Friday, March 25, 2011

March 25, 2011 8:30 PM

So we were back in training today.  It was nice to hear about everyone’s trips.  Some of the groups, especially those in the West Nile were saying how the people in their region were talking about how the Peace Corps used to be there in the 70’s and how they are happy that the volunteers are coming back.  Everyone generally had a good time.  The Ugandans were telling all of us how “smart” we looked in our new dresses.  Overall we had a pretty relaxed day and we were done with training at about 3 PM.

March 24, 2011 6:20 PM

I’m back from Ibanda.  Language immersion is over.  The trip back was just as long as the trip there, but it seemed longer.  My host family was really excited to see me back.  I’m kind of sad to have left Ibanda.  Southwest Uganda is so pretty.  I’m kind of glad though because now I can rest and relax a little.  We have a half day tomorrow and we don’t have anything on Saturday or Sunday.
                                    
When we got to the taxi park in Kampala we ran into some of the other groups returning.  It sounds like everyone else had a good time.  We will hear more about it language immersion processing tomorrow morning.

March 23, 2011

Today we had our last full day here in Ibanda.  I’m really sad to go back.  This part of the country is amazing.  We got our dresses today and we had a little fashion show.  We even got the guys to get traditional African shirts.  I think we are all really happy with our dresses.  We are going to wear our new clothes on Friday and show everyone.

We also went to a secondary school here today.  Bernard, our language trainer, knew the headmaster.  The school was way up in the hills.  The scenery was beautiful.  We greeted each class in Runyankore so we could practice.  The students were so excited to see us.  They all wanted to shake our hands.  The school atmosphere was awesome and the headmaster wants to apply for a volunteer the next time Peace Corps had education volunteers come in.


Me, Emily and Bailey in our new dresses

March 22, 2011

This morning we had a structured lesson and then we went to the market to buy food for dinner at Charlene’s.  We headed to Charlene’s site after lunch.  It took us about an hour and a half to get there because we walked slow and we were taking pictures and greeting people.  Charlene’s site is really nice.  She lives on the campus of her PTC (Primary teacher’s college).  She has running water and electricity.  After we got the grand tour of the campus, we made dinner.  We had salsa, guacamole, pita, refried beans and chocolate cake.  We also made passion fruit juice.  The food was amazing as well as the company.  I think today was one of the best days I’ve had here so far.  Charlene is awesome and I can’t wait to see her again at the 50th anniversary party.  Charlene’s was the first real site I’ve seen.  This makes me really want to know where my site is.  I also feel like I’m forming a preference for where I want to be.  I think I would really like to be down near the Rwanda border (near Kabale).  We find out our sites in a little less than two weeks and I think we’re all getting anxious.  My language group has come to the conclusion that we won and got the best region.  It is amazing here!! 


March 21, 2011

I would say today was a pretty big success.  Although when I woke up this morning there was still no water.  I ended up with a cold bucket bath and the water came back shortly after that (just my luck!).  So we started a little late due to our water problem, but breakfast was amazing and it was included in our room.  After breakfast we had a two hour language lesson and then we went out into the town.  We pretty much greeted everyone we came in contact with to practice the language.  We got to go to the market and we learned how to bargain (although we didn’t buy anything).  Right before lunch, we met up with Charlene (a PCV who lives about an hours walk down the road).  She spent the afternoon with us and I think we are going to her site tomorrow for dinner and possibly staying overnight.

Our lessons ended at about 5 and we decided to go out in the town and buy fabric to get dresses made.  We picked out fabric and talked to a taylor.  She said they would be done by Wednesday afternoon, but if they aren’t we can ask Charlene to pick them up for us. 

We ended our night with dinner at the hotel and we played some cards.  All in all, it was a good day and I looking forward to tomorrow.

March 20, 2011

We left for language immersion today.  Finally!!  We had to go to Kampala to get a bus to Ibanda.  From the time the bus actually left until the time we arrived was 6 ½ hours.  We waited about 45 minutes for the bus to fill up and then we left.  While waiting, there were constantly people trying to sell us stuff.  Anything from food to drinks to sunglasses and watches.  Every time the bus stopped, these people would run up to it and try to sell us stuff.  Towards the end of the trip there was a woman selling bananas.  Emily was interested in buying some, so because I had the window seat, I asked how much they were (in Runyankore, of course).  She responded in English saying 3000 shillings.  Emily and I were trying to figure out how many bananas we were getting.  In the process of discussing, the price magically went down to 2000.  So Emily decided to buy them not even knowing how many she was getting.  She ended up with the entire bunch of bananas which was about 20 bananas.  Apparently our strategy of bargaining was not the best.  Bernard, our language trainer, told us we could have gotten them for 1500.
                                                                                   
Ibanda is a nice little town.  We’ve noticed a lot of seamstresses, so we want to try to get dresses made before we leave.  We may actually be able to fit it into the program because we need to bargain for fabric and then bargain with the seamstress.  Tonight we had a pretty chill night of playing games.  Right before bed I was going to take a shower and it seems as though the water is out.  I guess I will be showering in the morning.  That’s okay though because there is no light in the bathroom and it’s dark out.


