Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 31, 2012 8:00 PM—Busy Busy Busy!

Happy Halloween!!  Although I’m in Uganda I can still enjoy Halloween as much as I would usually want to in America.  The extent of this consists of watching Hocus Pocus and not coming up with a Halloween costume.

So as the term is winding down I’m about to get really busy.  This weekend I’m going to Jinja to see some of my favorite people in this country because it has been way too long.  After the weekend I have a Peace Corps training called Training of Trainers (TOT).  The reason for this training is because I’m going to be involved in training the new group of education volunteers who will be here in a little more than 2 weeks.    This is really exciting especially for us education volunteers.  This will be the first group of education volunteers to come in since I got here and they are the last group to come in before I leave.

After TOT I’ll be coming back to site for about a week and a half.  During this time, I need to give my final exams, grade these exams and get my grades in.  Once I’m done all this the term is really over and I have about 2 months off from teaching.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be sitting in my house staring at the wall for two months.  During this time, I’m not going to have much downtime at all.

Right before Thanksgiving I have a grant committee meeting that I have to go to Kampala to attend.  After that I’m going to be spending Thanksgiving somewhere.  I just haven’t decided where yet.  At the moment I have a few different options but I don’t know yet what I want to do.  Luckily, I have almost a month to figure it out.

Between November 26th and December 15th is when I’m supposed to be involved in Pre-Service Training (PST) for the new volunteers, but I don’t know yet what sessions I’m going to be involved in so I don’t know exactly when during this period I’m gonna be there

Also during this time frame we will be having Camp Build.  This is from December 2nd to December 8th.  Build stands for “Boys of Uganda in Leadership Development.”  It is basically a compliment to Camp Glow.  Build’s mission is integrate boys ages 13-15 from diverse backgrounds and prepare them to be the men of tomorrow by developing appropriate skills for becoming active and engaged citizens of Uganda, their communities, and the world.  I’m participating in Build as a staff member.  I’m not yet sure exactly what this will entail, but I’m sure I will find out.

And then finally after all the trainings, meetings and Camps, my vacation will start.  On December 17th, I’ll be leaving for South Africa.  I’ll be in South Africa until Christmas Eve.  I’m spending the first day in Johannesburg and then flying to Cape Town and spending about a week there.  From South Africa I’m flying to Dar es Salaam and taking the ferry to Zanzibar.  I’ll be spending about a week on the beach and I’ll be enjoying New Years there.  After that I return to Dar es Salaam so I can fly to Ethiopia where I’ll be for about four days in Addis Ababa.  And then I have to return here to Uganda.  I’m traveling with quite a few different volunteers.  Different people are coming for different parts, but there are also a handful who are doing the whole trip with me.  The largest number of volunteers will be in Zanzibar.  Not only is the group I’m going with taking over an entire hostel, but there are other groups of Peace Corps volunteers from Uganda who will also be on the island at the same time.  It is like our final farewell trip considering our COS conference is at the end of January and after our COS conference we can’t travel out of the country.  Our COS (Close-of-Service) conference is our final conference before we leave and this is when we get our COS dates (aka the date we are no longer Peace Corps volunteers).  So this conference is going to be from January 22nd-25th.

So I guess you can say I’m gonna be pretty busy for about the next three months.  I’m also not going to be spending much time at site during this time, which is probably a good thing because once the term ends no one will really be here.  Everyday I’m just getting closer and closer to the end.

Friday, October 26, 2012

October 26, 2012 5:00 PM--Nakumatt!!

This week there has been a very exciting development in Mbarara.  They opened a Nakumatt!  Most people are probably wondering what I’m talking about.  Nakumatt is a Kenyan supermarket chain and although when a new supermarket opens in America it isn’t very exciting, this is very exciting news for any volunteers that live near Mbarara.

Generally, supermarkets in this country are about the size of an American convenience store.  And you can get some American food, like Oreos and Pringles, as well as many other staple foods like pasta and bread however, these types of supermarkets are nothing to really write home about.

On the other hand, Nakumatt is like walking into America.  Not only are they huge like American supermarkets, but they also have a much wider selection of foods.  They are generally based around servicing the foreign population.

