Saturday, July 28, 2012

July 28, 2012 8:45 AM—Book Review: River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

I just finished another good book called River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler.  Peter Hessler was a Peace Corps volunteer in China back in the late 90s.  Not only did he have a really interesting experience there, but he is also a very good writer, which combine makes it definitely worth a read.

On one hand, this book is about a changing China and Peter’s experiences living there for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, yet on the other hand it’s not about not China at all.  There were many parts of this book that I could more than relate to.  I could have taken an excerpt of this book and given it to any volunteer in Uganda and they would probably think it was written by me or some other volunteer here in Uganda.  I feel like, for me, that is what makes this book special.  It emphasizes that however different people may seem in different parts of the world, people are actually all the same at their core.  I think this is a lesson that not enough people fully understand.  Many people think they understand it, yet they really don’t.  I had one of the teachers here ask me the other day how many Ugandan friends I had.  He told me that I had to go back to America having made a lot of Ugandan friends.  In fact, I couldn’t answer his question because (besides the fact that I don’t have a running tally of how many friends I have) I don’t distinguish between Ugandan friends and American friends or friends of any other nationality for that matter.  It was the same when I was back in America.  I had a few international friends, but I never thought of them that way.  I never separated them into a different group or class of people.  Unfortunately, this conversation I had last week about my Ugandan friends made me realize that many Ugandans are the same as many American in that they don’t understand that you can’t really separate people in that way because deep down they are all the same.  In fact, they are even similar in the way they try to differentiate people (which is just ironic to me).

Anyway, back to River Town…  As much as this book is NOT about China, at the surface it does talk a lot about where Peter lived and how things changed while he was there and how they were going to continue to change after he left.  He was there for some very important events, as well, and he talks about how many Chinese people reacted to them.  He was there for the return of Hong Kong from British rule.  He was also there for the death of Deng Xiaoping.  He also was there just before the Three Gorges Project was put in place, which would eventually change that part of China forever.  China was going from a place of “eternal standstill” to a rapidly growing, constantly changing country and Peter Hessler was not only there to see the beginning of it, but in this book he captured its essence very well.

He described how he learned Chinese quite a bit throughout the book.  It actually seems like he would not have been able to get around in China without knowing Chinese.  I often wish I had gone to a country where I not only needed to learn the language, but also where they spoke a widespread, commonly useful language or at least a language that most people in America have heard of and can pronounce.  Peace Corps Uganda keeps telling us to improve our language skills and I can’t help but ask, Why?  I don’t need them because most people I come in contact with know English.  And also, why should I waste my time learning this language that no one outside of Southwestern Uganda speaks.  I’m just going to go home in 9 months bitter that I spent so much time learning a language that no around me speaks.  I guess as far as language goes, I’m a bit jealous I wasn’t sent somewhere like China or South America.

I usually find it interesting to read about other Peace Corps volunteers in other countries, because as Peace Corps volunteers we were, at one point, just one step away from possibly being sent somewhere totally different than where we are now.  In this book, I can see that a volunteer in China is going to have very different luxuries and challenges as well as a very different social life.  Peter describes how when he first went to his site he was sent with another male volunteer and before both of them left there were two girls who were sent there as well, but other than these direct contacts, he doesn’t see many other volunteer too often because transportation is very long, difficult and expensive.  Actually, he doesn’t seem to move around the country like we do here in Uganda at all.  All of these things can be seen as different from my experience, but I can’t say his experience was any better or worse than mine.  It’s just very different.  As much as volunteers from around the world can have such an easy connection to each other because we are volunteers, you will never find anyone with exactly the same experience.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

July 26, 2012 11:40 AM—Kinoni Girls’ Computer Lab Project

So far we have collected $4785 for my grant which is going to buy more computers for my school’s computer lab here in Uganda!  That is amazing!  Unfortunately we still need about $2400 more.  So if you haven’t yet donated, please do so.  Remember To educate girls is to reduce poverty.  One of the best ways in which people can help this country succeed is to improve their education.  And we all know that in today’s world there is no better skill to have than computer skills.  If you want to donate CLICK HERE!  Thank you to everyone who has already donated.  You are making a difference in these students lives and I’m sure they will appreciate it!

Friday, July 20, 2012

July 20, 2012 8:30 PM--War in the Congo

Throughout its history Uganda has had its fair share of refugees seeking asylum here.  Most of these people come from Rwanda and the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo).  Even now we are seeing an influx of refugees from the Congo.  I feel like the current war there has gotten very little publicity, but if you look it up you can see it is very real.  Living here in Uganda, even, we don’t hear much about it.  It is only by slight observations and some direct sources did I even realize it.  But whether anyone notices or not, it’s there, in the Northern Kivu Province of the DRC they are fighting…again.

