Thursday, September 23, 2010

The end (of training) is in sight...

The last few weeks have brought some exciting (and not as exciting) things. Everyone is starting to get pretty tired of training, so the next few weeks will probably be tough to push through. But soon we'll be swearing in as real Peace Corps Volunteers!

I had some talks with the trainers about my concerns over being placed under economic development (which is where they place people with animal husbandry backgrounds), but we had only been talking about business management and crop agriculture during the training sessions, neither of which I know anything about or am interested in. They took my concerns, as well as my preferences, and have officially switched me to being a Community Health volunteer. I still don't have the details of my site (we find out in ONE WEEK!) but they gave me a vague description when they switched me that I'd probably be working with an organization that has a broad focus on community health and food security, and that the organization partners/staff are interested in starting animal husbandry work. If that's the case, it sounds ideal - a great blend between health, agriculture, animal husbandry, etc. So glad I said something and that they aren't placing me as a primarily business/econ volunteer - ask and ye shall receive! Even if animal husbandry becomes a secondary project, it sounds completely feasible. Just about every household keeps some animals for subsistence, so there's plenty of opportunities, especially since my organization is apparently interested in doing more work in that area. BUT I don't have any solid details about my organization at all yet, so I shouldn't count my chickens before they hatch. Getting so anxious to hear about it!

In other news, spent last week staying with 2 Peace Corps Volunteers in Kyotera in southern Uganda. It's actually two girls - one community health volunteer, one education - who share a duplex. They each have their own "house" on either side of a dividing wall (which is very nice - bedroom, bathroom, guest bedroom, living/dining room, and kitchen, electricity most of the time, and limited running water that comes from a tank on their roof). It was so great to cook American-style food (pan-fried noodles, spaghetti and garlic bread, eggs and toast, etc.), have girls nights, watch movies, take naps, etc. We did do some work too, but unfortunately the interpreter who usually works with her to teach nutrition at the health center wasn't around, so we mostly taught English at the local vocational school. On the way back to Wakiso (where I live now), a few of us stopped in Kampala for shopping and delicious food, including iced lattes. Yummmm!

Other events recently: one of my friends got a puppy from the neighbor and I helped him get dewormer/tick and flea bath, I've been doing a project about Community Animal Health Workers (which I did research for in college and now I'm looking at how to implement a program here in Uganda - very cool), we're having weekly trivia nights at a local bar with our fellow trainees which are really fun, finding an amazing bootleg DVD store in Kampala where you can buy movies or even entire TV seasons for 1,200 shillings (50 cents), learning our way around Kampala and using public transport, trying to diagnose the neighbor's goat (I think it has footrot, it won't put weight on it and its hoof is super hot to the touch but I don't want to try to fix it on my own)... pretty good times! It's not all fun and games - I'll be honest and say I'm getting tired of homestay curfews and having to explain why I want to just read in my room by myself, monotonous training periods, etc. - but in general things are good. Already looking forward to people visiting from the States... if you're not thinking about coming to Uganda, you should be!

These last few days we've had intensive language practice for a mock-LPI (language proficiency interview). The real LPI is at the end of training, and we must be at an Intermediate Low level to "pass" training. I felt like I was struggling a bit during the practice with native speakers, but everyone is saying I'm doing great, speaking Runyankore-Rukiga "like a parrot". Glad to hear! Romance languages will be a piece of cake after this (and I want to work on Spanish and French when I'm out at my site). I'm excited to actually practice the language when I finally go to the southwest, as people here in central Uganda don't really speak Runyankore-Rukiga.

I'll post again in a week when I get my official site placement, which will include where I'll be, my organization/job, what amenities I may or may not have, etc. Sooo excited! All my love to everyone at home.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Getting into the swing of things...

Well here we are during the fourth week of training and things are going pretty well. We’ve had so many different sessions on Ugandan culture, safety and security, health talks about the scary tropical diseases that some of us will pick up (40% of volunteers get schistosomiasis??), business management, HIV and malaria, permaculture, participatory community assessment tools, our roles are volunteers, etc. I’ve been learning a lot, but the days are long and the weeks are exhausting. All of the current PCVs say that the experience gets a lot better after training, although I’m enjoying being close to all of the other trainees, and I’m sure I’ll miss this time when we’re all scattered across the country. Less than a month until we find out our sites! Couldn’t come soon enough.

