Saturday, December 29, 2012

December 29, 2012 12:30—Another Christmas Down in Africa (Part 4)

So we left Cape Town on the 24th and flew to Dar (via Jo-burg and Addis).  Shocker Ethiopian Air lost my bag AGAIN!  Luckily this time it only took them about a day to get it back to me.  We spent our first day in Tanzania in Dar es Salaam.  I spent the majority of Christmas day arguing with people.  We had to argue with the people at the ferry to get our ferry tickets for the next day but we did finally get our tickets and we didn’t have to pay again.  Then I spent a large portion of the rest of the day calling the airport (about 50 times) to get our bags back, but we got them back before leaving Dar (even if they did arrive at 2AM).

On the 26th we took the ferry in the morning to Zanzibar and then had an hour bus ride to get to the place we are staying.  We are right on the beach!  The water is a little disappointing because for most of the day the tide recedes too much and even when the tide is in, the water is really shallow.  In Dar and in Zanzibar, both, it is really really beyond hot!  It is hot during the day.  It is hot at night.  It is always hot!  That’s the only reason it would be nice to have the water right there to go in.  Nonetheless laying out on the beach has been really nice.

The first day we were here we mostly stayed at the place we are staying.  Then yesterday Kelsey and I took a Dolla Dolla (a public taxi) into Stone Town.  It was fun seeing Stone Town again.  I was basically our tour guide.  We saw many of the same places I saw in May with my parents.  We went to see Freddie Mercury’s house and we ate at Mercury’s restaurant.  The trip to Stone Town took all day, but it was nice to have something to do for one day. 

I’m not sure if I will leave here much until I leave.  Tomorrow we are going to a restaurant called The Rock, where you take a boat out to an island but then when you are done eating, the tide has receded and you can walk back.  Otherwise we have very few plans for our trip here.  Just more tanning and relaxing.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

December 24, 2012 12:10 AM—Another Christmas Down in Africa (Part 3)

Today was my last full day in Cape Town.  And what we did for our last day here was to rent a car (or more like a van to accommodate us all) and drive to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope.  Cape Point is hands down the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to!  I know I have a tendency to rave about certain places I’ve been, but this one tops the list and I don’t think it could be topped too easily.

Before we got all the way to Cape Point National Park we stopped at Boulder Beach and saw the penguin colony there.  There were so many penguins and people are allowed to use the same beach for swimming and sun bathing, so people can just hang out with the penguins.

This has been a really long exhausting day and week, so I’m just gonna let the pictures do the talking to describe our adventure today.  Otherwise, South Africa and Cape Town, in particular, was AMAZING!  I don’t want to leave.  This is really the anti-Africa.  South Africa is a somewhat poor country and there are small tribal villages and shanty towns, but what I saw of South Africa was almost exactly like America.  It may be hard for me to think about this and realize it, but I think this also has to do with the unusualness of the situation here.

Anyway, tomorrow we are on to Dar es Salaam and then Zanzibar!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

December 22, 2012 4:30 PM—Another Christmas Down in Africa (Part 2)

So I’m still in Cape Town and things are still amazing!  On Wednesday we went shark diving.  It was awesome!  Basically it involves being in the water in a cage with the great white sharks.  The water was really really cold despite the fact that we had wet suits.  We saw six unique sharks.  The biggest one was 3 meters long.  It was really cool just seeing them in the water and then we got to see them in the water as well.  You may think this seems like a thrill seeking activity but in reality it is just really interesting seeing the sharks in their natural habitat.

Then yesterday we went on a wine tour.  We got to go to 4 separate vineyards and we did wine and cheese tasting.  We tried several different kinds of red and white wine at each winery.  It was awesome!


And then today several of us went to Robben Island, which is the prison where Nelson Mandela spent most of his 27 years in prison.  It was a nice little cultural tour.  However, I couldn’t help but have a different perspective on it.  Looking at the prison I realized that it was actually nicer than most schools in Uganda.  The tour emphasizes how awful it must have been for the prisoners (which it definitely was), but I did feel like Ugandan school children are often times treated worse.  Either way, I’m really glad I got to see Nelson Mandela’s prison cell.

