It’s beginning to feel a lot like…. summer. It always feels like summer here to me, so it’s hard to believe that it’s truly Christmas time without freezing temperatures, streetlamps decorated with wreaths and lights (there are no streetlamps), sweaters and scarves, fireplaces, decorating the tree with family, people bustling around for shopping, etc.
For Christmas, I headed back to Kasese to spend the holiday with some of my best friends in Peace Corps. Along the way, the road passes through Queen Elizabeth National Park, and I saw at least 60 elephants, including one huge bull that crossed the road right in front of the taxi! Merry Christmas from Mother Africa.
We went swimming on Christmas Eve – felt a little out of place, but the pool had gorgeous vistas of the mountains and the plains below, and we listened to some good American tunes, courtesy of a former PCV who had her wedding there and left the CDs behind. For dinner, we went back up to Hotel Margherita, where we waited forever for our food but it was worth it – FILET MIGNON! Best meat I’ve had in Uganda, hands down, and only 9,000 (about $4). Good meat is a rare thing to come by here – usually it’s tough, fatty, and full of bones.
On Christmas Day, we had French toast and scrambled eggs, then went to lunch at a friend’s supervisor’s house. A Ugandan holiday isn’t complete without really cheesy 80’s-style music videos playing, so we were treated to an hour or two of some random African music group singing in fur coats with various scenes set in Russia, the Caribbean, etc., followed by a video of the supervisor’s wedding. The food was good, typical Ugandan fare – matooke, chicken, goat, pasta, potatoes, pineapple, etc. I got a wonderful text from my host family wishing me a Merry Christmas, so called them to reciprocate – so good to talk to them. In the afternoon, we had a Yankee Swap gift exchange with such coveted items as JIF peanut butter, pirated DVDs, or Annie’s macaroni and cheese. For dinner, we went to a nice hotel in town for a delicious buffet, then returned to Skype with family and friends. I also got my first guitar lesson from one of my friends and am planning to buy a guitar soon – I really want to learn to play while I’m here.
For New Years, a bunch of PCVs rented out a private island at Lake Bunyonyi, a gorgeous spot in the mountains near the Rwandan border. The island is a basic camp with bandas and tents (yours truly was camping), pit latrines with seats, really delicious buffets, and beautiful views across the lake – all for about $10 a day. We spent our days swimming in the cool water (hello schisto!), getting sunburned after about 20 minutes in the equatorial sun, reading, napping, playing Euchre with other Midwesterners in the group, and just chilling. So nice. I’m not sure why just chilling felt so nice because I already have so much downtime at my site, but I definitely felt like a tourist – a very nice change of pace.
On New Years Eve, we all split the cost of a generator and speakers so we could have a dance party. During dinner, our music was switched off so we could watch some traditional Bakiga (Ba-chee-gah) dancers and even joined in for some of the songs. After that, we danced the night away, and had our own countdown to midnight. This might be the first time I haven’t watched the ball drop on TV (except the one time I was actually in NYC for New Years). A little after midnight, a group of us decided to ring in 2011 by skinny dipping! Thank God there was no moon so it was pitch black – you literally couldn’t see anybody else if you tried. It takes living in Africa to realize that white people glow in the dark. Also good to know that there are no (known) crocodiles in Lake Bunyonyi.
Possibly the most exciting thing that’s happened lately is returning to my village after the holidays to discover that a local pastor has set up a chapatti/rolex stand about 300 meters from my house!! Seriously, I don’t think anyone except for PCVs in Uganda would understand the excitement. I can now get a delicious egg-and-chapatti roll (rolex) for 800 shillings (about 35 cents). Amazing.
Other recent activities: learned how to make a compost pile from a fellow PCV which I hope to do as a demonstration in my village, and watched the installation of a biogas digester at my counterpart’s house (takes cow dung and captures the methane to use for cooking and lights). One of the most shocking things that happened lately was when I was teaching HIV fact vs. fiction with another PCV at a youth conference. One of the fiction statements was, “White people brought HIV to Africa to kill Africans.” The kids burst out in an enthusiastic “Yes!” even clapping and laughing. It was the biggest reaction we got from them during the whole session. While a Ugandan facilitator explained that it was a joke, my friend and I were really upset by it. I sort of get why they would make a joke like that, but regardless, when two white PCVs have dedicated their lives to helping Ugandans and the kids decide to laugh and say white people brought HIV here, it hurts.
We’re all a little nervous about the upcoming elections in mid-February. Presidential elections in Africa are rarely peaceful, and Peace Corps has had to pull out of a number of countries before, whether for just a few weeks or even sometimes permanently, due to political violence. Some of my Ugandan friends say it will be peaceful with no problems, while others are convinced there will be riots. Museveni has been in office since 1986, and he remains very popular in my area, which is his home district. However, other areas of Uganda have grown tired of him and are ready for change. While we’re all hopeful that things work out for the best, it’s something on our minds, and we’re mentally preparing ourselves for the possibility that the elections might not go so smoothly here. Time will tell either way, and for now we just have to keep on keeping on.
I’ll post pictures from these adventures another time – the internet is just too slow and spotty at my site.