Things with my host family are great. My dad and I have the best conversations every night, from the political situation in Uganda and the U.S. to ebola and the education system. We have a running joke that I have an “American stomach”, not a Ugandan stomach because they serve soooo much food here. He’s great and never pushes me to eat more than I want. The food is already getting pretty routine but I’m finding a few favorites (like G-nut, aka groundnut, aka peanut, sauce), and the street food is fantastic. You can get a rolex (omelet-like deliciousness) for 700 shillings (about 40 cents), samosas for 100 shillings (5 cents!), chapattis, “pizza” (egg and onion in a little latke-like patty) for 300 shillings… I might never cook in this country.

My ‘siblings’ are also great, and I’m in love with 7-year-old Tracy (as is everyone else) who is the smartest thing ever. I often forget she’s 7 years old. She’s so incredibly mature and already pretty much fluent in English. Yesterday, she told me I’m her best friend (cue major “Awww!!” now). I don’t get to see my host mom very much – she works in Kampala and so doesn’t get home until around 9:00 on most nights, and sometimes I’m even in bed by the time she gets home. When I do see her, she is so much fun – always laughing at what I have to say. Last night, we all ended up dying of laughter when my host dad recounted my language faux pas this week. Instead of asking for “enyama y’empunu” (“meat of pig” aka pork), I asked for “emanya y’empunu” (vagina of pig). I didn’t learn what I had really said until language class the next day, and now it makes so much sense why my sister was laughing so hard and my dad was so adamant about correcting my pronunciation. But the list doesn’t end there. 2 nights later, I was trying to say “I’m eating” which is “Nindya”, but I said “Ninya” which basically means “I’m getting it on”. Ohhhh lordy, good thing they know I don’t always mean what I say. It definitely provided for some great laughs and great stories!

This past weekend was a great recharge from the routine we’ve been having. On Friday, we visited some groups of women who are working towards income generation and empowerment through craft making. I bought a beautiful bead necklace and basket for amazingly low prices. It was just so great to get out into the community and do something. When we pulled up to one group, it seemed like the whole village erupted into song and dance – everyone was SO excited for the muzungus to arrive! On top of all that, the scenery on the way to the NGO visit was so beautiful. I can’t wait to see the southwest (my future home), which everyone says is stunningly gorgeous. On Saturday, we went to Kavumba Rec Center to go swimming!! The water was the perfect refreshing temperature (you just have to ignore the fact that it wasn’t chlorinated… we had already paid to swim and walked 2 miles to do so, there was no turning back). We all got a nice sunburn from the equatorial sun, even with multiple applications of sunscreen. At first I was upset that they were charging 2,500 shillings for beer whereas the regular price in town is 2,000, then realized that it was equal to $1.25 vs. $1.00. Add on a plate of BBQ chicken and chips for 6,000 shillings ($3.00) and I was a happy camper. But I have to stop thinking in terms of US Dollars since we calculated that we’ll be making somewhere around $3,600 per year (about 3 times higher than the national average salary in Uganda). That night, we went to a local hotel to watch the Uganda-Angola football game (3-0!), and ended up having a dance party and celebrating a PCT’s (Peace Corps Trainee) birthday. But the night ended early, as always (by 7:00ish) since we all have to get home around dusk. Wah wahhhh….

On Sunday, my friend Becca came over to help me cook brunch for my family, which was my first time cooking in Uganda from start to finish. I think they were extremely skeptical during the cooking process (this muzungu doesn’t know how to peel potatoes very well, and I would never dice up potatoes that way… and why does she need so many pots?) but it seemed to be a success – scrambled eggs with tomato and onion, hash browns, toast with butter and jam, and mango juice. YUM!! After weeks of the same food over and over, this was pure bliss. My family even wants to make hash browns again next Sunday, which is impressive since these weren’t even really good hash browns. After brunch, I read a book, took a nap, did some laundry, then headed to a friend’s house to exchange movies and music. A group of us watched a Russian bootleg copy of Salt on my laptop, and the moment (and day) felt so American that it was a shock to look up and see cattle being herded by the window. Yep, we’re still in Africa. We’re all joking that life here starts to feel pretty normal until we remember we have a bucket in our rooms to pee in at night (since there are guard dogs/who knows what roaming around and it’s not safe to go out to the latrine).

In general, I’m so happy here. The training days get long, and life isn’t without its frustrations, but I am so blessed to be in this beautiful country and be given this chance. Looking forward to an immersion week in my region next week, then 3 weeks later I get to visit my actual future site!