Thanksgiving was fantastic! On Friday, I headed through Kampala, where I did some Christmas shopping at the craft market (although no guarantees that packages will get there by Christmas, or ever even arrive), then headed back to my friend Becca’s house with Bryce, Alexi, Maggie, and Evan. We spent the evening marveling at her house (it’s huge! and has electricity!), eating Velveeta macaroni and cheese (heaven!), and a pumpkin pie given to us for free by the owner/chef at I <3 New York Kitchen, our favorite pizza/dessert place in Kampala (soooo good!). We bought a DVD on the street earlier that we thought would be the new Harry Potter movie since we couldn’t make any of the showings at the real theater in Kampala, but when we played it, it was just a cheap Bollywood film. Wahh wahhhhh...
Saturday morning, Becca and I woke up first, so we made banana pancakes, M&M pancakes, and scrambled eggs, with real Maine maple syrup! (Becca is a Mainer). I went to work with Becca for a little while, but was called away to go help gut the two chickens we were going to eat for dinner. It was pretty successful, although I’m sure my animal science professors would cringe at my technique. The rest of the afternoon was spent cooking – and man was it worth it! BBQ chicken, wine-and-herb chicken, stuffing made from bagel chips, mashed potatoes, vegetable medley, spicy pumpkin soup with cranberry jelly, yummy bread and butter, guacamole with chapatti, and a fruit salad with passion fruit glaze for dessert. Amazing!!! All of this laid out on a beautiful banquet table complete with candlesticks and autumn-themed napkins from the U.S.
After dinner, Maggie and Evan brought over the turkey piñata they made, and so for the next 20 minutes or so we watched as blindfolded, dizzy people tried to hit a cardboard turkey that kept falling, the broomstick broke in half, and the clothesline snapped, leaving us all in stitches. Definitely a new Thanksgiving tradition! Afterwards we had planned to stay up and party, but the food coma spell hit hard, and we fell asleep watching new episodes of Glee.
In the morning, Bryce made us delicious French toast (with more Maine maple syrup), then we all headed into Kampala. They all went to see Harry Potter at the theater, but I had to catch a 5-hour bus back to Mbarara, so skipped the movie. I also inadvertently skipped lunch, so was starving, and the first vendor who got on the bus to sell us food had only fried grasshoppers. So, naturally, that’s what I ate. I had tried them last week for the first time and they’re surprisingly pretty delicious... you just can't think too much about what you're eating. The woman behind me hesitantly says, “Madam, did you know those are insects?” probably expecting me to scream and throw them in the air upon discovering what I was really eating. I told her yes, I know, but thank you, causing her and a few others around us to start laughing.
On Monday morning, I went with a co-worker to his cousin’s solar shop in Mbarara for an estimate. He quoted me a price 300,000 shillings lower than another shop I had gone to (about $140 cheaper), and when I said I’d like it installed as soon as possible, he said, “How about today?” So I now have solar power at my house! As a thank-you to my neighbor in the next duplex unit, who always cares for my dog when I go away, I paid the relatively small extra charge to string a light into her house, too. She and her family were so excited, and that night we all just stood around staring at the light. They kept laughing and saying, “Kampala!” joking that now they live in the city, and when I eventually said, “No, America!” they all roared with laughter. We all celebrated by watching a movie at my house (The Princess Diaries, since it has nothing really culturally inappropriate here in Uganda, although it’s amazing how many things I had to explain while watching it. A movie is a whole cross-cultural exchange in itself). I even made popcorn! A huge thanks to Mom at home for helping me to make this happen. :)
I do have to say, it’s so weird after living at homestay and then at site for a total of 4+ months without electricity to now be able to charge my laptop and flip on a lightswitch. It definitely changes the experience, and a (small) part of me misses how basic things were when I based my day more around the rhythm of the sun, and how it was probably a more genuine Peace Corps experience. I feel a bit like a spoiled brat, paying to have solar power in a village where a fair number of people live in mud-walled houses. However, a number of people came to thank me for bringing solar power here, and I know that installing it in the staff quarters here will make it much easier to attract workers in the future. And to be fair, there are also a few other people in my village who have solar power, too, which makes me feel a little better. Also, on a personal note, I am ecstatic to be able to work on assignments for Peace Corps, do research online, catch up with family and friends more often, maybe write that book I’ve always wanted to write, and even just unwind with a movie at the end of the day. And if I feel too over-the-top with solar power, I remind myself that I still hand-wash my clothes, bathe from a bucket, and pee in a hole in the ground.