March 19, 2011 7:40 PM

Today was our tour of Kampala.  Let’s just say it was a little ridiculous.  So we were divided up into groups of three and put with one of our trainers (a PCVT, language trainer or tech trainer).  The trainer was supposed to show us around to certain places like the taxi parks and then show us anywhere else we wanted to go.  Kampala is a crazy place.  Just crossing the street was a huge challenge.  There were people, cars, matotoos (taxis), and boda bodas (motorcycles) everywhere.  It had rained pretty hard last night, so the streets were covered in mud.  By the end of the day, my feet were covered in this black mud that I still can’t quite get off.  Everywhere you went there were people trying to sell you something.  I guess I could compare it to New York City, but much more extreme, especially because we stand out as white people who probably have money.  Before going, I was looking forward to going to Kampala, but after getting there it was a little disappointing.  There were some good things about the day though.  You can buy food anywhere on the streets of Kampala.  We bought slices of pineapple for 200 shillings (about 10 cents American).  We also got soft serve ice cream today.  I was able to get a powermatic today, so I don’t have to worry anymore about blowing up my computer (and we got a group discount on them!).  When we were finished at the end of the day we had to take public transport home so we could see how it worked.  I don’t feel very confident in taking public transport anywhere still.  We went to the taxi park and our trainer led us to a taxi and it took us home, but I don’t have any clue how she knew which taxi to take.  Anyway…tomorrow is another day.  We are leaving for Kampala (to get transportation to Mbarara and then Ibanda) at about 7:30 AM.  It’ll be a long day but I’m looking forward to it.

March 18, 2011 9:50 PM

So this was our last week of school based training.  I finished my student teaching yesterday and that was the greatest feeling ever.  Now I can focus more on language.  Tomorrow we are going to Kampala for the first time.  Then on Sunday we leave for language immersion.  This was our last week with our PCV trainers.  It’s little bit of a sad goodbye.  They have been really great and we are really lucky to be the first group to have PCVs with us in training.  Some of them are COSing (Close of Service) and are heading back to the U.S. in the next couple weeks and some will be in country for a little longer, but it’s still sad to see them go.

On Sunday, we are leaving Luweza at 7:30 AM.  We are going to Kampala to the taxi park and then probably to Mbarara where we will change taxis and go on to Ibanda.  In total, the journey will probably take anywhere from 5 to 7 hours.  It is suggested to pack really light because we may have our bags on our laps depending on the transportation.  It should be nice to go see another part of the country.  And from what I hear, the Ankore region is the prettiest part of the country.  We are spending about four days in Inbanda.  We are returning to Luweza on Thursday.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 14, 2011 7 PM

So the foods here sometimes are amazing and sometimes you don’t understand why people eat them.  This country has an amazing resource in their fruits.  So far I’ve eaten banana (obviously), pineapple, watermelon, mango, guava, papaya, pear, apple, passion fruit and jack fruit.  I don’t think I’ve had fruit in this country that I didn’t like.  And a lot of them are grown locally.  I think the apples and the watermelon are imported, but my host mom told me I can go pick guavas in our yard whenever I want.  I also see jack fruits everywhere.  The Ugandans call papaya “popo”.  The first I heard that from one of the volunteers I thought the police where coming (haha).  I always like the mangos.  Until I came here, I don’t think I had ever had an actual mango (just mango flavored things like waterice).  Trust me, mango flavored things don’t do the actual fruit justice.

The vegetables here are also pretty good.  They have tomatoes, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, egg plant, green beans, pumpkin, green peppers and probably some others that I’m forgetting.  The Ugandans often get the names for tomatoes and egg plant mixed up.  They also call regular potatoes “irish”.  The sweet potatoes aren’t like yams that we have at home.  They look like regular potatoes but they are sweeter.  They call green beans French beans.

Usually every day I eat breakfast, break tea, lunch, evening tea and dinner.  Breakfast can be anything from some fruit and bread with margarine or peanut butter to scrambled eggs to French toast.  Break tea is something we get on days we have training.  It is usually at about 10 or 10:30 in the morning.  We have black tea and a small snack.  The snack can be samosas (which is kind of like a spring roll), fried dough, chips, ground nuts (which is what they call peanuts), or corn muffins.  Lunch is usually some combination of rice, pumpkin, vegetables, meat, beans, matooke and some kind of fruit (usually pineapple).  Evening tea is kind of just a little snack I get when I get home at night.  I have tea or passion fruit juice and some snack.  Usually it is some fruit (like bananas and jack fruit), little cookies,and/or sometimes some bread with peanut butter.  And dinner is usually at about 9 PM.  It almost always has matooke in it somewhere.  If there is no matooke, we usually have some form of banana.  Sometimes we have rice, irish, posho, beans, or French beans.  We also usually have fruit for dessert.  It’s usually pineapple or bananas.