One of the only reasons I know about this is because of where I live.  I’m situated on the main highway between Mbarara and Kabale in Southwestern Uganda.  This isn’t all that close to the DRC (maybe at least 4 hours depending on your mode of transportation).  So it is only because I live on the main road did I even notice the buses that come past with refugees.  And even then, the only reason I know the purpose of these buses is because I will see maybe 10 or 20 buses from the same bus company come whizzing by one after the other.  To me Congolese people look the same as Ugandan people, so other than noticing such a trend and asking around, I would have had no idea.  In fact, I found out that I could have possibly taken one of these buses back to my site today.  Apparently they go down to Kisoro empty only picking people up along the way just to make a little money.  I saw one of these buses when I was waiting for a taxi to go home from Mbarara today and I didn’t even know it.  At my taxi stage there are often buses that will stop, but I never take them because I always figure they want to take people all the way to Kabale or Kisoro and there are usually no empty seats so I would have to stand.  But after this bus passed today, someone asked where I was going and told me that I could have easily taken this bus, because it was virtually empty.  It was on its way to Kisoro to pick up refugees.  Unfortunately, I missed my chance…maybe next time.

The second reason I know about the conflict in the Congo is because of testimony from a volunteer who lives in Kisoro.  Right across the border from Kisoro is where the heart of the conflict is.  And this volunteer said you can actually hear the bombs going off from Kisoro town.  She said people have told her that you can actually see them when you climb Mount Sabinyo.  I remember when we climbed Mount Sabinyo last year, and you can see the town in the DRC just over the border.  Let’s just say I’m glad I’m not a volunteer in Kisoro.

It’s also interesting when you do actually hear Ugandans talk about these refugees.  In fact, I get the vibe that most Ugandans don’t like it at all.  And not because they feel sorry for these people who are being displaced from their homes, but because they will become squatters in Uganda, taking people’s land and take many jobs that could be occupied by Ugandans.

Overall, I am again baffled, as I have been before, that a conflict like this is not known throughout the world.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that wars like this in the Congo have happened many times before over many years and it’s just not interesting anymore.  Either way, I don’t understand why no one cares.  If this was happening in America or in Europe, trust me, people would care!

Here are a couple articles I found online about the situation in the DRC and the refugees making their way into Uganda.  Read them and be among the few Americans who are actually updated on such news:

Africa is Rising, but not in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo

In Democratic Republic of the Congo, Fear of New Ethnic Conflict is Tangible

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

July 18, 2012 8:15 PM--Imagine

You may think as a Peace Corps volunteer I wouldn’t have interest in reading other volunteers blogs because I already experience these things myself.  Why would I need to read what other people have to say about being a Peace Corps volunteer when I’m experiencing it myself?  However, reality is quite the contrary.  Every volunteers experience is different.  I enjoy reading PCV blogs from volunteers in other countries as well as in Uganda.  The ones from other countries give me a perspective of what it is like to be a PCV in another country in Africa or another part of the world.  Every Peace Corps country is different.  And reading blogs from volunteers in Uganda are just as interesting.  Often I read the blogs of my friends or people I know.  Some of these people have had similar experiences to me and I enjoy reading their commentary on life here.  And some volunteers, especially those in different programs within Peace Corps or in different parts of Uganda, show me just how different things can really be in this country.

Now I don’t normally comment about or post other people’s blog posts on my blog because this blog is supposed to be about my thoughts and experiences.  However, a friend of mine wrote a blog post today that really struck me.  My friend Jacque is, like me, working at an all-girls secondary school, but her school is located between Lira and Gulu in Northern Uganda.  She is working with Peace Camp, which is a Peace Corps volunteer initiative.  It is a camp that is for the youth of Northern Uganda who were affected by the war that has greatly afflicted Northern Uganda’s most recent history.  Without further introduction, just read her post…Peace of Uganda: Imagine

Monday, July 16, 2012

July 16, 2012 10:30 AM

Although I’ve been blogging a lot recently, I don’t feel like I’ve explicitly given any update on what is going on in my life currently.  So here goes…

I’m about to finish my fourth term of teaching here (Only 2 more terms to go!) and it’s been a really mild one, to say the least.  This term I only taught Senior 5 computers.  I was supposed to teach Senior 2 as well, but we have had several student teachers here this term and one of them was given my Senior 2 classes.  So despite the fact that I haven’t done much teaching, I feel like the teaching I have been doing is pretty effective.  I’m getting more accustomed to my Senior 5 students just as they are getting used to me.  And on top of it all, my Senior 2’s keep asking when I will come back and teach them.

Other than teaching I do feel like I’ve been pretty busy with a few other things.  First of which is Camp GLOW.  We’ve been going around and around planning this and things are still going strong.  Camp starts in less than 3 weeks (it’s coming up fast…YIKES!) and I still feel like there is so much to do.  However, little by little we are getting there.  And I think overall, the project will be a huge success.

