Sunday, September 20, 2009


I've started a Picasa album with some pictures of training in it...I have more pictures to upload at a later date...but I'm running out of internet time!

Here's the address...I hope it works!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Week 5: I played football during the riots


Week five started innocently. After our week-long site visit the week before, we began Monday’s session with “processing”…we basically just told the other groups what we did and what we learned. We presented several of the days, a schematic of the stove, and gave a short Luganda lesson: vocabulary related to the stove and how to count in Luganda.
On Tuesday we had medical. Two more shots (Hep B #2 and Rabies #3). I spoke with the nurse since I still wasn’t feeling better and she gave me some new stuff to try out.
We opened bank accounts and had a few sessions in the afternoon including one on the mock LPI test which was scheduled for the end of the week.
On Wednesday we had a language simulation in the morning where we talked with some trainers and members of the local community in our language. It was hard, but I think I did well. I have a hard time with comprehension; I can read, write, and speak fairly well, but when someone speaks to me, I have no idea what’s going on! Somewhat of a problem….
On Thursday we were supposed to have an immersion session in our language, but the trainers decided to give us some self-study time instead. On Tuesday they had asked for any problems/recommendations we had for training and everyone pretty much universally said more language and self-study time. It was a fairly lazy day and I spent most of it in town studying. While we were studying, we noticed that there were some riots in Kampala (which is around 40 minutes from here).
In the evening, we were going to have a birthday party for one of the trainees (three of our trainees had birthdays this week and they were all turning 26! Happy birthday Nicole, Lizz, and Cassandra!). We met at a local bar and had just started arriving when Jenny, one of our trainers, arrived and told us that we all had to go back to our homestays immediately because the riots in Kampala had progressed to a neighborhood just outside of town. Around that same time, I got a text message from PC Uganda headquarters in Kampala:
Dear PCVs, there is some scuffle in da city centre which may last upto sunday. You are all advisd to stay at yr sites. Any earlier approval to kla shd be halted. For emergincies kal yr APCD or CD. Thx
(I just had to recreate this as it was written for you!!)
I live next door to two other PCTs (Colin and Steve Worrell – two Steve W’s!) so I went over to their house to try out some yogurt they had made the night before. They also had purchased some mango concentrate to mix in with the yogurt and it was awesome! When we were finishing the drinks, we started hearing some shouting and what sounded like fireworks. We soon realized that the “fireworks” were in fact gun fire. There were some other trainees with us that just lived down the hill so we decided that now would be a good time to walk them home. I went across the street to my house and they walked home. Not more than 5 minutes later I was standing with my host brother and Colin and Steves’s host sister looking out the window and a huge crowd of people ran through the ally into our street and up the hill. They were followed by the sounds of machine gun fire. We later learned that the police were firing their weapons into the air to try to break up the riot. We heard from another PCV that the rioters had burned tires in front of their house (they live on the main “highway” outside of town – just down the hill from us) and some of our trainers said that the rioters had blocked much of the roads into and out of town with debris and fires. Through the night we got more text messages:
Hi PCVs, u are all instructed not to move away fm your sites or homestay or wherever u maybe now until further notice. Contact yr APCD, JOLIE, or Fred Security mgr. From Gary V.
Hi trainees, u are all instructed not to move away fm your homestays 2morrow friday. Due 2 unrest until further notice. Shirley
During the more dangerous parts of the riots through town, I stayed inside, and looked through the window with Michael (my little brother) and Joan (Colin/Steve’s little sister). There was one time when the gunfire was especially close that my older brothers and some neighbors all ran into our compound. The children seemed to enjoy it – they played police, shooting pretend guns in the air and laughing – but the adults all looked scared. However, once it calmed down my two older brothers, Michael, Joan and I went to the front yard and played football (soccer for all you Americans…). The rioting and gunshots picked back up again after it got dark and the Peace Corps Land Cruiser drove around picking up stranded PCTs who couldn’t make it back home. Lizz, who was supposed to attend a bachelor party at another PCT’s house didn’t know where to go when we were told to go back to our homestays (she was sure her host mom was already at the party), so she tried to go there, but was unable. She hung out with a couple of the trainers and eventually the Land Cruiser picked her and her bike up and drove her back home.
Later that night, after it had calmed down again for the most part, my older brothers and my host mom started talking about “the war”…I think the gunfire and the rioting reminded them of the wars not too long ago.
My host father works in Kampala driving vehicles for the Ministry of Education. Since he drives a government car, he didn’t feel safe in the vehicle so he parked it at a police station for the next couple of nights. (later he told me that they were burning government vehicles and if they had found him they would have burned him and the car.) Since he left his car at the police station in Kampala and the roads were blocked and not safe, the only way for him to get home was to walk from wherever he was in Kampala to our town, about 14 kilometers away. Now this isn’t a terribly far distance, but it’s not the most pleasant walk in the middle of the night and in the middle of a riot. In America it wouldn’t be too bad…a few miles, but nicely paved roads and street lights. Not here. He walked in the pitch black for several miles on not very nicely paved roads. He made it home after I finally fell asleep around 10. My host sister, Immaculate, also goes to Kampala during the day – she’s at University there. She didn’t make it home until sometime on Friday afternoon. I’m not sure where she stayed though…probably in a friend’s home or in a dormitory for the night.
Consequently class was canceled on Friday, which I’m not too upset about since we had several things due (that I had procrastinated…of course) and our mock LPI (language proficiency interview), which I wanted more time to study for. I spent the day doing homework, studying, and watching West Wing and Shop Around the Corner, one of my favorite movies.
We were supposed to go on a field trip on Saturday, but I got a call from the training manager, Shirley, Friday night and she told me that through Sunday we should stay in our homestays, not go into town or to social places. So here I am again…at home. I tried to sleep in this morning, but it’s a little hard when my family gets up early and starts playing music. I think I made it to 730 before I had to get up – sleep was no longer an option. It’s going to be another lazy two days…
Sunday was much like the previous two days – reading and being lazy. My three host brothers and Colin and Steve’s brother taught me a new card game though. It’s much like Uno. I’ll try to explain the rules as best as I could figure them out.
1. Each player is dealt four or five (it doesn’t seem to matter that much) cards. One card is placed face up on the table (I haven’t quite figured out the purpose of this card though…)
2. One player begins by placing any card face up on the table and the next person plays on their card with either a matching number or suit until one player runs out of cards.
3. If you are unable to play a card of the same number or suit, you may place an Ace card (of any suit), which acts as a “wild card” and you may chose the suit you want.
4. Jacks serve as “reverse” cards, turning the play around. If this is a two person game, the Jack serves as a go again card and you can lay down a Jack and another card of the same suit at the same time. You may play as many Jacks in a row as you can, i.e.: Jack, Jack, Two.
5. Any 8 card must be followed by another; in other words, if you lay down an 8 card, you must play another at the same time of the same suit.
6. If a player plays a 2 card, the next player in line must draw 2 cards and lose his/her turn.
7. If you are unable to make a play, you must draw one card.
8. The rules above can be played in any order, i.e.: you may start the game with Jack, Jack, 8, 2, etc.
I hope that made some sense….