So needless to say, I wish I could bring some of the fruits back to the U.S. with me, but I also really don’t want to eat matooke everyday (even though my host mom’s matooke is pretty good).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 13, 2011

It is always interesting to see what my host family is interested in talking about with me.  Last night we had a discussion on divorce.  They found it so fascinating.  They thought that only celebrities got divorced.

I cleaned pretty much everything today.  I cleaned my clothes and my sheets.  I also cleaned the floor in my room.  Last night I cleaned my shoes too.  I don’t think everything will be this clean again until I get to site.

While I was eating lunch today the radio was on (as it usually is).  The announcer was not speaking English, but I kept hearing him say “Abba”.  Then he started naming Abba songs and he played about a half dozen of them.  In between songs he would talk.  I wish I knew what he was saying.  All I could understand was what he said in English, like “Abba” and “Sweden”.  I guess I found this way too amusing.

This week is our last week in the school.  We are solo teaching this week.  We are there Tuesday (in the morning only), Wednesday, and Thursday.  I don’t have any classes on Tuesday but I still have to go.  We are supposed to be leaving for language immersion next Sunday morning.  Can’t Wait!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pictures!!


Monkeys at the training center in Luweza



Lake Victoria





My room at my homestay



My host family's chicken coop




The front yard at my homestay




Monkeys at the Entebbe Zoo



I saw Giraffes...but only at the zoo

Thursday, March 10, 2011

March 10, 2011

My homestay is on a massive hill.  Coming home every day I have to climb up it and it just gets steeper and steeper.  My host mom tells me that I have no need for exercising, I just need to walk up the hill once a day and that is enough.  I really like my homestay.  I just wish it was closer to the training center.  Some people only walk about 5 minutes to get there and it takes me about 30.  However, I think the real challenge is on the days when I walk with Andrew (a PCT that lives a few houses up from me).  He walks so fast that I have trouble keeping up.  My host mom asks me why he "runs", although he is only walking fast not running.  But the Ugandans think I walk fast.

Teaching has been going okay.  The teacher I'm working with isn't the best.  He is really willing to work with me, but I feel like our lesson plans are a little incomplete and too short for the allotted time.  I just can't wait until next week is over.  Everyone is really excited for language immersion.

Hopefully I'll upload some pictures soon.  I haven't gotten them on my computer yet.

March 8, 2011 8:45 PM

My feet never seem to be clean here.  The dust from the roads makes them filthy almost instantaneously.  I don’t even see the point in cleaning my shoes.  So my feet keep going back into dirty shoes.  The Ugandans have the cleanest feet.  They will make themselves late just to clean their shoes.  There are some things in this country that I don’t think I will ever understand.

We have been getting most of our language lessons at the schools we are teaching at.  Our language teachers teach those in the Primary schools in the morning and then they come to our schools.  It does not seem to be working.  Either the conditions for the lesson are a lot better for primary or those in secondary don’t get nearly as long a lesson.  I think those of us that are in secondary are at a disadvantage just because of how and when we are getting language in.

Today was International Womens Day.  Everyone’s homestay families were confused as to why we didn’t have off from training.  To commemorate we had a session on gender roles in the U.S. and in Uganda.  We started the session with an activity where we reversed our gender roles.  The guys were to act like Ugandan women and we were to act like Ugandan men.  All the girls found it entertaining.  The guys were waiting on us.  They weren’t allowed to look at us in the face.  They had to kneel in front of us out of respect.  We were supposed to tell them how weak they were and how everything they did was an accomplishment for us, not for them.  Although this is not exactly what we, as American females, are experiencing in Uganda, this is the reality for many women living in Uganda.  In honor of International Womens Day, we got out of sessions at about 3:30.

I had an interesting conversation with my host mom today after dinner about the difference between pets in the U.S. and Uganda.  My host family has a dog.  His name is Promise.  For the first week he didn’t really like me.  But that’s just because he is trained to be a guard dog and I was seen as an intruder.  He has now gotten used to me.  I really have the urge to pet him, but I’m a little afraid of how the family will react.  My host mom was asking me if my dogs slept in the house in the U.S.  When I told her they did, she thought it was really funny.  Then she asked me when they guarded me.  I had to explain to her that my dogs are not big and they are not guard dogs.  I wanted to tell her that my dog sleeps in my bed at night, but I was afraid that was too much for one night.  I’m enjoying this cross-cultural exchange and I think my family is amused by the way Americans live.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March 7, 2011

I taught my first class today!!  I was co-teaching an S1 Math class.  The Ugandan teacher introduced the topic of numbers and then went over addition and I had to go over subtraction (yes, they learn addition and subtraction in Secondary school).  Sounds easy...It isn't.  The teacher didn't collaborate with me much before we went in.  He basically threw me his notes and what he wanted me to cover.  So I had problems I needed to go over that I had never looked at before and I had to solve them as I went in my head.  That's what I call an on the fly lesson.  I still have 5 more lessons to co-teach this week and then next we I will be solo teaching probably 4 or 5 lessons.  Needless to say, I can't wait for next week to be over.