Nelson Mandela's Prison Cell

Tomorrow, our last full day in Cape Town, we are renting a car and driving to Cape Point, where we can see the penguins.  Then on Monday we leave for Dar es Salaam.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 19, 2012 6:00 PM—Another Christmas Down in Africa (Part 1)

So with Christmas fast approaching, it was about time for another African adventure.  On December 17th I left Uganda and flew to South Africa.  To get to South Africa I had to take three different flights.  First we went to Kigali, then Addis Ababa and finally we made it to Johannesburg.  Our plan was to stay in Jo’burg for one night and then fly to Cape Town.  From the time we got to the airport in Entebbe until we finally arrived in Jo’burg, the airline experience was a nightmare.  Ethiopian air was awful!  At the Entebbe airport the people were so ignorant and they wanted to photo copy our passports and our credit cards and they couldn’t explain why.  And when we tried to talk to them about anything they would laugh at us because that’s what Ugandans do when they are uncomfortable.  The Ethiopian airport in Addis is horribly designed.  It is not organized and many people almost missed their flights due to the airport security being incompetent.  And finally when we got to Jo’burg we realized that Ethiopia air lost every bag that we checked.  They said it was because we were coming from Uganda.  It seems like this kind of thing happens every day considering they were pointing out the bags that had been lost the day before.  Again, we were laughed at every time we tried to get some answers.  Luckily, our bags made it to Cape Town today, 2 days later.  Way to go Ethiopian Air!  You officially suck!  After this trip I will never again fly with them and for now I’m just hoping that they don’t lose my bag during the next two legs of my trip.

Other than the airline, everything has been great.  We arrived in Jo’burg on the 17th and we stayed at Bob’s Bunkhouse.  It was a nice little hostel near the airport and the people were pretty nice.  With only one night in Jo’burg we wanted to make our stay worth it, so we went to this restaurant called Carnivore.  It is one of only two in the world.  They serve all different kinds of meat including different kinds of game meat, such as zebra, antelope and crocodile.  It was awesome!

So much meat!

A big slice of zebra...MMMM

Piece of Crocodile next to the zebra

Then yesterday morning we had a short flight to Cape Town.  In Cape Town we are staying at Atlantic Point Backpackers and it is perfect.  It is near the waterfront.  It has a hot shower and free internet.  What more could we need?  When we arrived yesterday we dropped off our stuff and went for lunch and shopping.  There is a huge mall down on the waterfront that basically emphasizes how much Cape Town is like America.  I mean in a country with KFC and McDonalds and where you don’t have to be harassed to buy clothes, how could you not feel like you were in America.  Oh and did I mention, there are white people here…Everywhere!

Last night we went out to a sushi restaurant and then after that several of us stayed out and went to an Irish pub where there was a cover band playing American music.  It was fantastic, but we had a pretty late night.

Today once everyone got up and ready we went to Table Mountain.  6 people decided to hike up the mountain to the top.  But for me, I was in the group of 4 that chose to take the cable car to the top and back.  Partly, this decision was made because I didn’t have my sneakers because my bag still wasn’t here.  But I also didn’t feel like I was in shape enough for the hike.  Table Mountain was awesome!  The view was beautiful and you could see the clouds just rolling off the mountain.  However, it was so windy and cold at the top, we only stayed up there for about a half hour.  Then we came back to the hostel and I’m spending the rest of the day just relaxing.  Later tonight, the hostel is having a BBQ that we are participating in, so I’m sure that will be amazing!

All in all, I love it here!  I don’t want to leave.  This place is basically like America.  I don’t get stared at and I can get amazing food everywhere!

Friday, December 14, 2012

December 14, 2012 11:10 AM—School-Based Training(SBT) Part 2

So after Camp Build ended, I came back to Mukono for another week of School-Based Training (SBT) with the trainees who arrived here in November.  This week was their second week of teaching practice (third week of SBT).  So every morning there were three lessons and each trainee would teach one lesson and observe their fellow trainees the other two lessons.  And then every afternoon they would have other non-school-related sessions, such as medical.  Yesterday was the last day of teaching and the last day we spent at Mukono High School.  Today all the trainees (secondary and primary) are having general sessions before heading off to their satellite trainings tomorrow.  Everyone from secondary travelled over to Shimoni PTC (Primary Teachers College) today.  This is where all of the people from the primary sector have been for the entirety of school-based training.  So we are all staying here tonight and then all the trainees will travel to their respective regions tomorrow.

