Wow, I haven't blogged in forever! Sorry, things were very busy at the end of training, and I don't have electricity at my house so computer time is very limited. But a lot has happened since my last post:
For one thing, I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! We had a swearing-in ceremony on October 21 at the US Ambassador's House. All 45 of us who met in Philadelphia and starting training together made it to swearing-in, which is actually a big accomplishment - it's not uncommon for a few people to decide during training that Peace Corps is not for them and go home. We also held a Homestay Thank You event on the weekend before swearing in to thank the families that have been hosting us. The highlight was when our language group did a traditional Banyankore-Bakiga dance and probably 40+ Ugandans joined in with clapping, jumping, stomping, singing.... so much fun.
I moved to site the weekend after swearing-in, and things get better every day. I still have moments (that were especially numerous during the first few days) where I semi-panic, think "Why the hell did I come here?", and have thoughts of going home early. But those moments are short-lived, and I'm just taking things one day at a time. One of the challenges we have as Volunteers is that we don't have an exact job description, and some of our organizations don't really know what to do with us. You have to make work for yourself, which in the first month or two at site is not easy. So for now, I've been mostly dispensing drugs that are prescribed by the nurses in the clinic, and helping with baby immunization and weighing outreach events. We are encouraged by Peace Corps to "do nothing" for the first 3 months - and by that, they mean just learn, observe, do needs assessments, integrate into your community, etc. before you come up with grandiose ideas on what types of projects to start/implement. A project that I work on should never be entirely my idea - it should stem from the needs and desires of my community members. This is very difficult for me, both as an American not used to pursuing what I see needs to be done and as someone used to taking charge and getting the ball rolling.
However, a few ideas for projects have started to come out. I built a tippy-tap, a makeshift handwashing station, during my first week at site (since there is no easy way for me to wash my hands without running water), and my counterpart and others were very interested in it, and when I expressed my desire to teach hygiene and tippy-tap-building at local schools, they seemed very receptive to the idea. So that might be one of my first projects! Also, I've been doing needs assessments within my organization and one of the biggest problems at our small health clinic is the lack of ability to test for malaria - we simply don't have the equipment for either a blood smear or a rapid malaria test. The result is that anyone who has a headache, fever, body aches, or generally doesn't feel well gets diagnosed with malaria. As we currently have the drugs in stock right now (provided by the Ugandan government), we are giving them out to everyone showing these symptoms. The nurses don't really have a choice not to - if they don't prescribe the drugs, and the patient does have malaria, he/she could die. Everyone seems to know that some people are faking the symptoms, knowing they can get the drugs for free from our government-funded clinic now and stock up later for when they don't feel well at another time. We're about to run out of anti-malarial drugs (Coartem), and we won't get any for at least another month, when the government may or may not show up to deliver more. Thus, for anyone suffering for malaria after we run out of drugs, they have to buy them at drug shops/pharmacies at a cost of around 15,000 shillings (about $7.50), which is too expensive for many of the people who live here. Very tough situation. So even though as a PCV I am supposed to encourage mobilizing local resources instead of looking for outside funding/materials, this is a huge need and I'm going to explore the options to get a microscope (doesn't even have to turn on - we don't have electricity so you just set the microscope in the sun) so we can test for malaria.
In happier news, I am now the proud parent of a beautiful Ugandan puppy. Her name is Kibo (named after the main peak of Kilimanjaro) and she's now 8 weeks old. She came from a litter of puppies at my homestay, and since I got to handle them from 1.5 weeks of age, and I really like the mother's personality, I was hooked. I picked the most beautiful, biggest, outgoing puppy (of course!) and returned for her a week after getting to site (along with another friend who got a dog from his homestay). Public transport with puppies wasn't as bad as we anticipated - we were expecting negative reactions, since it's okay to bring chickens and goats on a shared taxi but dogs are feared and often have a negative connotation in this culture. However, people were all just curious and thought it was so funny, the bazungu with their dogs. Kibo has been settling into site great - my neighbors love her (they even let her sleep in their house when I'm gone! HUGE for a Ugandan family, never expected that), people now come to my house to see my dog and not me, she follows me everywhere when I'm home but surprisingly stays around the yard when I leave, which saves me from having to tie her up. She knows how to sit when she's paying attention or thinks I have food, and can be a bit stubborn, but she's affectionate and playful and just pretty darn adorable. So far she's been very healthy, and I hope it continues - my friend's puppy got parvo, a very nasty virus that often kills the dog, and we were very worried he wouldn't make it. I went to give him IV fluids and dextrose (he is only about 40-50 km from me), and when I had to leave my friend gave him some SQ fluids. And the little guy is doing great! He didn't eat for about a week, so he's super skinny, but apparently now he's running around, eating, and doing great. Amazing!