Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Spain (Part 3)

April 30, 2013 1:30 PM—Seville

This morning I slept in a little and then had a leisurely breakfast. After breakfast, I packed up and left my stuff at my hostel so I could explore more of the city. I walked all the way down to the Plaza de Espana and then all the way back up along the river. Eventually I had some lunch at a cafe just outside the cathedral.

Now I'm just hanging out for a couple hours in my hostel until my bus leaves at 4:15. Leaving Spain is not easy especially this part of Spain, because it is so picturesque and beautiful. Later today I'll meet up with Jill and Matt in Faro, Portugal where the adventure continues.

Plaza de Espana

The stadium where they hold the bull fights

Monday, April 29, 2013

Spain (Part 2)

April 29, 2013 7:00 PM—Seville

I had to leave Granada this morning. I really liked it there despite the cold, rainy weather. Although, once I arrived in Seville, I realized how much better things could be. Seville is amazing! My train arrived after 12 PM and I trekked across the city in the rain to find my hostel. Again, I'm staying right in the middle of things. I guess you could say that my number one criteria for picking a hostel is the location.

After putting my stuff down and getting settled I left the hostel to explore the city. The first thing I saw was the cathedral. The Seville Cathedral is very unique. It was at originally a mosque before it was converted into a church. It is also the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, so it is definitely one of the largest cathedrals I've ever seen. While touring the cathedral I went to the top of the tower. This was also unique because it had ramps all the way to the top as opposed to stairs.

Inside the cathedral

The tomb of Christopher Columbus

The view from the top of the tower

The tower which used to be a minaret when the building was a mosque

After the cathedral, I went across the street to the Alcazar, which was originally a Muslim fortress. I really felt like I was back in Morocco with the way the architecture was. It was really an amazing structure.
Inside the Alcazar

The gardens behind the Alcazar

Once I finished touring a bit, I decided to get some lunch/early dinner. I came across a lovely little Italian restaurant and I had some pasta. By this point I was pretty exhausted so I stopped at the supermarket to get a couple snacks for later instead of getting dinner. When I'm by myself I really do get lazy sometimes. I decided to go back to my hostel and just chill out for the rest of the night.

Tomorrow I have a good portion of the day in Seville and then I have a bus to catch at around 4 PM to get to Faro. That is where I'm meeting up with Jill and Matt, who will be spending about 10 days with me. For now it is still unseasonably cold in Spain. Hopefully Portugal will be a bit warmer.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


April 27, 2013 1:40 PM—Algeciras, Spain

This morning I had to set off really early in order to get to the port in time for the ferry. Despite what I thought when I made all my arrangements months ago, the port to get to Algeciras is an hour's drive from Tangier. So my hotel served me breakfast at 6:30 and they had a taxi come to get me at 7. Even though it would have been nice not to drive an hour, the drive was beautiful. We were driving along the coast on these windy coastal roads. So for most of the journey I could see the water crashing up on the shore.

When I arrived at the port I had to get my ticket and go through customs. Then I waited for a bus to take me to the boat itself. Even though the bus drivers and the buses were sitting there and despite the fact that there were plenty of people waiting to go, we waited about 30 minutes to actually get on the buses and go. Morocco may seem very different, but it is still Africa.

I was one of the first people on the boat and I found a seat and waited to leave. Even though we were supposed to leave at 9, we didn't actually leave until around 10. I was previously told when I booked my ticket that the ferry takes 3 hours and that I would arrive around noon. So considering we left late, I assumed we would arrive late. However, I think they were just over-compensating for the fact that they knew the ferry would leave late, because we arrived in Algeciras at around 11:30. Although it may have to do with something I discovered later on.

It took a while to get through customs, so by the time I got a taxi and got to the train station it was around 1 PM. The first thing I did when I got here was activate my rail pass and check the train time. I guess I pictured there being more here. I was hungry when I was on the boat, but I thought I would just get some food in the train station. They actually have a cafe and a restaurant, but they are shut down and look like they have been that way for years. So I ventured outside for food considering I thought I had about 3 hours to kill. I soon found a place that looked like it served pizza and burgers just down the street. When I went in I attempted to order what I thought was a burger. I actually have no idea what I ate, but it was good and I'm no longer hungry. I guess this is the conundrum of me not speaking much Spanish and the worker there not speaking much English. What I had was a sandwich that I think had a chicken patty on it (it was 100% synthetic, of course) and some other vegetables. I also had fries with some sort of sauce on them (not sure what it was). I even had a soda in a can. This is something I haven't had in over 2 years and it never even occurred to me until today. After eating I made my way back to the train station.

I find it funny brushing up on my Spanish now. When I think about asking someone for something, in my mind it first comes out in part Spanish and part Runyankore. For example, when I was going to ask for the bathroom, in my mind I first thought “El bano nkahi?” Then I really had to think about the word for “where” in Spanish and it eventually came out “Donde esta el bano?”

Algeciras is a peculiar little town. When I went to get food, it appeared that most businesses were closed. In fact, the place I ate lunch closed immediately after I left. I guess this is because it is Saturday afternoon, but the place was basically a ghost town.