On top of Camp GLOW, there is going to be another camp held at the same time in Jinja also run by PCVs, which is for girls interested in Math and Science.  It sounds like it’s going to be an amazing camp and I’m kind of bummed I can’t go, but I am sending 7 girls there.  So from my school I am taking 5 girls to GLOW and sending 7 more to Girl Tech (the official name for the girls in math and science camp).  August is just full of camps run by Peace Corps Volunteers in Uganda this year.  Not only are West GLOW and Girl Tech happening from August 5th-11th, there is also East GLOW and Peace Camp (which is a camp for boys and girls in Northern Uganda) happening the following week.  There are some amazing initiatives put forth by our PCVs in Uganda.  I’m just upset that they aren’t more spread out so I could go to all of them.

Anyone who reads my blog with any kind of frequency should know I am still collecting money for my Computer Lab Grant Project.  The first few weeks to a month went really well, but for maybe about 3 weeks now we have received very few new donations, yet we still need about $2800 more.  Unfortunately with everything else that has been going on, I haven’t had much time to focus on this.  Nonetheless, I have confidence that we will make it to the goal eventually.  It will just take some time.  So if anyone is interested in helping with this project, feel free to promote it to your friends, family, co-workers, strangers you run into on the street, etc.  We don’t care who donates, as long as we eventually hit the goal we are aiming for.

On top of all my real work, I’ve been spending any free time I have on studying for the GRE (Graduate Record Exam).  I’m scheduled to take it on August 15th, which gives me a little less than a month left to study.  Although, because I’ve been studying for quite some time, I feel pretty good about it, but lately, with everything else that is going on, I’ve been struggling to focus.  You might be wondering why I’m taking the GRE (Good Question!).  I’m planning on applying for grad school so I can start the Fall after I get back.  A common question to ask a volunteer here who is getting closer and closer to the end of their service is “What are you going to do when you get back?”  And I’ve found that one of the most common answers is “Grad School.”  It just seems like the most natural transition for people, especially because so few of us are really interested in joining the real world.  Most of the time when I tell people that I want to go to grad school when I get back to America, they say “Don’t you already have your masters?”  The answer is “yes”, I do have my MBA, but I’m looking at getting another masters in International Economics and Development (or something similar).  Luckily for me having my MBA already is a bonus.  Many of the programs I am looking at offer joint programs to get your MBA along with the other degree you are working on.  Once I take my GRE (and hopefully ace it!) and September rolls around, I will be more seriously working on my applications.  For now, I need to focus on studying!

The day after I take my GRE Alyssa and Kevin will arrive (so no matter how I do on the GRE, I will have cause to celebrate!).  I can’t believe it is less than a month until they visit!  I can’t wait to see them and we have some really awesome things planned for while they’re here.  I’m sure I’ll write all about it and post pictures after they leave, so stay tuned.

Other than all of this news, which is fairly recent, the only other thing I have to mention is the other trips I’m planning.  I’m all set to go to Tunisia in October with my mom.  We will be there for about 10 days to celebrate my 25th birthday.  What better way to celebrate!  I’m also just about finished planning and arranging my Christmas/New Years trip in December/January.  I’m leaving here on December 17th and spending about 6 days in Cape Town.  From there we are going to Zanzibar for a week to ring in the New Year and then off to Ethiopian for about 4 days to see what they have to offer.  There are so many volunteers who are coming for all or parts of this trip, so it should be a really amazing final blow out for us before we COS!

I think that is all the updates I have for now, but I will be sure to post more as things happen.  As one final note, I want to thank everyone who has helped my computer lab project by donating.  It is with your donations that this project will be a success, so THANK YOU!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Help Kinoni Girls School in Uganda!---July 11, 2012 2:30 PM

We are still collecting money for my COMPUTER LAB PROJECT to buy more computers for my school’s computer lab.  If you have not yet donated or if you want to donate more CLICK HERE!  We cannot start buying these computers until we receive all the money, so the faster we can collect this money the sooner these girls can start to benefit from them.  Don’t Delay!  Remember that 100% of your donation goes to purchasing computers.

Monday, July 9, 2012

July 9, 2012 5:00 PM--Population Growth

Uganda has one of the fastest growing populations in the world.  Over the past 20 years the population has doubled and it is estimated that each Ugandan woman, on average, has 6 children, while the average worldwide is about 2.  It is estimated that by 2050 Uganda’s population will nearly triple from what it is now making it the 19th most population country in the world.  19th most populated may not sound like much but consider this: it is only the size of Oregon and it is currently only the 37th most populated country in the world.  That’s quite a jump!