Things here have been hectic.  We have been having 12 hour days about 5 days a week and then we have a half day on Saturday.  On Sundays I need to do laundry and catch up on other things.  So I don't really ever get time off.  And when I do have time off I feel obligated to spend time with my homestay family.  Its kind of rough right now, but everyone here is really helpful and I just have to make it through training.

I got to talk to Julie, Jamie, Joey and Kevin yesterday.  I finally got through!  It only took two weeks.  It was nice talking to them, but I had to cut it a little short.  It was time for dinner and I think I held up dinner a little because I was on the phone.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

March 6, 2011

Yesterday we had a fair put on my some of the current PCVs.  I finally got to meet Shannon which was exciting. She is also in the same region that I'm going to, so she speaks Runyankore.

I enjoy how they say certain things here.  One of the volunteer trainers yesterday complemented me on my outfit and said I looked smart, which here just means you look put together and nice.  Although some of you might find this hard to believe, but I've been getting a lot of compliments on my clothes.  The other trainees often tell me how nice I look.

March 4, 2011

It still amazes me how much American culture is here in Uganda.  My homestay family listens to music on the radio a lot and today I heard both The Spice Cirls and Justin Bieber.  They also like to try to put on the TV when we eat dinner (if the power is on).  Most of the time it is news.  I find it really interesting being here and watching the news about all the uprisings in Africa and the arab world.  It seems so much closer to home.

I had quite an intense language lesson today.  We reviewed everything we have learned so far.  I'm actually kind of getting it.  I can't wait for language immersion.  That will be our first chance to get away from here and fully engulf ourselves in the language.

March 3, 2011

Today we went to UWEC in the afternoon.  UWEC is the Uganda Wildlife Education Center (basically the Entebbe zoo).  It was very different from an American zoo.  There were monkeys everywhere.  Now I can say I finally saw giraffe in Africa.  After that we ordered pizza and had it delivered to Luweza.  I think that was the first real American food I've had since I got here.

March 2, 2011

Today was our first real day in the school.  It was good and bad.  The teachers weren't all clear on what was going on.  Once we clearly stated our purpose things got better.  I sat in on two classes.  The first one was Senior 2 and they were learning word processing.  The second was Senior 3 and they were learning Excel.  Computer class is only required up to Senior 2, so in my first class there was about 45 students and 2 or 3 students to each computer and the second class was only about 9 students and everyone had their own computer.  I'm getting used to the computer teacher and I'm sitting in on another one of his classes on Friday.  I'm also sitting in on a math class.  For the first time today I had to eat with my hands.  The school gave us lunch of posho (a very bland much made from maize) and beans.  It was harder and messier than it looks.  I'm sure that won't be the last time for that.

March 1, 2011

I can't believe its March already.  Today was the actual 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps.  We commemorated it at break tea today.  We sang Happy Birthday and Dan reenacted the speech that John F. Kennedy made at the University of Michigan in October of 1960.  It was funny because he got a suit jacket from reception and the sleeves were too short.  It was kind of nice to hear it considering that is the reason all of us are here.

February 28, 2011 10:10 PM

Today was quite a day.  It started with my host mom not having breakfast anywhere near on time.  So when Andrew (another PCT who lives up the road) arrived, breakfast hadn’t even been started.  I didn’t mind, but my host mom would not let me leave without eating something.  I ended up taking some bananas and pineapple with me and eating while we walked.  In the end she felt really bad and I think breakfast will be more timely tomorrow.

This morning at training we had a homestay processing and language lesson before lunch and after lunch we went to our schools to start our school-based training.  My school is Kings Way High School.  The rode we take to get there is like a roller coaster so Emma (our Peace Corps driver) takes us there and picks us up every time.  The view from up there is amazing.  Dan (one of our PCV trainers) is assigned to go with us.  I felt bad after talking to Dan about school based training and he was telling me how much work they put into trying to make school-based training a really good experience, but you never know when things might not work out and they don’t go as planned.

Being at the school was really cool.  We met with the head master then he introduced us to the teachers.  I’m getting to work with a computer teacher and because of the schedule, I will probably also work with a couple math teachers.  Math is my second subject, so I could end up with that.  After meeting with the teachers briefly we got a tour of the campus.  It is mostly a boarding school, so we got to see the dorms as well as the classrooms and labs.  The computer lab is pretty good.  It has about 20 computers and they said they all work.  After the tour, we introduced ourselves to the student body at an assembly.

It was interesting because today was the first time I’ve heard Dan speak in his Uganglish accent.  Most PCVs adopt a Uganglish accent (which means they speak slower and a little bit different) because otherwise they are not understood by the Ugandans.  Dan has been here 3 years and he is really good at his accent.  It seems strange because it sounds so deliberate and almost condescending.  But, in fact, it is not deliberate.  By the end of the day he was talking to us a little bit in the accent.