As I was sitting in the train station writing all this on my computer, I was thinking it is almost 2 PM, so I have a couple hours until my train leaves. As it turns out I was quite wrong and I was lucky I made the train at all. A women who works at the train station came up to me and asked me in Spanish where I was going. When I told her Granada she had this tone of urgency in her voice and I just didn't understand why. I thought maybe she was trying to get me on an earlier train (although I thought my train was the next one). I asked if the train was still at 3:55 and she said it was and started pointing at the clock. Somehow I missed the fact that there is a 2 hour time difference between Morocco and Spain. This same thing happened the first time I went to Rwanda, but at least this time it only took me about 2 hours to figure out and not 2 days. How I missed this, I'm not sure. But I will tell you one thing...there is never a dull moment.

April 28, 2013 3:45 PM—Granada

I arrived in Granada last night at about 8 PM. It actually stays light out here until around 10 PM. So even though it was somewhat late I still managed to find my hostel before dark. Granada is also a pretty happening place at that hour. Again, I really scored with my hostel. This one is right in the middle of Granada. I also thought I was getting a room with a shared bathroom, but I ended up getting a self contained room. I don't even think they have rooms here without a private bathroom. One thing though is that the bathroom is literally the smallest bathroom I've ever seen. When you use the toilet the sink is practically in your lap and the shower stall is barely big enough for me. However, I'm not complaining. I really like my little room with my little bathroom. It is perfect for me.

My room

My tiny bathroom

This morning I got up and out pretty early. I started by heading to the Alhambra, which is an ancient fortress. I love walking around early on a Sunday morning. As many people as were out and about last night, there was nobody out this morning. When I started to leave the Alhambra it was fully raining. It is also really cold here. I saw something that said it was 9 degrees Celsius, so I guess that is somewhere in the 40's on the Fahrenheit scale. I'm so not used to this. Because it was raining I went back to my hostel to get my umbrella and get myself together. Afterwards I went to the Capilla Real, which is a chapel next to the Cathedral. This is where Fernando and Isabel, the christian monarchs on the throne when Spain conquered Granada in 1492, are buried. After seeing that I went and got some lunch. While I was eating it started raining again so I decided to go back to my hostel again and just hang out for a while.

The desolate square this morning

The Alhambra


The Cathedral

The view of Granada from the Alcazaba

I think I'll go to the Cathedral soon and possibly make my way to the other side of town to see Albayzin, which is the old moorish quarter across from the Alhambra. We'll have to see how cold it is out. Otherwise, I think I'll eventually get dinner tonight and I'll have to pack my stuff up. Tomorrow I'm heading to Seville and then on to Portugal the next day.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Morocco (Part 2)

April 26, 2013 5:10 PM—Tangier

This morning I left Fez and I got a train to Tangier. This train was not as short and not as plush as the one from yesterday, but it was still nicer than any public transport I've ever had in Uganda. Anyway, I arrived in Tangier at about 3 PM. When I originally decided to come to Tangier it was mostly a logistical move. I needed to take the ferry to Spain and I can get that ferry from Tangier. So I didn't expect much when I got here. However, Tangier has already proved itself to me. It seems that in every city in Morocco they have at least one medina. So I saw the medina in Casablanca. I saw the medina in Fez and now I am in the medina in Tangier. Despite how much I really liked Casablanca when I first arrived, after seeing Fez and now Tangier, I would have to rate Casablanca at the bottom of my list. I also really enjoyed the medina in Fez, however, I'm enjoying Tangier a bit more. There was a lot to see and do in Fez, but the medina was huge and it was easy to get lost. It was also very crowded, making it easy to get run over (literally by a donkey or a cart). Here in Tangier, the medina is much smaller and easier to navigate. I was able to walk from one end to the other in about 15 minutes with no problems.

The main square
So when I arrived here in Tangier I decided to do a bit of exploring. I walked through the medina glancing in all the shops and taking in the atmosphere. When I arrived in the main square, which is where the new city and the old city meet, I decided to have an early dinner. So I stopped at a local cafe and I got a salad and some couscous. As you can imagine, the couscous in this country is amazing! I had some yesterday in Fez and I liked it so much I decided to try it again. Once I was done eating I made my way back across the medina to my hotel, which is located in the medina.


Where I'm staying tonight is another place that just amazes me like my hotel in Casablanca. For a mere $40ish per night I got a room that looks like it belongs in a museum. I don't have a bathroom in my room this time, but there are only two rooms on my floor and no one else is staying in the other room. So the bathroom is all mine anyway. I wandered all the way to the top of the hotel where they serve breakfast and from there you can see all the way out to the water. I'm going to miss places like this because I don't think I will find too many in Europe for such a low price.

The ceiling in my room

Tomorrow morning I have to get up early early. I'm having breakfast at 6:30 so I can leave at 7 for the port. I didn't realize that the port I need to be at is about an hour drive from here. I had the option of a local (shared) taxi or a private taxi, but I chose to go private, partly because I still have quite a few Dirham (local currency) left and I know I'll lose out on an exchange rate, and partly because my French is a bit lacking (and by lacking I mean I don't know any at all). So I figured a private taxi would be easier and faster and my hotel has already arranged this for me.