There is already a Nakumatt in Kampala and now just this week they opened one here in Mbarara and to us volunteers this is like the best thing since sliced bread (although ironically they don’t have any bread yet).  They are still in the process of opening so everything is not fully functional yet, but when it’s finished it will consist of 3 full floors of products from meat, cheese and alcohol to appliances and furniture.  If I was at the beginning of my service, I would probably splurge for a refrigerator just because of this store, although because I only have about 5 and half months left, it’s not worth it.  This store will even be making deli sandwiches and have a fully functioning bakery, but as of right now they don’t have any bread yet.

 So I went to check this out today.  The place was mobbed and they were basically having a block party outside.  It was pretty difficult to move around inside because of how many people there were, but I’m sure the novelty will wear off a bit and many of the Ugandans will go back to getting matooke and beans at the market.  It is funny to see Ugandans in such a store.  If you think I was amazed by it, you should have seen them.  They didn’t always seem to know what to do or where to go, which is partly what I think caused so much congestion.  In this store they also have moving sidewalk ramps to get to the upper floors.  The Ugandan children were fascinated and playing on them and the adults were scared and confused.  They were so tentative to get on them.  This is the only building in the entire town with such devices.  And when I finally left the store, it was like culture shock going back to the dirty streets of Mbarara.  It was like coming out of another world and back to reality in Uganda.

Although this store is great for all of us Americans living here, it also means we are just going to be spending more money.  With the wider variety of foods, many things cost more than elsewhere, especially the things you can’t get elsewhere.  But this is a small sacrifice I’ll make to eat like an American sometimes.

Bottom line, I wish I had a refrigerator and more money so I could fully enjoy this new store.  But even without both, I can still live a bit like a Queen, in the way I eat at least.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

October 25, 2012 7:00 PM--Communal Culture

I think I’ve mentioned before how I feel that an economy like the one here in Uganda doesn’t really grow and become more developed because there is too much misguided foreign aid coming into the economy.  If people keep giving this country money, they will never learn to stand on their own two feet.

Despite the fact that this might be true, I can also see other cultural reasons for the economy not developing, in particular the communal culture.  You may be wondering what exactly I mean by a “communal culture”.  What I mean is that if someone has money (for any reason) and one of their family members needs that money (for anything) they are expected to give the money to that family member in need.  It almost leaves no incentive to work hard, because if you make a lot of money, odds are someone else will end up using it and you yourself will not get ahead.

This causes people to deal with their money in funny ways.  When everyone gets paid, which is usually once a month, they withdraw all their money from the bank and a lot of times they will spend it all as fast as they can.  This means you never want to go to the ATM at the beginning of the month because there will be a massive line.  Also, if someone wants to build a house they do it in small steps.  They will take all the money they have and spend it all to get as far as they can with the house and then wait until they have more money to continue.  If you don’t spend all the money you have, then everyone sees it as having an excess and other people might feel like they need it more than you.  Sometimes people even put their money into cows, goats or chickens.  They buy these animals with intentions of eventually selling them when they need the money.  This way their relatives are less likely to take their money.  Although if a family is really desperate for money, they may compel another family member to sell their cows, goats or chicken in order to give them the money.

Some of this plays into the fact that Ugandans are generally very close with their extended families.  In most of the local languages there are no words for aunt, uncle, or cousin.  Because of this someone might refer to their aunts as mothers, uncles as fathers, and cousins as brothers and sisters.  They see all of their nieces and nephews as their own children and therefore if they need money for school fees they can go to any of their aunts or uncles for the money.

On a small scale, this almost seems like a communist culture.  No one ever seems to get ahead unless they leave Uganda.  Although even if they leave Uganda it is sometimes expected that they send money back home to their needy relatives.  On the other hand, no one is ever really destitute.  Everyone seems to get what they need.  But again there isn’t much motivation to work hard and make for a better economy, which is part of what I think leaves Uganda in the third world.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October 24, 2012 8:30 AM—Teaching Again

I’m starting to get back into teaching now that I’m back.  The Senior 5’s are still going to the lab for their lessons.  I’ve been teaching them about Microsoft Word, but really most of their learning is by self-discovery.  At the end of their lessons I’ve been just leaving them alone so they can find out how to use the computers themselves.