I feel like things here keep getting better and better and I’m really excited to sit-in on these class sessions this week.

This evening, once back at my homestay, the girl who lives here told me we have a visitor.  It actually wasn’t a visitor exactly, but it was my host mom’s other son.  He was out in the village but he is back now.  He likes to talk a lot and he enjoyed comparing the U.S. and Uganda with me.  My host mom showed me today how she washes dishes and I told her about dishwashers and she was a little amazed.  Everyone in the family is helpful in learning the language, Runyankore.  I get my language teacher tomorrow.

For now, things couldn’t be better.

February 27, 2011 11 AM

The way they eat here is so different than it is back home.  For dinner last night, my host mom gave me bananas and beans.  In the U.S. we would probably consider a balanced meal to be a meat (or fish), a starch and a vegetable.  In Uganda, a balanced meal is food and sauce.  Food would be something like bananas and sauce would be something like beans.  The bananas I had last night were different.  They were cooked and cut long ways.  They were sweet unlike matooke.  I still don’t know if I liked them or not, but they were better with the beans than by themselves. 

I think I’ve kind of figured out this living situation.  I think her one son lives here with her and the other son does not.  It doesn’t look like the two girls that work for her live here. 

I slept pretty good last night until 4:30 when the rooster started.  He didn’t stop until after 7.  I’ll have to get used to that.

The view from where I live is amazing.  The tar mac seems to be in a valley and we live up on one of the hills.  You can see all the houses on the other side.

This morning I had the best meal since I’ve been here.  Unlike with lunch and dinner, Ugandans see breakfast much like Americans do.  I had two eggs with onions, tomato and green pepper and two pieces of bread with butter.  My host mom bought me chocolate drink (which is much like hot chocolate).  And I made this meal myself.  My host mom wanted to make sure my eggs were cooked the way I wanted so she had me make them myself.

February 26, 2011 3:00 PM

This morning after breakfast, we had to get all of our stuff out and check out of our rooms.  Starting at around 9 o’clock some of the families started to arrive.  It was kind of like being at an orphanage and getting adopted.  Whenever someone got called because their family had arrived we would all clap like it was a personal achievement.  I got called about half way through at about 11 o’clock.  My family isn’t what I would call a family at all.  It’s a single woman (I don’t know what happened to her husband) who has two kids that are grown and don’t live with her.  She makes sweaters for a living and has two girls working for her, but I can’t tell if they live with her or not.  Her house is pretty unconventional.  To get from my room to the dining room, you have to go outside.  There is electricity but no running water.  My host mom is very helpful and she is slowly showing me how things work.

February 24, 2011 8:45 PM

 Stand fast has been lifted!  We are now allowed to explore around as we please as long as we are not by ourselves.  I went to an internet cafĂ© today and had internet for the first time in two weeks.  When we got back, it was like coming back from another planet.  It was the most exciting thing that has happened since we got here.  I wasn’t able to use my own computer to post this on my blog, but it was exciting nonetheless.

We got our homestay assignments today and we go to homestays on Saturday.  I’m going to be staying with a family in Sseguku/Nazziba.  It will be about a 2.5 KM walk to Luweza every day.  We also got our school assignments for our in-school teaching the next few weeks.  I’m going to Kings Way High School which is about 8 KM from here.  Due to the hilly roads that we need to take to get there, we are the only ones that get a ride from Peace Corps to our school.  Everyone else has to walk or take public transit.  A lot of exciting things have been going on the past few days.  Sometimes the excitement makes it hard to sit through class all day.  But starting next week, three days a week, we will be in the schools all day.  We will be doing our language lessons on our down time at the schools.

So last night Kelsey and I had a lizard in our room.  We didn’t know what to do about it, but Lisa, on the other hand, got really excited about it and came in and chased it out our window.  It was really amusing.  I obviously, would not even take that much initiative to get a lizard out of my own room.

Even though we are not on stand fast anymore, we are still not allowed to travel into Kampala without permission.  There was a little bit of violence in the past few days and some of the lower level elections were cancelled.    We will see how that plays out.

February 22, 2011 8:50 PM

We had a first rain fall here in Africa today.  It was really hard and pretty quick.  It really down poured just before dinner.  It was really nice.  It cooled everything off and it was kind of nice just to see something different.

It’s funny how we have been finding joy in the little things here.  Since everything seems to be pretty much the same day in and day out, we really appreciate it when things are a little different.  For instance, we had carrots and potatoes as part of our lunch today and I Thought that was pretty amazing.  We also entertain ourselves with the weirdest things.  Every morning over breakfast we seem to discuss our dreams and how we slept.  In many of the Ugandan languages we are learning, “good morning” is literally translated “how did you spend the night.”  At first we thought that was strange, but then we realized that we were asking people how they slept, which is kind of the same thing.  Then at dinner we often share gossip about each other because we have nothing else to talk about and then we end the night playing cards.