I don't really want to leave Morocco. My stay here was much too short and there is so much to see. However, I am excited to get out of Africa and go to Spain and the rest of Europe.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


April 25, 2013 6:30 AM—Casablanca

Yesterday at 4:15 in the morning I finally flew away from Uganda for the last time. My first flight was pretty uneventful, but the second one was awful. So first I flew from Entebbe to Cairo. When I got in the Cairo airport I just felt the need to buy something from Burger King even though I wasn't really hungry and it turned out to be a good thing that I ate a little something there. My second flight was from Cairo to Casablanca and it was supposed to take about 5:15 hours. It had to have been the worst flight I've ever been on. There was pretty bad turbulence for about the first 4 hours of the flight. Now I've only gotten sick on a plane once before and it was due to turbulence, so I was really afraid I was going to throw up at some point. Luckily I made it threw without blowing any chunks, but it was definitely a challenge. Let's just say I'm glad I don't have to fly again for another 2 months. There were at least 3 people around me getting sick, including the guy next to me. When they were serving lunch I really wanted to take some motion sickness medicine that I got before leaving Kampala (I actually got it for the ferry but I was glad I had it on the plane in my carry on), but the flight attendants kept getting distracted whenever they were going to serve us drinks cause they kept getting more air sick bags for people, so I kept getting put off. Finally I got lunch and a sprite, I took the medicine, ate a little, and I didn't get sick. The last hour of the flight was pretty smooth until we started descending. The way the pilot descended into the airport you would have thought he was trying to make people sick. He kept dropping suddenly so I would lose my stomach a little. Again I was worried about getting sick and I managed to keep everything down.

I finally got to Casablanca and got through customs by about 1:30 PM. I took a taxi to my hotel and we drove all through the city. This place is awesome! My hotel is right near the main port in the central medina. When I arrived I took a shower and a 45 minute power nap. My hotel room is also amazing! I got a private room with my own bathroom and I have an amazing view out to the water. Sometimes you really have to love poor countries, because you can get awesome services for cheap prices. Unfortunately, most of the accommodations for the rest of my trip probably won't be this nice.

The view from my hotel room

So after I napped I decided to explore a little. I walked down parallel to the water. I was going to go get food at Rick's Cafe, which is based off of the movie Casablanca (cliché, I know), but they didn't open until 6:30. So first I walked all the down to the mosque. The Hassan II Mosque is the third largest mosque in the world. It was beautiful. It is right on the water, so you can see the waves crashing up against it. It is in its own huge piazza (so to speak). There were so many people wandering, playing, strolling and swimming. So I wandered around for a bit before walking back. I intend to try to take a tour of the inside this morning.

Then finally I walked back towards my hotel and had some dinner at a small cafe. Now one of my biggest challenges here in Morocco is that I don't speak any French and many people here don't speak much English. So when I went into this cafe, the entire menu was in French, but with some help from my waiter I ordered an assortment of kebabs (chicken, beef, lamb, and pork) and french fries. It was amazing! After eating I came back to my hotel and promptly passed out. With the time difference, 7 PM felt like 10 PM and I had traveled all day on little sleep. So needless to say, I slept for about 11 hours solid.

Now this morning, after breakfast I'm gonna go back to the mosque and try to take a tour. After that I have to unfortunately leave Casablanca and get a train to Fez, which is further north and more inland. I wish I could stay another day or two put sadly I have to move on. Only two more days in Morocco, but so far, so good.

April 25, 2013 8:15 PM—Fez

This morning after touring the inside of the mosque, I went to the train station to get a train to Fez. When I got to the station and bought a ticket, I realized the train was leaving in about 15 minutes. So I had awesome timing!

The train ride itself was about 4 hours. Maybe this train ride was amazing or maybe Uganda has just lowered my standards. I haven't been on a train in over two years, so it seemed awesome. I had my own seat that was actually big enough for me. I had a foot rest and a tray table. There was even air conditioning on this train too. For most of the ride, nobody was sitting next to me, but about an hour before we arrived in Fez a guy sat down next to me and started talking to me. It turns out he works with Peace Corps volunteers here in Morocco. So not only did he have a lot of good tips, but he also set me up with his uncle who was basically a tour guide.

After dropping my bags off at my hostel, I ended up running all around old Fez in a bit of a whirlwind tour. I saw everything from the narrow streets of the medina, to the mosque, the university and the tannery. It's a shame that I don't have more time to spend here, because Fez is really something else. It is the oldest city in Morocco and to give you an idea, the part of the city they call the “new city” is 700 years old. I even started to learn a little bit of Arabic today.

The narrow streets of the medina

Local clothing

The mosque

How they wash before praying

From what I understand, this say "Allah"

The tannery

Tomorrow I may or may not explore a little bit more of Fez before heading up to Tangier. Either way, I will eventually be taking the train all the way up to Tangier tomorrow so I can take the ferry on Saturday. It's been a quick stay in Morocco, but its totally worth it. I just wish I had more time.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Description of Service

Peace Corps Uganda
PO Box 7007, Plot 48 Malcolm X Drive, Kololo, Kampala, Uganda


Jennifer Harkins – Peace Corps Uganda

After a competitive process stressing applicant skills, adaptability and cross-cultural understanding, Ms. Jennifer Harkins was invited into Peace Corps Service. As part of the language and cross-cultural component of the training program, Ms. Harkins lived with a Ugandan family in Seguku for approximately 8 weeks and was made to feel welcome and at home. This home stay assisted Ms. Harkins in adapting to the Ugandan culture and acquiring local language abilities, thus facilitating the transition into her service in Kinoni.