It has been a good week overall.  Observing the trainees teaching has been exhausting, but I feel like they are all really getting the hang of teaching in Uganda and I think they are ready to move on with their training and their service.  Personally, I’m sad to go.  I’ve been living and working with these trainees now for two weeks.  Even some of the secondary trainees have pointed out that they have spent more time with me and the other volunteer trainers than they have with the people in their group in the primary sector.  It’s just kind of disappointing that many of these trainees will not be placed near me and I will be leaving this country shortly after they swear-in as volunteers.  But nonetheless, I’m proud to say that I think we have trained an awesome group of people to take over this education program in Peace Corps Uganda and if everything goes well I’ll be able to attend their swearing-in in Janurary!

Next step…South Africa on Monday!!!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

December 8, 2012 8:30 PM—Camp BUILD

This past week I was at Camp BUILD in Kisubi, which is near Entebbe.  It was a lot of fun and a total success!  The Camp accommodated 100 boys between the ages of 12 and 15 from all over Uganda.  I participated as a staff member and I was assigned to be the town runner, so whenever we needed anything in town it was my job to go to town.  I also taught two different sessions during the week, Volcanoes and Gender Roles.  It was a lot of fun working with the boys.  It was so different than working with the girls.

During the week, the boys participated in different sessions which included both life skills and other activities.  They had sessions on nutrition, alcoholism, water and sanitation, domestic abuse, gender roles, malaria, HIV, and male and female reproductive health.  They also had a few just for fun sessions like volcanoes and bottle rockets.  Outside of sessions they had a time for activities every day as well as time for sports, where they had a football tournament throughout the week.

In addition to everything else that the kids were scheduled to do during the week, they also had time for “Building Blocks”.  These were small tasks and activities they could do that would earn them a building block and whoever got the most building blocks by the end of the week got a price.

Every night they also had an evening activity.  They watched two movies, learned how to play capture the flag, had a bon fire and had a dance party.

We also had four deaf kids at the camp, so every day all the campers got a brief sign language lesson so they could learn to better communicate with their fellow campers.

On Friday, we took the boys over the GLOW so the girls and boys could participate in a series of field day activity.  This was the first time all week that I got to see my girls from my school that I sent to GLOW.

Overall, I think the boys really enjoyed the camp.  The counselors and staff also enjoyed it.  Another totally successful project!

Making Volcanoes!!

One of the deaf kids teaching sign language

 Bottle Rockets

 Building Blocks 

(Yes, the groups were named after popular music artists in Uganda)

The boys from Build and the girls from Glow doing the limbo at field day

Our Staff Members

Friday, November 30, 2012

November 30, 2012 12:15 PM—School-Based Training (SBT)

I arrived here at school-based training on Monday and now we are coming to the end of our first week.  So far, so good.  I met the 27 secondary school trainees on Monday and I have yet to meet the primary trainees.  Since the beginning of the week we have had one volunteer leave, but the rest of them are still going strong.  This week has been very intensive with sessions that we, as trainers, are giving the trainees.  We have been teaching them everything from lesson planning to classroom control and management to subject specific information.  I really feel that this training is much better and more focused than the training I received last year.  Right now we are focusing with them on just their teaching, how to teach and how to teach in Uganda (which can be very different than teaching in America).

So far, I’ve really liked taking on this new role of Peace Corps Volunteer Trainer (PCVT).  It gives me an interesting perspective on how training is run and what all goes into it.  I was also really excited to meet the new trainees.  They are an enthusiastic, excited, energetic bunch of people who are really trying their best to embrace this country and its school system.  I’m also happy with the other PCVTs that were chosen to work with this training.

Tomorrow the trainees have been given the options to take a trip to Kampala to go shopping.  All of them have decided to take this opportunity.  As a trainer, I am also going to Kampala for the day just to hang out and probably get some good food.

