM

So today we finally got our site announcements!!  I’m not going to keep you in suspense like they kept us.  I’m going to be at an all girls high school in Kinoni.  That is about 15 miles south (towards Kabale) from Mbarara.  The school is called Kinoni Girls Secondary School.  My job description says that I’m teaching computers and only computers (which is exciting because I don’t have to teach math).  My school is not near any towns.  Kinoni is just a trading center, but (from what I understand) it is right along the Mbarara-Kabale Road.  My closest town is probably Mbarara.  I was told that I’m living on the school compound and that I have both water and electricity (although Mary tried to play a little joke on me and tell me that I had neither at first).  I think I’m less than 2 hours (by car/bus/taxi) from Emily, Ryan, and Bailey.  They are all in Bushenyi.  I’m pretty sure that there are other volunteers who are closer to me, but none that are in my training group.  We leave for our sites on Wednesday.  Hopefully my house is ready and I will get to stay in it, otherwise I will be staying in a hotel.

April 2, 2011 7:20 PM

Yesterday was our 50th Anniversary celebration.  The service activity during the day for me was a little disorganized.  I was supposed to be teaching life skills, but there were too many volunteers in my group and it was just a little unorganized.  The other projects seemed to go pretty well and the school was really excited to have us there.  Because some of us live so far from Luweza and the reception was going to end late, a lot of us got rooms at the training center for the night.  So after the service activity was finished, we went back to the training center, showered and got ready.  The reception was awesome!  I’m pretty sure everyone had a really good time and it went until the wee hours of the night.

Today we had homestay cooking.  In our language groups we had to pick one of our homestay houses and we were going to cook lunch for us and the family.  We went food shopping in the morning and then we went to Ryan and Emily’s house after that.  We made spaghetti, meat sauce (with ground beef!), bread, rice (because according to our language trainer, we need some Ugandan food), green beans, and banana and passion fruit salad for dessert.  It took a long time for us to cook, but it was worth it.  It was amazing and their family really seemed to enjoy it.  I’m pretty sure our language group is going to try to get together and make meals like that as often as we can once we get to site.

March 31, 2011 8:30 PM

So tomorrow is the big 50th Anniversary party for Peace Corps.  We are having a day of service at a local primary school and then we have a reception tomorrow night.  No one in Peace Corps seemed concerned with the fact that the reception ends after dark and some of us don’t live real close by.  So after a little poking and prodding, we got them to say we could stay at the Luweza training center as long as we paid for it ourselves (luckily it only costs about $10 per person).  So Liz and I secured a room at Luweza for tomorrow night.  It should be a lot of fun.  PCVs from all over the country are coming in for the event.  They also have people from other volunteer organizations coming also.  It’s going to be a really big event.

On Saturday we have a language group cooking event.  In our language groups, we picked one person’s homestay house to cook lunch at.  Our group picked Emily and Ryan’s house.  We are going food shopping in the morning and then we are making lunch for the family, ourselves and our language trainer.

Then on Sunday we have the day off.  We are finding out our sites on Monday.  I anticipation is killing me!!  I can’t wait!!

March 30, 2011 7 PM

Last night in the middle of the night we had the heaviest rain I’ve experienced since being here.  I don’t know if it was as intense as I thought it was, but on the tin roof it sounds like buckets falling from the sky.  And then also with the wind, thunder and lightning, it is scary.  It makes you wonder if your roof is going to cave in, but it never does.  It also makes for a challenging walk in the morning.  It was still raining pretty hard when I got up this morning.  I had to use an umbrella to get to the bathroom.  By the time I made it to the conference center I had to wash my feet.

We had our mock LPI today.  I think/hope everyone in my group did well.  None of us used any English, which is the most important thing, but I’m skeptical that I would have passed had it been the real thing.  We will find out tomorrow how we did exactly and we should be getting feedback.  Then we have two more weeks to study.

We had an interesting session today on working in war-torn areas.  At first, I didn’t think it was very relevant to me, because I’m not going to Northern Uganda where the war was.  But then I realized that there are people displaced into every region of the country.  They also talked about how there are refugees from every one of Uganda’s neighbors, the most relevant to me probably being the DRC and Rwanda.  

Tonight when I went down to the bathing area to bath, I saw the coolest lightning storm.  It wasn’t raining at all, but there were these big puffy clouds in the distance that looked like they were lighting up.  At first I wasn’t sure what it was, but then I figured out it was lightning.  What seemed strange to me was that there was no thunder.  It just looked like there was a light show in the clouds.  It’s probably just a sign of more rain tonight, but it was totally worth it just to get to see that.

March 28, 2011 7:45 PM

Everyone is getting really anxious about site announcements next week.  For me, I think I know where I kind of want to be and I’m afraid I’m going to be bummed if I don’t get something close.  It’s a little intense that we go to our future site visits only two days after we find out where they are.  Some of the Peace Corps staff is saying they don’t have any idea where out sites are yet, but we all kind of know they are lying to us cause they can’t tell us yet.  It’s really hard because we know they know where we’re going and they just won’t tell us.  Some people have gotten clues from one person or another about where they are going, but I have no idea yet accept that it is somewhere where they will speak Runyankore/Rukiga.

We’ve gotten a lot out of training so far, but sometimes it seems a little exhausted.  Some of the sessions we are having this week don’t really seem necessary.  All we really have to worry about now is our LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) and then we should be golden until we get to site.

Also, as a side note, I figured out the cheapest way for people to call me is to call from Skype to my phone.  It should be about $0.13 per minute.  To do that I think you would call 256-0791678478.  So feel free to call, just try not to call me when it is the middle of the night here.  The time difference is 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (until the U.S. goes through daylight savings again in the fall and then it will be 8 hours ahead).