Ms. Harkins began Peace Corps training on February 11, 2011 at the training site in Lweza, Uganda where she completed an intensive ten-week training program encompassing the following subject areas:

Cross-cultural Orientation: This component consisted of sessions on the Ugandan people, including politics, geography, social values and norms, history, health, and gender roles (40 hours).

Technical: This component included a general introduction to the education system in Uganda; a specific introduction to secondary schools; community mobilization; practice teaching in secondary schools; and observation and feedback skills. (167.5 hours).

Language: Study of the Runyankore language (82.5 hours). Ms. Harkins passed her ACTFL exam at the Intermediate Low level.

Medical: First aid, tropical and preventive medicine, and stress management (20 hours).

Safety and Security: This component consisted of training in personal and road safety issues (8 hours).

Ms. Harkins entered into Peace Corps service April 22, 2011 and was assigned to Kinoni Girls’ Secondary School in Kinoni, Mbarara District through the Ministry of Education and Sports.

Kinoni Girls’ Secondary School, affiliated with the Church of Uganda, is an all-girls educational boarding school situated in Southwestern Uganda. The school offers the first four years of secondary education called the "Ordinary Levels" and the last two years of secondary education called the “Advanced Levels” all in an English medium. The six hundred students of Kinoni Girls’ come from highly diverse backgrounds and many lack proper English skills. Ms. Harkins was the only non-Ugandan member of a staff of 45 teachers and 20 non-teaching staff, and though assigned by the Ministry of Education, she reported directly to Kinoni Girl's Headmaster.

As a secondary school teacher, Ms. Harkins served within the Ugandan educational system, assigned as a Computer teacher. Her teaching duties included curriculum development, daily lesson planning as well as constructing and administrating exams and practicals. At the end of Senior 4, students take a comprehensive National Exam, and only by passing it are they allowed to continue to the next levels of secondary education. Thus, many of Ms. Harkins’ teaching efforts were focused on adequately preparing the students for the exam. While Ms. Harkins was primarily a computer teacher she also assisted the mathematics department in teaching one grade level of math for two semesters. Her teaching load, on average, consisted of 15 teaching periods a week. Each semester she taught between one and three grade levels and each level consisted of one or two streams of 45-80 students.

The curriculum Ms. Harkins followed was put forward by the Ugandan Ministry of Education. In her two semesters teaching math, Ms. Harkins covered arithmetic, geometry, algebra, linear and polynomial functions, and statistics. The computer syllabus, which Ms. Harkins taught for the entirety of her service, covered a broad range of topics including, but not limited to, uses of computers, input and output devices, Microsoft DOS, programming languages, computer software, Microsoft Windows, and Microsoft Office (including MS-Word, MS-Excel, and MS-Powerpoint). Mandatory laboratory practicals were included in many of these topics which Ms. Harkins prepared for and supervised with the assistance of the school's computer lab technician.

Ms. Harkins and her Ministry of Education counterpart were responsible for maintaining the computer lab and teaching all computer classes. She also worked closely with Kinoni Girls’ school administration to write a PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Program) grant for $7200 which allowed the school to acquire 20 brand new computers and a new printer for the computer lab.

Together with the help of other volunteers Ms. Harkins organized and directed a regional girls’ empowerment camp (Camp GLOW) in western Uganda which reached over 50 girls between the ages of 13 and 15. The week-long camp was held in August 2012 at St. Maria Gorretti Girls’ Secondary School in Fort Portal. In order to facilitate this camp, Ms. Harkins assisted another volunteer to write a VAST (Volunteer Activities Support and Training) grant for almost $10,000. The girls learned about healthy living (HIV/AIDS, Malaria, nutrition and water sanitation), life skills (decision making, goal setting, assertiveness, etc.), various teamwork activities and skills (e.g. critical thinking) and arts and crafts that they can turn in to IGA’s (Income Generating Activities).

Ms. Harkins also assisted with a national boys leadership and development camp, Camp BUILD (Boys of Uganda in Leadership Development), where she took on the role of a staff member. The camp reached over 100 boys between the ages of 12 and 15 from many different regions in Uganda. The week-long camp was held in December 2012 at Kisubi Seminary. She taught sessions and assisted with logistical coordination throughout the week.

Ms. Harkins was also involved in several Peace Corps activities. She was a representative on the Volunteer Action Committee (VAC), serving as a liaison between volunteers and the Peace Corps administration. Ms. Harkins also assisted in the 2012 Peace Corps Trainings in Mukono, leading one week of sessions and spending one week observing trainees practice teaching in a secondary school. She also represented secondary education volunteers in the Peace Corps Uganda Grant Committee from May 2012 to April 2013 reviewing more than 20 grants.

Ms. Harkins finished her service by working on a third goal project where she visited other volunteer sites. After each site visit she compiled information on the volunteer, their site and their experience as well as the culture the volunteer lives in and the organization they work for. She distributed this information in the form of blog posts on her previously started blog. Not only did she use this as a third goal activity, but she also made it into a mentoring activity for volunteers who hadn’t been in-country for as long as she has.