On Sunday, I will be leaving here to travel to Camp Build in Kisubi.  So all of next week I’ll be working with Build and then I’ll be returning here on Saturday.  From there I have another week of training to attend before I go on vacation.  Working with training has been really good for me because I get to have a hand in the experiences of these trainees and it makes my time here go by faster.  Every day I’m one step closer to going home.

Friday, November 23, 2012

November 23, 2012 9:30 AM—Thanksgiving in Nebbi

Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays that you can actually truly celebrate here just like you would at home.  Generally all there is to it is a large meal with specific components that can (not always so easily) be made here.  This year I decided to celebrate Thanksgiving in Nebbi with a small group of friends.  My friend, Mike, lives right in Nebbi Town and he has a pretty big house on a very nice compound.  Last year I went to Gulu for Thanksgiving and there were at least 40 volunteers there.  And despite the fact that I really enjoyed last year’s Thanksgiving, it’s nice to be able to celebrate this year with a much smaller group.  I think in total there were 9 volunteers here and a few of Mike’s Ugandan friends also joined us for Thanksgiving.

So you may be wondering how exactly we can make something like a turkey without an oven.  The answer: Dutch oven.  This is where you take two very large pots, putting one right-side up and one up-side down on top of a sigiri, or charcoal stove.  And then you can put something that is in another pot in between the two large pots and this creates a type of oven for it.  So this is how we cooked our turkey.  We also had several other traditional Thanksgiving dishes and even some that weren’t so traditional.  We had mashed potatoes, stuffing (Stovetop instant stuffing!), gravy, vegetables (green beans and carrots), pumpkin soup, pasta salad, pita bread and the Ugandans brought Karo (which is millet bread, a traditional Ugandan food).  And then for desert I made pies and someone else made pumpkin bread.  I made a pineapple pie and an apple pie.  Both came out really good, so I was very pleased and I also got some rave reviews.  These were another thing we had to cook in the Dutch oven.

Pineapple Pie

Apple Pie

All in all, it was a great Thanksgiving but I’ll be glad to be home for Thanksgiving next year!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November 21, 2012 7:30—Grant Committee

Yesterday I attended my first grant committee meeting.  It was interesting that we got to see the grants and then discuss all the issues with them.  We even had quite a bit of input as volunteers.  To me, not having ever been on a Peace Corps committee before, it made Peace Corps seem a little more transparent.  I enjoyed working with the Peace Corps staff and seeing their input on different issues.  I also had the opportunity yesterday to close out my computer lab grant, so it’s officially done.  Before I leave next year I will have one more grant committee meeting in February and I’m sure we will find some new education volunteers to take over.

Today I’m still in Kampala, but I’m heading up to Nebbi in a little bit for Thanksgiving.  I’m making an apple pie and a pineapple pie, so I’m pretty excited!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

November 15, 2012 10:30 PM—Senior 2 Students, My Students

As I’m sitting here in my house tonight grading papers from my Senior 2 classes, I’m starting to realize how bittersweet it is really gonna be to leave here.  I got to thinking about this mostly because I was grading the Senior 2 papers.  These students, the Senior 2s, are my students more than any other group of students.  These were the ones I was teaching from the beginning.  I’ve been teaching them computers from the time I got here a year and a half ago and I also taught them Math for a while.  I can’t say I know any other students better.  These are the ones that I even know a lot of their names.  For a lot of them I can even put together both their names (their Christian name and their local name) and I can also pronounce most of them.  This was something I never thought I would learn.  As I’m grading their papers and looking at the list of names, I can picture the students.

A lot of people here keep asking when I’m leaving.  I think people are concerned that they won’t know and then they can’t say goodbye to me before I leave.  And as the end of the year is approaching even more people ask me this because it is really natural for teachers to leave at the end of a year.  But no students ask me this question more than the Senior 2s.  They heard that I wasn’t going to be here for the rest of this term starting next week.  They found this out because their computer exam was moved to this week to accommodate me.  I think they took this as I was possibly never coming back and so the questions were even more than usual.