Something they keep trying to instill in us about our service is what in Luganda they call mpola mpola, which means to take things very slowly.  It is kind of hard to do that now because we have sessions everyday all day.  Our lives now are nothing like they will be at site, but we somehow have to learn to adapt to this way of life.  Everything in Uganda moves slower and not because the people are lazy, but just simply because in this culture things are not fast paced like they are in the United States.  I don’t think it will be hard to get into this new lifestyle, but it may be hard to get back to a fast paced life after service.

We had a session today specifically about HIV and AIDS and how to teach it in the schools.  Even though this is not our primary project, many  PCVs do touch upon it sometime during their service.  We started this session with an interesting activity that we could do with the kids in the schools.  Everyone was given an index card.  Everyone is told to shake hands with at least three other people.  Most of the index cards have nothing on them.  One of the index cards has a star on it.  Two of the index cards have a heart on them and these people are told to only shake hands with each other.  One of the index cards says to not shake hands with anyone.  And one of the index cards says to only shake hands with a bag on their hand.  As you may have figured out shaking hands signifies having sex.  The card with a star on it means that person is HIV positive.  The two cards with hearts on them are in a monogamous relationship.  Obviously, the person that doesn’t shake hands with anyone is practicing abstinence.  And the person only shaking hands with a bag on their hand is using a condom.  This can be a great activity to show how fast HIV can spread and ways that people can protect themselves.  They do this even with primary school children, which seems inappropriate but in Uganda it is necessary.  There are many misconceptions about AIDS here.  Some people think that Americans are trying to give them AIDS.  They also just don’t understand basic things that you would expect Americans to understand. 

We move to our homestays on Saturday and stand fast is going to be lifted no later than Friday.  Elections were even more peaceful than expected.  As of right now, it looks like they may take us to Kampala next weekend, but we shall see.

February 21, 2011 9:00 PM

Today is President’s day in the U.S., but here in Uganda it is just a normal day.  However, on April 1st we will be taking part in the Peace Corps 50th anniversary celebration here in Uganda.  We will be participating in a day of service at a local primary school and then we will be attending the evening reception.  Everyone is really excited.  There will be many other Peace Corps volunteers from all over the country and many other aid workers from other countries and organizations.  It will be a good opportunity to get to know other volunteers and interact with other aid workers.

So almost every day in training HIV/AIDS awareness/prevention is brought up, on some level.  It is interesting because how people in Uganda express that message to primary school students, I don’t think people in the U.S. would express that the same way to even secondary school students.  AIDS prevention is big here.  They start at the primary level.  In that respect, children here know so much more than U.S. students.  From what I can tell, their efforts are really working here.  The rate of infections is going down faster here than most other African countries.  It’s great to see how we can be a big part of this by teaching it in the schools here.

So I have a random thought/story for the day…Only in Africa could you be in a group of people having a conversation, someone says malaria pills and half the group walks away.  Here that is seen as normal among us PC trainees.  (This actually happened to me and we saw nothing wrong with it).

February 20, 2011 9:10 PM

So today was the most exciting day we’ve had here so far.  We got out language assignments today right before dinner.  I’m speaking Runyankore, which is spoken in the southwest of Uganda.  I’m going to be in the region right near Queen Elizabeth National Park.  It was crazy when we got our language groups.  I compared it to an experience I had this morning on my way to breakfast.  We were walking from the dorm to the dining room and there was this crazy line of ants marching in the grass.  They were all going to same direction.  Then Max (one of my fellow PCTs) put a piece of banana in the middle of them and they went nuts.  It was utter chaos.  This is what I think Peace Corps staff saw today with all of us.  First we wanted to know what language.  Then we wanted to know who we were going to be near.  And then finally we wanted to know what region of the country we would be in.  And we go about all this in utter chaos.  I’m in a group with Ryan and Emily (the married couple), Silos, and Bailey.  I’m really happy with my group.  I feel like they will be a good combination to learn a language with.

We are supposed to be going to homestays on Friday.  I haven’t heard much about whether that is happening or not.  Museveni has officially won the election and I haven’t heard of any issues, so hopefully we will be going as planned.

Since I’ve been here I’ve kind of become a vegetarian.  I don’t like the meat here at all. It is really boney and fatty.  After about three days, I stopped eating it.  I did however eat meat today because we got ground beef to make our Italian lunch, which was amazing.  But I don’t think I’m going to be eating too much true Ugandan meat, unless I have to.

I just got a phone yesterday.  Feel free to call me.  My number is 011256791678478 (that is the country code and all…just type in those exact numbers).  You will need a calling card, but if you call me it doesn’t cost me anything.  I bought about an hour’s worth of minutes and I’ve used pretty much all of them already.  Luckily you can buy minutes anywhere.