Ms. Harkins carried out the following activities during her Peace Corps service:

Secondary School Teaching
  • Taught 3 different grade levels of computer classes for 6 terms, which reached over 220 secondary school girls
  • Taught 1 grade level of Math classes for 2 school terms, which reached approximately 100 secondary school girls
  • Trained students in critical thinking and logical analysis using “Why?” question essay assignments and allowing students to draw their own conclusions based on their previous knowledge
  • Wrote PCPP Grant for the computer lab with fellow staff members
  • Integrated numerous computer lab practicals with basic classroom lessons
  • Inspired female students by being a role model as a teacher of computers and mathematics and encouraging girls to do their best in their science subjects
  • Emphasized the importance of computers and their uses in the future by counseling students and assisting them in making their course decisions

Girls Empowerment/Boys Leadership Camps
  • Organized and co-directed a weeklong regional girls empowerment camp which invited 55 girls and 12 counselors from the region. Organized camp programming, which included activities in leadership, self-esteem, teambuilding, healthy living, creativity, and reproductive health
  • Assisted as a staff member at a national boys camp focusing on leadership and development which reached 100 boys between the ages of 12 and 15
  • Selected 20 girls that benefited from various girls empowerment camps over the course of her service

Peace Corps Committees
  • Served as a member of the Volunteer Action Committee for 8 months assisting 16 volunteers to better communicate with Peace Corps Administration
  • Served as a member of the Grant Committee for 1 year in which time over 20 volunteer grants were reviewed

Training of Other Peace Corps Volunteers
  • Led pre-service training sessions for one Peace Corps training class, comprising of a total of 45 future volunteers, covering such topics as the Ugandan education system, working in a secondary school, teaching computers and math, and strategies for living and working in Uganda.
  • Assisted in training by observing trainees during their school-practice for one week

Cross-cultural Exchange
  • Authored a blog describing her life and experiences living and working in Uganda
  • Corresponded with friends and family at home to share experience and knowledge of Ugandan culture and conversed with community members in Uganda to dispel myths and stereotypes about American culture, therefore facilitating cross-cultural understanding and promoting global awareness
  • Visited 31 volunteers and blogged about their community and their experience living and working in Uganda

Ms. Harkins successfully completed her service on April 24, 2013.

This is to certify in accordance with Executive Order 11103 of April 21, 2013, that Jennifer Harkins served successfully as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She is therefore eligible to be appointed as a career-conditional employee in the competitive civil service on a non-competitive basis. This benefit under the Executive Order extends for a period of one year after termination of Volunteer service, except that the employing agency may extend the period for up to three years for a former Volunteer who enters military service, pursues studies at a recognized institution of higher learning, or engages in other activities that, in the view of the appointing agency, warrant extension of the period.

Pursuant to section 5(f) of the Peace Corps Act, 22 USC 2504(f), as amended, any former Volunteer employed by the United States Government following her Peace Corps Volunteer service is entitled to have any period of satisfactory Peace Corps Volunteer service credited for purposes of retirement, seniority, reduction in force, leave, and other privileges based on length of Government service. Peace Corps service shall not be credited toward completion of the probationary or trial period or completion of any service requirement for career appointment.

April 23, 2013 3:00 PM—Leaving

As of a couple hours ago, I officially closed my service with the United States Peace Corps!

Over the past two days I've been in the Peace Corps office finalizing things so I could COS.

Things that had to be done:
  1. Medical Exam
  2. Dental Exam
  3. Finalizing and signing my Description of Service
  4. Exit interview with the country director
  5. Closing my bank account
  6. Writing a letter to my host organization
  7. Lots of paperwork
  8. Getting a hole punched in my Peace Corps ID

Normally a volunteer will still go into the office on their actual COS date (for me that is tomorrow) and finish everything including their final check out and having their TB test read, but because I'm leaving at 4:00 AM tomorrow morning, I had to complete everything today. Now, all these tasks may seem very doable in 2 days time, but we have to remember, this is Uganda.

My medical physical was mostly completed yesterday, however they were unable to draw blood on me yesterday because I was too dehydrated. So I was told to drink a lot of water and they would try again today. Sure enough I drank more water than you can imagine. I got up to pee in the middle of the night 3 times when I usually don't get up at all. I went back into the office today and they still struggled to get blood. The medical officer that I did all the rest of my medical stuff with first tried to take blood out of my hand because she couldn't find a vain in either of my arms. This was unsuccessful. The she got the other medical officer who tried to get it from first my left arm and then my right arm. Still no success. They were about to give up, when they realized that they needed so little blood that they could just do a finger prick. So they pricked my index finger on my left land. A little blood came out, but even after she tried to push the blood down all the way from my shoulder it was not enough. So she tried my middle finger on my left hand. Between the two finger pricks she managed to barely get enough blood for the test. So after being stuck 5 times, I was able to produce about 3 drops of blood. What is wrong with me...

My dental exam and teeth cleaning was somewhat uneventful. I do have one chipped cavity but nothing that is really bothering me.