link to CNN article on riots

Text of CNN article:

At least 21 people died in Ugandan riots, police say

KAMPALA, Uganda (CNN) -- At least 21 people were killed and more than 80 others injured during three days of rioting here last week, a police spokeswoman said Monday.

Police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba said 663 people had been arrested and 86 people had been injured.

President Yoweri Museveni is to address the violence in a speech to parliament slated for Tuesday afternoon.

Though the mood on the streets in the capital city was calm Monday, tensions between Museveni and the Buganda kingdom -- headed by King Ronald Mutebi II, the ruler of the Baganda tribe -- have intensified in recent years. They erupted into violence last Thursday, when the government said it would not allow the king to travel to an area inhabited by a renegade rival group.

Kings in the east African nation are limited to a ceremonial role overseeing traditional and cultural affairs. Government officials and the Buganda kingdom have been at odds for years, sparring over land, sovereignty and political power.

After the travel ban, mostly young Bagandans took to the streets, stealing ammunition from a police station and confronting officers, accusing them of harassment.

"The government is wrong to undermine cultural institutions, which are the backbone of Uganda's heritage," said Mzamiru Balidha, a resident of Kampala. "Cultural leaders must be left alone since they are not interfering in politics."

Rioters burned tires and cars, set buildings afire and looted stores. Streets in the capital were strewn with debris over the weekend, including torched cars and burned tires.

By Sunday, police and the army were patrolling deserted streets as residents tried to return to normalcy after the protests.