I’ve already gotten some weird tans.  I’ve been getting a lot of sun just from walking around and hanging out.  My sandals make weird tan lines as well as my clothes, but it is really nice to sit outside.

We watched another good movie the other night that I would recommend if you are interested in the war in the north of Uganda.  It is called “War Dance”.  It was really interesting because some of us going to be working in the post-conflict areas.

We basically had this weekend off.  Each of our mentor groups had to cook one meal.  So we cooked for ourselves lunch and dinner yesterday and today.  I had lunch today and we made Italian.  It was amazing and it was nice to not be eating the same thing every day.  You should see how and where they prepare our meals.  It is basically cooking on some gas powered burners and mostly charcoal outside.  It was awesome what we were able to cook in such an environment.  Other than that, we had the weekend off.  It got kind of boring sometimes.  We did a lot of sitting outside, watching the monkeys play, walked to the store, reading and playing a lot of card games.  It was nice to be a little lazy but I’m definitely ready to get back to classes tomorrow.

February 16, 2011 5:45 PM

For the past few days we have been having sessions on things from safety and security to medical to culture and language.  We are still learning survival Luganda.  We will be getting our region (and therefore our language) at the beginning of next week.

Today we had a session on diversity which was not only informative but interesting as well.  Yes, we all face diversity issues being American in Uganda, but some face it more than others or in a different way.  As a white person, the Ugandans often call us Mzungus, but Asian Americans, for instance, are sometimes called Muchina.  And African Americans are often times not considered American at all.

Yesterday, I took a walk to the supermarket.  It took about 35 minutes to get there and the beginning of it was up hill.  Once we got to the top of the hill it was like a whole different planet.  There was a paved road and really nice houses (basically mansions) with big walls and barbed wire surrounding them.  It was much different than walking to the hotel where everyone seemed very poor and they appeared to live in (what I would call) shacks.  When we got to the supermarket, it was like walking into America.  It was like a small mall with a grocery store and some clothing stores.   However, they did not have what I wanted, which was a surge protector and a power stabilizer.  Right now I can’t plug in anything, because I’d be taking a chance at having it blown out if there was a power surge (which happens often here).

Elections are this Friday and everyone is a little on edge to see how they go.  We are supposed to get the official results on Monday.  Everyone here wants things to go smoothly so that we all can move on in our Peace Corps careers and go to our home stays and eventually our sites.

It seems like every week we are getting more and more vaccinations.  Yesterday we learned about Malaria and got vaccinated for Meningitis and Rabies 1 (we are getting three rabies shots in total).  Overall, we will be vaccinated against Yellow Fever, Rabies, Hep A and B (I already had hep B), Typhoid and the flu by the end of our ten week training.

There have been a few volunteers passing through here on their way to or from Close of Service (COS).  Three of our volunteer trainers were in the same training group which came here two years ago.  Many people from their training group are COSing now.  There was one that came through today that was taking two dogs home.  She had a lot of good information on having a dog in Uganda as a PCV.  I take it that a lot of people in my training group want a dog (whether they’ve had one before or not).  I guess I’m just curious to see who follows through on that.

This weekend we are all taking a chance, in smaller groups to try and cook here in Uganda.  Each group will be serving one meal and we are doing this for lunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday.  However, it looks like we are cooking Mexican, Italian, Indian and Asian food.  So we will see how that goes.

I got my first piece of mail yesterday!  However, it was number 3…I guess 1 and 2 are still coming, but I’m not sure.  We shall see in the coming weeks.

February 13, 2011 8:20 PM

Today (being that it is Sunday) was a day off (for the most part).  After breakfast, we learned to do laundry Ugandan style.  Let’s just say my clothes are clean, but my knuckles are raw.  It took me about an hour to wash all my laundry to date, but more than half of my clothes are still outside drying.  After laundry, we had a brief tour of the training center grounds and a brief tutorial of where we are allowed to go in Luweza. 

After lunch, I learned to play Bridge (yes, that game old ladies play).  I keep learning new games.  Everyone brought cards and different games.  After we were done playing bridge, a few of us went down through Luweza to see the five star hotel.  It was gorgeous down there.  It was right on Lake Victoria.  It was quite a hike though.  It took us about 2 and half hours to go there and back.  It was an experience walking through the town and seeing all the people (or them seeing us).  They call white people Mzungu and they are fascinated with us especially the children.  They run up to the side of the rode waving and yelling Mzungu.  It makes you feel kinda like you’re in a parade because you are waving and saying hello to everyone.  They are often surprised when we greet them with the little Luganda we know.

Yesterday I started taking my Malaria prophylaxis.  Everyone got different kinds of malaria pills.  I don’t know why.  I got the one that only needs to be taken once a week and has among its side effects “vivid dreams.”  So far, no crazy dreams…or actually, no dreams at all for that matter (I slept like a rock last night).