The Senior 2’s are still learning in their classroom, but they will be moving to the lab next week.  I’ve been teaching them about Microsoft Excel and it’ll be really nice to get them into the computer lab.

As much as it seems like the term just started, the term is almost over.  We only have a week or two left of teaching before we start exams.  This will probably be the last full term of teaching that I have here.  So I can tell that things are really winding down.

Friday, October 19, 2012

October 18, 2012 11:00 AM—Mediterranean Cruise

Well, I’m back in Uganda now.  I just returned from Europe where I met mom and we went on a cruise.  As many people know we were supposed to go to Tunisia, but because of the current security risks and Peace Corps telling I couldn’t go there, we changed our plans and went on a cruise of the Mediterranean instead.

The cruise started in Rome.  I arrived about a day before mom did so I had to find something to do for the first day. Put me in a European city with a map and this isn’t a problem.  I’ve already been to Rome twice before, so I’ve already seen all the main sites twice.  This time I wanted to find something more off the beaten track.  I’ve always heard how there are so many beautiful churches in Rome that are rarely on the regular tourist radar, so I set out to find some of these churches and see for myself.  My goal was to see 8 churches in Rome before mom arrived.  Instead, I saw 12!  Everyone who goes to Rome wants to see the Vatican, but little do they know that there are so many other churches in the city that are just as amazing as Saint Peters, but without the crowds.

                   Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

                                                                               Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli

                                                                                             Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

                                                                                           Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin

                         Church of the Gesu

                                                                                             Church of Santa Maria del Popolo
                                The Pantheon

                                                                                                  San Giovanni in Laterano

                         San Pietro in Vincoli

When mom got to Rome, we had to go to all the touristy places because she had never been there before.  We went to the Vatican (Saint Peters and the Vatican Museum), the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain.  We also soaked up as much Italian culture and food as we could by wandering the streets and eating at an outdoor cafĂ© for dinner.  Needless to say, I loved Rome just as much as the first two times!

Swiss Guard at the Vatican

The Trevi Fountain

St Peters

After spending some time in Rome, it was time for our cruise.  We cruised with Holland America on the MS Noordam.  I had never been on a cruise before so I had no idea what to expect, but I can now safely say that I think cruising is one of the best ways to travel.  We had a decent size room with a sea view and we took full advantage of everything from the endless food to the two pools and the sun.  We also enjoyed some of the on-board activities like trivia.  I think I loved cruising a little too much.  When it came time to leave, I wasn’t ready to go.

We also stopped at some awesome ports.  Our first stop was in Croatia in a little town called Dubrovnik.  This town was such a cute seaside town.  It was obviously very old and historic; especially considering it is still a walled city.  We went on a tour there and we got to see an amazing view from up in the mountains and wander around the town itself.

After Dubrovnik we were off to Greece.  I had been to Greece before, but only to Athens and I was less than impressed.  I wasn’t so interested in going back to Greece, but everyone kept telling me that you have to see the Greek islands because they are so different than Athens.  So I figured I would give it all a second chance.  Our first stop in Greece was Corfu.  Corfu is one of the largest Greek islands and it is pretty far north.  It is very close to Albania.  Again, on our tour we got to see some amazing panoramic views and we also wandered around Corfu town.  So far, so good with Greece.

Next we stopped in Katakolon, which is the closest port to Ancient Olympia.  This is not an island.  It is on the Greek mainland.  So there we saw the ruins at Olympia.  As far as ancient ruins go, it was pretty interesting.  And we also got a good history lesson about the Olympics, which I really enjoyed.

Then we went to Santorini!  This island alone changed my views on Greece.  I’ve been to quite a few places in the world and I would have to say that Santorini was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen!  All the houses are white with blue roofs and they are built into the hillsides and cliffs.  We visited the town of Oia, where we wandered around and took in all the spectacular views.  What can I say…words can’t quite describe Santorini.  Now I have a reason to go back to Greece.