My Description of Service (DOS) is basically a document that details everything I've done and accomplished in Peace Corps over the past two years. It is kind of like a resume just for your Peace Corps service. I drafted it and had it approved about a month ago, but I needed to print it and have it signed by the country director yesterday.

Yesterday I also did another exit interview with the country director. Yes, I had already done one with her when she came to visit my site in early February but since I worked on that project for the last month she wanted to do another.

Closing my bank account was a bit of a nightmare. Leah and I went to the bank this morning before we went to the office. First they told us there was nobody there that was able to close accounts. After some prying we ended up talking to someone. Because I still had money in my account they told me to withdraw it all. I tried to do that at the teller inside the bank but they said there system was down and that I should use the ATM. I attempted to do this but my account balance exceeded the daily withdraw limit. So I had to wait until there system was back up, which wasn't until this afternoon, so I went back later. Also to close your bank account you need to write the bank a letter. Before going to the bank this morning, Leah and I tore some pages out of a notebook and scribbled a letter down to give to the bank when we went. These letters were as legit as something you would get from a 3rd grader practicing letter writing. Needless to say, my account eventually got closed.

Another thing I had to do was to write a letter to my host organization aka my school. When I asked my program manager what the purpose of this was, she said it is for my official resignation from my school. I told her I left my site a month ago. I'm pretty sure they already know that I resigned. However, she made me do this anyway. This letter was a little more legit than the one to close my bank account...it was typed.

In addition to all these different task, there is a lot of other paperwork. Most of it requires signatures from various people in the office. It seemed a little bit like a scavenger hunt to me, because no body ever seems to be in their office when they are supposed to be. It has basically been two days of chasing people around trying to finalize everything.

So once all this is completed, I had to turn in most of this paperwork to the Administrative Officer who then punched a hole in my Peace Corps ID to invalidate it. This is the moment you are truly an RPCV. So since I did this today, I actually COSed before Leah, who has the same COS date as me. Go figure!

One good thing about COSing is that when volunteers COS, the country director invites you to her house for dinner. So last night Leah and I went to Loucine's house for dinner. Dylan and Bethany were going to come as well but they weren't feeling well. Loucine is Armenian, so last night was full of Armenian food and treats, including some cherry liquor that Loucine's grandmother made. Overall, it was a nice night where we really got to sit and chat and enjoy some amazing food.

Needless to say, it's over. And I think the best analogy to use to explain this was something my Dad sent to me in an email today. He was referencing “The Shawshank Redemption”.  “Picture Andy Dufrense cruising towards Mexico in his convertible and how he felt.” It may not be quite the same, but it is a sense of freedom.

Tomorrow I'm leaving for Morocco and next week Jill is meeting me in Portugal. I will try my best to keep this blog updated as I travel especially with pictures. So I'm on to the next step... 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

April 21, 2013 9:00 PM—Saying Goodbye

Things are nearing the end. I'm back in Kampala now after spending the weekend in Jinja. Tomorrow I have to go into the Peace Corps office to start my final medical checkout and all kinds of other paperwork before I COS on Wednesday.

Even though I've been looking forward to leaving for so long I've actually made it to the point where I don't necessarily want to leave. It's not as easy as you may think. Saying goodbye to people is never easy. Saying goodbye to other volunteers who are also leaving is not as hard as saying goodbye to some of my friends who aren't leaving. I think it was when I hit that point when I had to say goodbye to some of my friends who are still here for another year or more that I realized how hard it really is to leave.

However at this point, despite whether I want to leave or not, I'm leaving here on Wednesday. I'll be excited when that moment comes, but for now I'm trying to let go...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”--Final Summary

I first want to thank all the volunteers who participated in this project. I think it was a total success and that wouldn't have been possible without the support and hospitality of all the volunteers I have blogged about over the last month. I want to give a special shout out to all the volunteers who I was able to stay with, especially those whom I stayed with for multiple days. If I've learned anything in the last month it is that Peace Corps volunteers are some of the most hospitable people I've ever met. When I was planning this project and I was asking people if I could visit their sites and stay with them, I didn't have a single person turn me down. Everyone was very welcoming whether they volunteered for the project or not.

In true Peace Corp style I'll start by naming my successes in this project and then move on to the challenges.

1.) Actually seeing 30 different sites in 30 days
When I first proposed this project to Peace Corps, they thought that one volunteer per day for an extended period of time was too much. On the other hand, I don't think they knew my level of determination to make it work. I will say it wasn't easy and it took some strategic planning, but it is definitely possible, however it can also be really exhausting.

2.) Really getting involved in many volunteer projects
I was able to participate in some of the daily activities of many of the volunteers. From going on the radio to observing PTC students teach to helping cook dinner. Most volunteers really included me in their daily routines so I could see how they actually live. Every day was “Take Jen to Work Day”.

3.) Seeing some places in this country that I've never been before
Before working on this project I had never been to Soroti, Arua, Luwero, Hoima or Rukungiri. I also had only been to 4 of the sites I ended up visiting. So this was a great opportunity for me to really see parts of this country that I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise.