As I sit here thinking about all this, I look back on the progress some of these girls have made since I got here.  I also can’t help but think of the girls that are always at the top.  These are the ones I seem to know the best.  They are the ones that keep going to camp and they seem to be the ones that are most likely to come and chat with me.  Many people would probably look at my situation and say how much I’ve changed the lives of some of these girls.  Going to camp alone really gives them something they would have never had otherwise.  They also have all these new computers in their computer lab.  And who knows, maybe I’ve been such an influence that a lot of these Senior 2s will opt to take computers next year as Senior 3s.  But what most people don’t see or think about is how much these girls have changed me.  Upon arriving in this country I was told that girls here are told they are no good at Math and Science and because of that they often just give up.  I was told girls here are generally not assertive and won’t look you in the eye.  They don’t speak up.  Just from taking a handful of my students I could prove most of these myths wrong.  They’ve changed the way I look at Ugandans and stereotypes in general. 

A lot of students (or people in general) will ask me to take them back to America.  Usually I would just brush them off, but I knew I crossed a certain point when I actually wanted to take some of my students back with me.  As far as Uganda goes I’m at a pretty good school and therefore we have some really good students.  It just kills me that if these girls were given the chance to go to University in the U.S. (or any other developed country), they could really make it.  But because they were born here and their families don’t have money, they will never live up to their full potential.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the means to make this happen.  Not to mention the fact that these girls aren’t ready to go to University yet, but even if they were I’m still helpless when it comes to this matter.

Despite any ill will or discouraged feelings I may have developed toward my school, especially lately, it will be bittersweet to leave my students.  I can’t wait to get out of here, but I hate to leave them.  As a whole, they have never truly disappointed or disgusted me.  There are very few things in this country that I will really miss, but this is one of them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

November 13, 2012 12:45 PM—Girl Tech Scholars Part 2

I feel like someone just told me Santa Claus wasn’t real.  This week I had the challenge of talking to my school about the possibility of one of our girls getting a scholarship to go to another school.  Leading up to this conversation with my head teacher I was anxious but hopeful.  I really felt like he is a reasonable, respectable person who really truly cares about the girls at this school.

After having a few different conversations with him about this over the past two days, I’ve come to realize that he isn’t exactly who I thought he was.  I realized before that it wouldn’t be in his best interest to let one of the top performers leave to go to another school, but I thought if he really cared about these girls, he would help them to possibly have this opportunity.  As it turns out, I was wrong.  He is more interested in his own self interest and the interest of the school in general, than he is of the best interest of these girls.  I think what I thought before of him caring about the students was really him caring about the school.  You may not think there is a difference, and normally there isn’t, but in this case there is.  In my conversations with him he would say things like “It would do the school a disservice for one of these top performers to go to another school.”  And my response to that was “Aren’t you doing these girls a disservice by not letting them have this opportunity?”  But no matter what I said he would constantly twist things back to favor his side.  This whole experience was frustrating because these girls work so hard and they deserve this.

After I gave up talking to the head teacher myself, I called Stevie, the director of Girl Tech, to see if the head mistress at Wanyange would call my head teacher to try to let us help these girls apply for the scholarship.  And in the end, the head mistress at Wanyange felt like it was a lost cause because my school is better than most and that she didn’t feel we would really be able to push much further.

As discouraged and disgusted as I was, after talking to Stevie about it I felt a little better.  I realize that there are plenty of volunteers at schools that are much needier than mine.  And it sounds like most of the other schools didn’t throw up any problems like mine did, so most of the rest of the girls will apply.  In the end, as long as two exemplary students who are unable to go to a good school otherwise get these scholarships, then that’s all that matters.  And maybe it’s better to have students from schools that are worse than mine get this opportunity.  I guess overall, what I’m most disappointed about is that I see my school in a different light now than I did before and I don’t think there is too much that will change this.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

November 11, 2012 9:00 AM—Decorating for Christmas

Just like last year, this year I did a little decorating for Christmas.  Although unlike at home, it only takes me about 10 minutes to decorate.  I got some of these decorations from a volunteer who has finished her service and is no longer in Uganda and the rest were sent to me last year from home.  You may think it’s a little early to be decorating, but considering I’m leaving my site next week and I may not be back before the first of the year, I thought I would take this time to enjoy my decorations.

My little Charlie Brown Christmas Tree