After sadly leaving Santorini, we sailed to Turkey.  We ported at Kusadasi, which is the closest port to Ancient Ephesus.  Again we saw some amazing ruins.  Ephesus was an ancient city that was mentioned many times in the bible.  We took a tour that took us to the Virgin Mary’s house, where it is believed that Mary spent the last days of her life.  And then we made our way to Ephesus, which was some of the most amazing ruins I’ve ever seen.  This was the only port in Turkey that we stopped at, but I definitely need to go back to Turkey.  It is full of so much history.

The Virgin Mary House

Ancient Ephesus

After Kusadasi, we returned to Greece.  This time we stopped in Piraus, which is the closest port to Athens.  If it had been up to me, I would have rather stopped anywhere else, but it’s not up to me.  We took a tour of Athens because mom had never seen Athens and I always try to give a place a second chance.  Let’s just say that Athens ran out of chances.  Again I found it to be a dirty, unexciting city.  We saw the Olympic stadium and the Acropolis.  I can safely say I have no intentions of ever going back to Athens.  Again, it was just a disappointment.

The Olympic Stadium

The Acropolis

And finally our last stop on our Mediterranean cruise was in Messina, Sicily.  From Messina we went further inland to see a small town called Taormina.  It was a cute little town and we really enjoyed just wandering around and taking in the sites.  This town is also very close to Mount Etna, which is an active volcano on the island of Sicily.  We got some spectacular views of this from Taormina.

After all these wonderful ports we were on our way back to Rome.  On the way we passed Stromboli, which is another active volcano on an island all by itself.  So we got a good site of this before we had to disembark the following morning.

I loved the cruise and I was really sad to be returning here to Uganda, but on the bright side I have less than six months left.  So I’m really on the downhill now.  And now I know that I totally want to go on a cruise again.  It really is the best way to travel!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

October 1, 2012 4:30 PM

Today I taught my first class in the computer lab since we got the new computers and this was also the first time I had the Senior 5s in the lab at all.  First of all, we were only able to use 6 of the new computers and the 6 old ones because we don’t have the facilities yet to plug them all in.  Hopefully this will get fixed shortly.  So we broke the class up into two groups and they came in to get their first practical lesson.  We went through some basic Windows stuff and then got into Microsoft Word.

I had taken the Senior 2s to the lab before and the experience can be frustrating and difficult.  Many of the girls were scared to even touch the computer.  But with the Senior 5s it was much easier because I think many of them have had computer classes in the past.  Some of them haven’t had any, but the ones who have were able to assist the others.  Most of the students needed barely any direction at all.  I told them they should be working in Microsoft Word, but beyond that I feel like it is best letting them work in self discovery mode.

When I have these girls in their classroom they are nothing but a pain.  They are often times chatting with each other.  They don’t always pay attention and I often don’t feel like they take the class seriously.  However, I think most of this is because many of them have learned this information before.  But now that we have gotten to the lab practicals, I feel like this class is going to teach itself. 

Hopefully, soon enough I will get the Senior 2s back in the lab again.  They have been learning about Excel in their classroom, but after another week or two in the classroom it will be time for the lab again.  I’m really trying to get them excited about computers because come the beginning of next year computers will be an optional subject for them.  And I want all of them to want to take it (obviously I’ll never get all of them).

On another note, now that we have all these new computers the school has assigned one of the school secretaries as in charge of the computer lab.  This is really nice because it is like having a lab assistant.  She maintains the lab and keeps it clean.  She is also very helpful during lessons.  I hope that she stays in this position and that this isn’t just temporary.  I feel like without her, the lab will start to fall apart.  But for now things are looking good.

The Senior 4 students during their lesson (we only have two Senior 4s taking computers right now)

My Senior 5s during their lesson (aka my lesson with them)

More Senior 5s

And even more Senior 5s

All of the computers we were able to acquire with the donated money

Another picture of the computers plus the old computers that we already had (those are the ones on the row farthest away near the windows)

Our new computer lab assistant