4.) Truly understanding some of the experiences a non-education volunteer could have in Uganda
I'm an education volunteer and many of my friends here are education volunteers and I had actually been to very few non-education sites. I feel like everyone always says how different of an experience the education volunteers have from both the health and economic development volunteers. So by experiencing daily life at so many other sites I can now better grasp what their experience is like. I was also able to see the similarities between education volunteers and health and economic development volunteers, especially those who are posted at schools, such as nursing schools or vocational school.

1.) Transportation
No matter what you are doing in Uganda, transportation will always be an issue. It is rarely easy and it is usually exhausting. But I knew this going in and as many Ugandans would say, I needed to learn to “manage my challenges”. And I think I've managed this one well. I learned where to sit on a bus or taxi, how to keep my belongings safe and how to easily sleep while traveling. Without these skills I would have been beside myself with transport throughout this project. I'm not saying it wasn't hard. I went down many bumpy dirt roads and on many terrifyingly fast buses, but just like anything else, you learn to deal with it.

2.) Staying somewhere for just one night
I had 13 different places during this trip where I only spent one night. When you are trying to really see the volunteers sites, this can pose a real challenge. I ended up wasting a lot of time packing and unpacking. Although I did get used to it, it was still tiring. This also meant that I was spending part of my days traveling between where ever I was staying. But again, I “managed my challenges.”

3.) Staying with volunteers I didn't know or didn't know well
I had quite a number of volunteers that I had either never met or that I had met but was not all that familiar with. This can be stressful because you don't really know what you are getting into, but this one I feel really plays back into my successes. Peace Corps volunteers are some of the most hospitable people I've ever met. Nobody cared that they might not know me. They know I'm a Peace Corps volunteer and they were most welcoming for me to come and stay in their house. This doesn't just translate with volunteers in Peace Corps Uganda. I have no doubt that if I went to any other Peace Corps country and contacted volunteers there, they would treat me exactly the same way.

4.) Trying to see a volunteers site on an off day
When I visited some sites, things were not going quite as planned. Maybe classes were no being held as usual because there were exams or the volunteer had no work to do that day or it was a weekend. This challenge was probably bigger for the volunteers than for me. Before I came out I told all the volunteers that it didn't matter what was going on. I would love to see whatever they wanted to show me, whether that is their house, their organization, their neighbors or their local duka. To me it didn't really matter, but for them I'm sure they wanted to make it as interesting as possible.

5.) Language
Peace Corps puts a huge emphasis on language when sending volunteers to their sites. They feel that it is very important for volunteers to know the local language well. I personally don't fully agree with this. As an education volunteer, I needed the local language very little and therefore I never really furthered my language skills beyond greeting people and saying thank you. However, that little language that I had was very important to feeling at home. I realized this especially when I went to Northern Ugandan where I can't even use the word I know for “thank you”. I really felt out of my element. I think, in fact, that I've been living abroad for so long, I'm more comfortable saying thank you in any language other than English. Whether I'm saying “webale”, “gratze”, or “asanti”, it seems more natural to me now than actually saying “thank you”.

6.) Dehydration
Traveling in this country is obviously tricky on many levels. One thing that can be a bit of a problem is using the bathroom while on the bus. The bus will stop for people to go to the bathroom (you may even stop where there is a toilet), but when you're by yourself you probably don't want to leave your things on the bus while you go. So, like many volunteers, I have a tendency to dehydrate myself on travel days. Most of the time this isn't a huge problem, but with traveling so much, it is a bit of a challenge to consciously make sure I'm drinking enough water.

For this project, I also tried my best to get a broad spectrum of volunteers. Below you can see the breakdown of volunteers by program sector and also by training group. I've also compiled statistics on the number of volunteers with power and/or water. These are also listed below.

Percent of Volunteers with Electricity*  93.55%
Percent of Volunteers with Running Water*  72.41%

*These numbers are based off of the volunteers who participated in this project only.  This is not representative of the volunteer population as a whole.

Doing this project has been quite the experience. I actually feel like I've experienced almost as much in the last month as I did in the past two years. It is fascinating to see how other volunteers live and where they work. Everyone's story is different and unique in its own way. However, I can also see many similarities. So many people are working on similar projects or with similar organizations.

The volunteer experience can also be seen as similar in simple ways like how volunteers cook. For the most part all volunteers can get the same local ingredients to cook for themselves. So in the last month I noticed that many volunteers would cook the same things for me. I ate a lot of guacamole, pancakes, pasta, and oatmeal. Some of these things are simple and easy to make with local ingredients. I've also noticed just how much volunteers are obsessed with food. Most volunteers cook really good food and some even branch out of these staples and make things that I would never think to make or that I didn't even know was possible to cook here. Nonetheless, not being a picky eater made this trip so much easier for me and for the volunteers I visited. When asked what I wanted to eat, my response was usually “I'll eat anything”. I guess that can also be challenging to the volunteers because it gives them no guidelines, but on the same note I can't say I had a single meal that I didn't like.

Overall, I'm really glad I did this project. I got to meet some new people and spend time with some old friends. I also got to experience this country in a whole new way. In the end, I think the successes outweighed the challenges, which to me means the project was a total success. Now on to the next chapter in my journey...COSing!

