Sunday, September 30, 2012

September 30, 2012 7:30 PM

Yesterday I went to pay for the computers that we just received and I think this experience can really express how ridiculous things can be here. 

So the money that we collected from all of you generous people in the U.S. came to 18,000,000 shillings and Peace Corps deposited it directly into my Peace Corps bank account (which is how they give me my monthly living allowance).  The computer store gave me two options for getting them this money.  I could pay by check or cash and seeing as I don’t have a check book for this account, I had to pay by cash.  So yesterday I went to the bank to withdraw the money to go pay them.  Before I went into the bank I went to the ATM to check my account balance.  I knew there would be a fee for withdrawing that much money and I just wanted to have an accurate record of how much money I had in the account beforehand.  After that basically I walked into the bank, filled out a withdraw slip and stood in line waiting for an available teller.  When I got up to the teller I gave her the withdraw slip and after plugging in a few numbers in the computer she asked for ID.  The only ID I had on me was my Peace Corps ID, which is the most unofficial ID you can have.  Anyone with a printer and a laminating machine can make one.  She promptly made a copy of my ID and started counting money.  There were no questions asked and before I knew it I was walking out of the bank with 18,000,000 shillings in my purse, which is the equivalent of about $7200.  To put this a little bit in perspective, she gave me the money in 50,000 shilling notes, so there were 360 50,000 shilling bills.  Upon finishing the transaction I asked the teller if I could get a receipt.  I knew how much money I had in my account prior to the withdraw and I wanted a current account balance.  She told me that I don’t get one (go figure!).  So in order to get the current account balance I had to go back to the ATM and check my account balance again.  It turns out the bank only charged me 35,000 shillings to withdraw 18,000,000 (not bad).  Once I sorted all that out I walked down the street to the computer store. 

The store is rather small and the man who owns/manages it has a desk that he sits at right in the store front.  So I went into the store and everyone in there knew who I was, so I sat down in a chair next to the manager’s desk.  I told him I had the money to pay him and I proceeded to dump the wads of cash out of my purse.  As he sat there and counted it he had one of the other employees go get us sodas.   I guess when you bring them $7200 cash you get a complimentary soda.  Nonetheless after he counted the money and wrote me a receipt, I went on my way as if nothing ever happened. 

It just blows my mind that this is the way we have to do business here.  These people really need to get more up-to-date with credit cards or something.  This economy is never going to grow if you have to carry around wads of cash in your purse in order to make a large transaction.

Monday, September 24, 2012

September 24, 2012 3:30 PM—The Computers are Here!!

“This is starting to look like a computer lab.”  These are the words the director of studies used this morning to describe the way the computer room looks now that we got all the new computers.  So, needless to say, we got the computers that we were obtaining with the grant that I was working on with Peace Corps.  The funny thing is that I never ordered them…

I had gone into a store in Mbarara called PC World two weeks ago.  I had talked to them months ago about the price of computers and now I wanted some more information so I could arrange to get these computers.  I had not gotten the money from the school yet, so I told the store that I was not quite ready to purchase them, but that hopefully I would be ready within a week or two.  Over the course of the past week I have been working with the school to get their money.  So I was very close to ordering these computers, but still not there yet.  PC World called me on Wednesday of last week asking if I was ready to order.  I told them that I wasn’t quite ready with the money yet.  Then on Saturday they delivered the computers and the technician came out today to set them up.  We have not given them any money yet, but we now have 20 new computers.  I’m sure over the next couple of weeks we will arrange to get them their money, but it was kind of nice that they brought them out of good faith.  I guess they figure that the school isn’t going anywhere and they will get paid eventually. 

So far, with the money that was raised from all the generous donations, we have 20 new Dell desktop computers with wide screen monitors.  We also got a printer for the computer lab.  We still need to get 2 more power stabilizers and we need to work on more outlets for all the computers, but we are well on our way.  It’s nice to be able to see my project coming to its full completion.