You may be wondering why Uganda is like this opposed to other countries.  Well, the reasons are many:

1.) Ugandans do not believe in or understand the use of contraceptives or family planning.  In fact, only 20% of Ugandan women of child bearing age have access to contraceptives.
2.) Having many children is a sign of wealth.  If you have many children then you must be able to support many children, therefore you must have a lot of money.  Unfortunately the reality is just the opposite.  Many people have a lot of children to make people think they are wealthy but in reality they can’t actually support all those children.
3.) In many cases, more children means more free labor for things like farming.
4.) The more children you have the better, because then there are more people to take care of you when you are old.  Uganda has no such thing as social security, so when people get old they need to have family to rely on to support them.
5.) Many government officials even promote having larger families and many children.  President Museveni has even referred to the population explosion as a “great resource”.

And the list goes on…

This may not seem like a problem.  Many of these reasons may seem like legitimate reasons to have a lot of children.  So why should Ugandans have smaller families?

As I said before, many of these people who are having such large families can’t support them.  Many children grow up male nourished and under-educated because their parents can’t afford the right food for them or pay for their school fees. 

Also, Uganda is simply not equipped to handle that many children.  Currently half of the population is under 18 years old.  The education system is not able to handle as many children as there are.  For this reason, many children do not get educated.  Under-educated children grow up and continue the cycle of having many children that they can’t support.  Health centers can’t handle the number of people that come in each day.  Many health centers even turn people away telling them to come back tomorrow and hopefully they will get the care they need.

Overall, the quality of life seems to decline as the population explodes.  Luckily there are some things promoted here that indirectly help to limit the population growth.  First is the girl child education.  Anyone or any school (especially all-girls schools) that promote female education help to limit the population growth.  This is because if the girls are in school they are less likely to marry young and have a million babies at such a young age.  This is why things like Camp GLOW are so important here.  Another thing that tends to help limit the birth rate is HIV/AIDS awareness.  People are made aware of how HIV is spread and how to prevent it.  By preventing the spread of HIV, people are also limiting the risk of unexpected pregnancy.

So, I think a lot of times the population growth here in Uganda can be attributed to cultural principles.  But through other means we can try to limit the explosion that is anticipated in the next 30 years.  Population growth may be one of the biggest problems here, but it is one of the most under-emphasized.

Here are some articles about Uganda’s population growth and the world population projections that you may find interesting:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4, 2012 9:40 AM--Happy Independence Day America!

Happy 4th of July Everyone!!  Celebrating the 4th of July here is a unique experience, because you are celebrating American Independence in a country that doesn’t celebrate it.  Unlike Christmas and Easter and many other holidays, this is one that we, as Americans, celebrate, yet Ugandans do not celebrate it.  I find that when I look around, most people here don’t even know that today is the day that we are celebrating our countries independence.  In a way, it can kind of blow my mind that these people have no idea about any of the history or tradition behind what we would consider such an important event.  But on the other hand, how much do Americans really know about Ugandan independence.  For example, could you answer any of these questions? (Answers to follow at the end of this post):

1.) When is Ugandan Independence Day?
2.) What country did Uganda gain independence from?
3.) What are the words to the Ugandan National Anthem?  Can you sing it?  What language is it in (usually)?
4.) How many years of independence will Uganda be celebrating this year? (**Hint** It’s a big one!)

My guess is that most of you could only answer one or two of these questions, if any.  And for many Ugandans it would be the same if you asked those same questions about American independence, but sometimes you get surprised.  Last year, I went up to Gulu to celebrate July 4th with some of the volunteers who are posted up there.  When I returned I had one of the teachers at my school (a teacher of Geography, no doubt) say to me, “I was looking for you the other day because I knew it was your country’s independence day and I knew that the largest celebration for this is in your home, Philadelphia.”  I was blown away!  Not only did he remember where I was from (most people not only don’t know where Philadelphia is, but they also struggle to pronounce it), but he also knew enough to know that the biggest celebrations throughout the whole country are held in Philadelphia.  So by no means would I categorize Ugandans as ignorant when it comes to the history of America’s independence, but I would say that this gives all of us, as Americans, a challenge to teach them something new.

So does this make you want to go research more about the independence of other countries??  I hope so!!

Here are the answers to the questions above:
1.) October 9, 1962

2.) United Kingdom (remind you of another country?)

3.) Uganda National Anthem:
Oh Uganda!  May God uphold thee,
We lay our future in thy hand.
United, Free
For liberty
Together we’ll always stand
(There are more verses that aren’t usually sung.)
It is usually heard in English (however, sometimes it is sung in the some of the local languages).
Click here to hear the tune it is sung to and try to sing along!

4.) Uganda will be celebrating 50 years of independence this year, 2012!!

As for me, celebrating the 4th of July this year, I’m going out to Fort Portal this weekend.  There will be a huge gathering of volunteers and I believe we are having a BBQ, in true 4th of July style!  Hopefully by this time next year I will be back in the great old U.S. of A. to celebrate the 4th of July there!