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”—April 18, 2013 (Day 30)

Name: John Aaron Murray
Age: 26

Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

What he did before Peace Corps: Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering at University of Colorado

Program Sector: Education

Number of months spent in Uganda: 5

Host Organization: Lake Bunyonyi Secondary School

Exact site location: Bwama Island, Lake Bunyonyi, Kabale District

Language spoken at site: Runyankore-Rukiga

Aaron is working with Lake Bunyonyi Secondary School, which is located on the largest island in Lake Bunyonyi. Aaron's school is unusual not just because it is on an island. His school only has about 80 students, so the class sizes are extremely small, but I guess this is expected when you have a school on an island. Aaron teaches Math, Physics and Computers. “Currently, I am teaching physics to the Senior 2 class, and math and computer literacy to Senior 6.” Since he has only been at his site a few months, he has not yet had the chance to start any secondary projects. “However, it is quite clear that computer literacy should be the focus of my secondary project.”

Bwama Island
Aaron's house
There are no stores on Bwama Island, so Aaron takes most of his meals with the other staff members. “We usually have beans and posho or potatoes for lunch and dinner.” On Mondays and Fridays, there is a market in Rutinda, which is on the mainland. This is where he can buy fruit and vegetables. If he wants to get more western foods, he has to go to the supermarket in Kabale. As for water, in the rainy season, he can get water from the rain tank, which is a couple hundred meters from his house. If the rain tank is empty, he has to go down to the lake and collect water from there. His house also has no electricity. The only place that has power on the entire island is Aaron's school, but it is solar power and it is only in two rooms at the school.
The view as you step outside Aaron's house

The thing Aaron likes most about his site is its location. “I am on a small island in the middle of a very beautiful lake high up in the mountains. The weather is always pleasant and the people are extremely friendly. Overall, I enjoy the peace and simplicity of living in a remote location with no running water or electricity. So far, my most enjoyable times at site have been spent digging in my garden. I have never grown any crops before, so it is a new experience for me. I am very much looking forward to learning about agriculture in the upcoming years.”

Aaron’s biggest challenge at site is his limited capacity for teaching computers and the dire need for computer literacy. “Though the students and teachers here are very eager to learn the uses of a computer, there is only one computer available for use. The lack of computers makes teaching the subject rather difficult.”
My glimpse of the secondary school from across the island

Aaron’s site is extremely unique because it is on an island and it has an intriguing history. “I find it quite interesting that many of the people who live in villages either on an island or near the lake cannot swim. Many of them ride in a canoe every day, but are unable to swim to shore if the canoe were to tip. Lake Bunyonyi is an extremely unique location. It is the third deepest lake on earth and has a variety of beautiful birds. Bwama Island is the largest island in the lake, and was once a leper colony run by a man named Dr. Sharp. Though the school opened in 1987, the last leper died in 2003.”


Today I ventured out to Lake Bunyonyi to make a somewhat spectacular end to my project. My plan was to travel out to Bwama Island to visit Aaron's site. As I was getting myself together this morning, I got a call from Aaron. He was calling me to tell me he was sick. A typical day in the life of a volunteer. I asked if he would rather not have me come. He said it was still okay to come visit, but that I shouldn't expect much of him today. Before I left town I asked him if he wanted me to get him anything in town, so he requested for some sprite and he also asked me if I could go to the pharmacy to get him some medicine that Peace Corps medical told him to get. So once I stopped at the supermarket and the pharmacy I headed down toward the lake.

To get to Bwama Island, you first have to go to the dock at Rutinda, which is on the mainland, and from there you can either get a canoe or a motorboat to take you to the island. It is cheaper to get a canoe and I kind of wanted a bit of the experience, so when I got there I asked for a canoe to take me to Bwama. After waiting for about 5 minutes, they got me a canoe and there was also a Polish guy going to Bushara Island that went in the same canoe. So there was me, the polish guy and the Ugandan canoe operator. Normally in a canoe they have two paddles, so they will expect the passenger to assist in paddling. However, because I wasn't the only passenger I didn't have to row until we left the Polish guy at Bushara. After that point it was only a short distance to Bwama.

The health center
Bwama Island is the largest island in Lake Bunyonyi, however the only establishments on the island are a health center, a church, a primary school and a secondary school. The canoe left me near the health center, so to find Aaron's house I just started asking around. I don't think he has ever been to the health center, because barely anyone there knew him. But there was one man that was able to point me in the right direction. Once I got going the right way, I eventually made it across the island to the secondary school where Aaron is working. When I arrived there I asked where his house was and one of his students was able to take me there.

The primary school
Because he was sick I ended up just sitting with him and chatting for about an hour and a half. I felt bad still coming out there, but I think he enjoyed a little company and he was really grateful for the things I picked up for him in town. After I had been there for a little while, Aaron called a guy he knows back at Rutinda to get him to send a canoe back to pick me up. So I trekked back across the island to get this canoe back. As it turned out, I went back to Rutinda with a student teacher who is teaching at Aaron's school. So again, I didn't actually have to paddle. Once I got there I headed back to Kabale Town.

Now I'm back at Edirisa, which is where I staying again tonight. Tomorrow I'm going back out to Jinja where I'm going to spend the weekend. I COS next Wednesday. Overall, I saw 30 sites in 30 nights and I really got to experience this country and the volunteer lifestyle all over again. So in my eyes, the project was a total success!

Bwama Island