I will post pictures when we finish the project.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

September 20, 2012 10:00 PM—Phones

Phones here are a funny thing.  As I said in a recent post, most people here never had landlines.  When mobile phones hit Uganda, people went from having no phone at all to having a mobile phone.  But phones here are not an interesting topic because of the drastic introduction that happened here.  The way that Ugandans treat the use of a phone is, to me and probably many Americans, very unusual.

Ugandans will often “flash” someone else’s phone.  This does not involve removing any clothes or anything of that nature (despite what you may have thought).  Instead, it means that they will call someone’s phone and let it ring only once before hanging up.  Then they will wait for that person to call back.  They do this because either they have no airtime (which is basically minutes on their phone) or because they don’t want to pay for the call (a call doesn’t cost anything until someone on the other end answers).  I feel like most Americans would find this rude.  It would come off as “I want to talk to you, but I’m too cheap to pay for the call.”  But in this culture, it is accepted more often than not.

Ugandans also don’t believe in turning off their phones, or at least putting them on vibrate, during a meeting.  In fact, not only will they let their phone ring out loud during a meeting, they will also sometimes answer it without even leaving the room.  This is something that always bothers me, because they never seem to mind disturbing other people or interrupting an entire meeting for themselves.

One thing that really entertains me about phones here is that many Ugandans have ridiculous ringtones.  For example, a man will have what I would consider to be a very feminine ringtone.  The deputy headteacher at my school has A Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton as his ringtone.  Not what I would call very manly.  Another very popular ringtone on many phones here is Barbie Girl by Aqua.  These always make me laugh a little.

I think people here are still adjusting to the constant line of communication that they have with each other.  Maybe over time some of these things will change, but odds are the culture will remain set in their ways.

Monday, September 17, 2012

September 17, 2012 6:00 PM—Tunisia?

Due to the recent problems in Tunisia, Mom and I decided it probably isn’t the best time to travel there.  So with less than three weeks before our trip we are changing our plans…

We’ve decided to take a cruise in the Mediterranean.  We are going over the same dates and we are sailing out of Rome, Italy.  Our cruise makes 4 different stops in Greece, 1 stop in Croatia, 1 stop in Turkey and 1 stop (other than Rome) in Italy.

I was initially a little bummed about not going to Tunisia, but looking back on the trip we had planned in Tunisia and considering the way the two of us like to travel, I think this trip could be even better than planned.  It’s combining the best of two worlds, going to several different places without having to change hotels every night.  I’ve never been on a cruise before, but I couldn’t be more excited!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

September 13, 2012 6:15 PM—A Continent for the Taking

I just finished another good book, A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa by Howard French.  Howard French was a journalist for The New York Times.  He was an Africa correspondent living in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.  He reported on many of the biggest stories in central Africa in recent history.  The book focuses mostly on Zaire (now known as the DRC) and Mobutu Sese Seko.  Zaire is the country French had been to the most times and he covers everything from the rise of Mobuto to his demise.

French uses this book to tell the story of Africa from a somewhat unbiased viewpoint; however, he also points out how the U.S. government treated many modern issues in central Africa.  He comments on the U.S.’s stance on many recent African leaders, including the current Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni.  He also touches on the genocide in Rwanda and the way the international community dealt with that (or how they didn’t deal with it).

Anyway, I would highly recommend this book.  It describes Africa in a way that I had never thought of before.  It also tells many horror stories that you may never here from a Peace Corps volunteer.  Howard French has described Africa’s history and problems in a way that can captivate even the most uniformed person when it comes to this continent.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

September 12, 2012 10:15 PM—“The hardest job you’ll ever love?”

Sometimes I like to try to imagine what it was like to be a Peace Corps volunteer back in the day.  However, the reality of it is that I can’t possibly imagine such things because as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda in 2012 I’m often even more connected to people now than when I was living in the states.

Back in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s I’m sure volunteers didn’t have cell phones or internet access.  Sometimes volunteers would be out of contact with people for weeks or maybe even months at a time.  For me, this is impossible to imagine.  Even at this very moment I’m watching a movie, downloading music and writing this blog (all at the same time, of course, because I currently have two computers).  Not many people go into Peace Corps expecting these things.  People usually picture Peace Corps volunteers living in mud huts and walking 10 miles to fetch water.