The training center where we are staying is really nice.  The people are nice and the grounds are pretty.  We can play volleyball or football (soccer).  Our dorm rooms are somewhat small, but they also gave us a place to store stuff we don’t need right now.  We can keep our stuff there straight through our home stays.  They also have a lot of security here.  They told us to be aware of and be nice to the guys with the AK47s (they are only here for our protection).  They even have dogs that they release at night.  We are not allowed outside after midnight because that’s when then dogs are released.

I’ve been getting a lot of exercise.  I think I’m also going to start running again.  We aren’t allowed to run by ourselves, but there are a lot of runners in this group.  Some who are really hard core, some who are kinda like me and even a few who just want to get into it.  I feel like I might start losing weight fast.  I’ve been eating every meal, but I haven’t been eating as much portion wise.  We have been eating a lot of local staple foods.  Last night I tried mutoke.  It is unripened, mushed up, cooked bananas.  It has the consistency of mashed potatoes and it taste almost like nothing.  They say you are supposed to add sauce to it.

Tomorrow, we are supposed to have a day like yesterday.  We are having a few sessions and finishing up our medical and placement interviews.  I really just want to start our really training, but I guess once we start I might want to be back here where I am now, because I will be so busy.

February 12, 2011 11PM

It’s the end of a long day.  This place we are staying at is really nice and I have seen monkeys, but (to the dismay of some of you) they are not running around in our rooms or anything like that.  We had sessions in the morning about some of the issues that we may encounter and the goals that are set forth for the work we will do.  I feel like we heard a lot about gender roles in Uganda as opposed to the US.  In Uganda, it is illegal to be homosexual, yet it is common for men to hold hands in public.  On the other hand, it is uncommon for two men to share a hotel room.  I found it interesting how much they stressed LGBT issues.  I’m not even sure if anyone in our group is gay.  All LGBT volunteers have to remain “in the closet” otherwise it could pose a risk to their safety.  It wasn’t that long ago that a gay rights activist was killed in Uganda.

In the afternoon, we had our medical interview and some people had their placement interview.  I have my placement interview on Monday.  We also received our medical kit today.  After dinner, I learned how to play Cribbage and then they showed a movie.  We watched “Volunteers”.  I would highly recommend watching it although it is nothing like what it is actually like to be in Peace Corps.  I also got a chance to talk to my mom today.  One of the Peace Corps staff members was letting everyone make a phone call home (your tax dollars hard at work).  It was nice to talk to her and hear that everything was going well there and that Baby was feeling better since her leg injury.

I’m getting along with all the other PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees).  We have a good group here.  I’m just anxious to get our regional assignments sometime at the end of next week.  We are learning 9 different languages.  We will be in groups of four and five learning language.  These people will also probably be the people closest to our site.  Even though we don’t get our exact site, I think everyone is curious to find out a little more information.

February 11, 2011 10:30PM (in Uganda)

So, We Have Arrived!!  Our plane landed in Entebbe a little before 7PM today.  I could tell this country was beautiful from the moment we landed as we flew in over Lake Victoria at sunset.  It is really humid here.  It is like Philadelphia in the summertime.  After we went through customs and got our bags, we were greeted by the Peace Corps Uganda director, Ted Mooney, and other staff members who got our stuff in the jeeps and got all of us on buses.  We then rode about a half hour to our training center.  It was interesting to see people walking around, riding bikes and running businesses (even though it was after dark at that point).  I noticed that there were no traffic lights in our entire ride (I guess that’s why it went so fast).  After we got here, we got our bags, picked roommates and picked rooms.  Kelsey and I decided to room together again.  We ended up with the last room at the end of the hall on the first floor.  The girls are on the first floor and the guys are on the second floor.  After dropping our stuff we went to have dinner, where we were introduced to the whole staff.  During dinner, we were given medical surveys to fill out before we meet with the medical staff tomorrow.  We were also given a lot of information to promote good health and prevent illness.  After dinner, I went back to my room, organized some of my stuff and took a hot shower.  Yes, we have hot water.  We also have electricity, which only went out once during dinner.  Breakfast tomorrow starts at 7, so I’ll probably go to bed soon.  So far, Uganda seems to be a very interesting very hot place.

February 11, 2011 12PM (in Johannesburg)

Right now I’m in the Johannesburg airport.  As we got off our plane we noticed that we were greeted by some sweet 90’s jams.  It’s kinda sad that I was more comfortable on the floor here than on my 15 hour flight.  I did sleep on the plane but it was very in and out.  I watched a few movies, but slept through part of them.  Right now I’m waiting for my next flight to Entebbe.  We should start boarding in about an hour.  I still need to get changed into appropriate clothing to arrive in.  It must be amusing to see us all in the airport waiting, because we all congregate in an isolated area and we have luggage everywhere.  We did the same thing in New York, but I think more people here are staring at us.  In total, this journey will end up taking about 36 hours from our hotel in Philly to the training center in Uganda.  Right now I think we are on hour 25 of this trip.  I can’t wait to just get there…I just want to sleep.