In a way this also shows the evolution of this country in general, not just volunteers.  People here went from having no phones at all to having cell phones.  Technology here isn’t quite as gradual as it is in the developed world.  It’s funny when you think about it.  Internet access is getting easier and easier yet most people here still poop in a hole.  How are things like this possible?

Some people would see this as a volunteer missing out on a “true Peace Corps experience”, but for me I see it differently.  By being able to be in contact with people, here in Uganda and back in the states, volunteers are able to collaborate on projects, socialize and have endless outlets of support that was previously unimaginable.  For me, not only can I talk to people back home like they were around the corner, but having such communication access is currently allowing me to apply for graduate school online.  Is Peace Corps really, like they say, “the hardest job you’ll ever love”?  I think not.  It’s more just “the job you’ll ever love.”

Sunday, September 9, 2012

September 9, 2012 8:20 AM—Donate to Camp GLOW

So for all of you who wanted to donate to my computer lab project but didn’t get the chance to, I have another project for you to donate to!

Just as I was one of the directors of our regional Camp GLOW last month, there are another three volunteers who are directing National Camp GLOW which will happen in December.  And just like my computer project, they have a grant where they need help from people back home in the U.S.  And also like my project, all funds go directly toward putting on this camp.

Camp GLOW is a great experience for both the girls participating as well as the volunteers organizing it.  So if you missed your opportunity to donate last time, feel free to donate now.  CLICK HERE to donate!  Don’t delay!  You don’t want to miss the same opportunity twice!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

September 8, 2012 3:20 PM—All-Vol

So for the past few days I was at Peace Corps Uganda’s All Volunteer Conference (aka All-Vol).  This is an annual conference for all the Peace Corps volunteers in Uganda where we come together, share ideas, social and relax for a few days.  This year All-Vol seemed a little less helpful to me because I have already been a volunteer for a year and a half and I only have a few months left.  So if there were any projects people might have suggested, I probably don’t have enough time left in my service to do them.  However, I still think it was a worthwhile experience and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing everyone and meeting all the new volunteers who just swore-in in July.

Now I am on my way back to my site finally.  The school term should have already started, but hopefully this week I will find out what I am teaching and get back in the swing of things.  I guess I’m back to the same old, same old…at least until next month when I am meet Mom in Tunisia!

Monday, September 3, 2012

September 3, 2012 10:30 AM—Paidha Uganda

So last week after Alyssa and Kevin left to go back to America I travelled up to the Northwestern region of Uganda, which is called the West Nile.  When my training group came in a year and a half ago, we were the first group in quite some years to send volunteers to this region of Uganda.  Because of a lack of infrastructure and the recent war in Northern Uganda, Peace Corps was not sending volunteers here, but now that things are getting better they are now sending volunteers again.

I came up here to spend about a week at my friend Kirk’s site in a town called Paidha.  He is working at a primary teachers college here in one of the larger towns in this region.  A handful of other volunteers, including me, came up here to work on some small projects and to hang out and socialize with each other before we all have to return to our sites for the beginning of the third school term.

It has been quite an interesting experience.  Usually when I travel in Uganda it is in the southern part of the country where all the people speak Bantu languages.  Here in Paidha the people speak a language called Alur, which is not Bantu.  Basically this means that it is not at all similar to Runyankore, which is the language I learned.  Normally when I travel to somewhere like Jinja, where they speak Lusoga, I can use many of the same words that I do at my site because the languages are so similar, but here things are totally different.

There is also no real power at Paidha PTC (Primary Teachers College).  However, there is solar power.  This is totally different from what I’m used to.  Here we kind of have to wait for the sun to come out in order to charge things.  It amazes me at how much power you can generate from the sun.  Kirk’s house has lights that we can use all night and we have also been able to charge our computers a lot more than I thought would be possible.

Anyway, in two days I will have to leave Paidha and go to Masaka for the All-Volunteer Conference.  It is a shame I have to leave because I really like it up here.  It is a lot less developed and it even just seems more peaceful here.  But nonetheless, it will be nice to get back to site later this week and start what will probably be my last full school term here.