"I'm happy to see that there is peace now," said Harry Sagara of Kampala. "Now people can return to work."

A government official said Sunday that the two leaders have pledged to meet and address their differences.

"Both the central government and the king are still working out details of the meeting," said Daudi Migereko, the minister of parliamentary affairs.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department cautioned Americans in Uganda about the potential for more violent demonstrations this week.

"U.S. citizens should be aware that even peaceful gatherings and demonstrations can turn unexpectedly violent," the State Department travel alert states.

Bagandans are the dominant ethnic group and one of four ancient kingdoms in the nation.

Another article I stole from CNN here


Hundreds arrested in deadly Uganda riots

KAMPALA, Uganda (CNN) -- At least 640 people were arrested and 14 killed in fighting in Uganda's capital between government forces and loyalists of a traditional kingdom, police said Sunday.

The number of people arrested for suspected roles in the three-day riots could go up because investigations are still under way, said Kale Kayihura, the nation's police chief.

Trials for the suspects will start Monday on charges including taking part in violent acts and unlawful assemblies, Kayihura said.

At least 82 were injured, according to the police chief.

Tensions between President Yoweri Museveni and the Buganda kingdom -- headed by King Ronald Mutebi II, the ruler of the Baganda tribe -- have intensified in recent years.

The violence flared Thursday when the government said it would not allow the king to travel to an area inhabited by a renegade rival group.

After the travel ban, young Bagandans took to the streets, stealing ammunition from a police station and confronting officers, accusing them of harassment.

"The government is wrong to undermine cultural institutions which are the backbone of Uganda's heritage," said Mzamiru Balidha, a resident of Kampala. "Cultural leaders must be left alone since they are not interfering in politics."

Rioters burned tires and cars, set buildings on fire and looted stores. Streets in the capital were strewn with debris over the weekend, including torched cars and burned tires.

Police and the army patrolled deserted but calm streets Sunday as residents tried to return to normalcy after the protests.

"I'm happy to see that there is peace now," said Harry Sagara of Kampala. "Now people can return to work."

Government officials and the Buganda kingdom have been at odds for years, sparring over land, sovereignty and political power.

A government official said Sunday that the two leaders have pledged to meet and address their differences.

"Both the central government and the king are still working out details of the meeting," said Daudi Migereko, the minister of parliamentary affairs.

Bagandans are the dominant ethnic group and one of four ancient kingdoms in the nation. Kings in the east African nation are limited to a ceremonial role overseeing traditional and cultural affairs.

Week 4: Site Visit

This week we went on our site visit to the Masaka district, about 2 hours south of Kampala. We arrived at the Kampala taxi park around 2:00pm on Monday. We quickly found a bus to take us to the town. Ven, our language instructor went with us, so she was a huge help in getting our transportation sorted out! Transportation in Uganda usually doesn’t leave until the entire vehicle is filled (or over-filled), so we waited close to an hour, hour and a half for the bus to fill. I bought a bottle of water out the bus window while we were waiting because the interior was boiling! So many people in a small place made it pretty stuffy. Walking between the busses were vendors selling anything from food, drinks, jewelry, soccer balls, ties/handkerchiefs, and household goods. They are quite persistent and if you don’t pay attention to them they’ll grab your arm and say “Nnyabo! Miss! Muzungu!” The ride was pleasant, I slept for about half of it, my head on my backpack – we sat with our bags on our laps the entire ride. We arrived in the town and made it to our “hotel,” checked in, and found some food. We met with David Paradis (spelled wrong, I’m sure…), the PCV we were shadowing that week. We saw where he worked most of the time and just chatted with him for a little bit over drinks. He has two “jobs”: he works at an orphanage for his primary project and for his secondary project he works at a training center.
We woke up early Tuesday morning and had breakfast at the hotel (not the greatest food…) and went to a place Ven had found for language study. After language, we went to David’s friend’s home to build a clay stove. It was quite an involved process. We had to gather a bunch of anthill soil (anthill soil works best, for some reason I forgot), break it up, add chopped grass, water and mix it into clay. David supervised his students build the stove. While they were doing that, I helped, along with some others from my group prepare lunch of sweet potatoes and matooke. Yum (note the sarcasm).
On Wednesday, we had our usual language in the morning at the same place as before (we’d hold it here all week). In the afternoon David took us to a nearby fishing village. On the way there, we passed a pretty horrible accident. A MAC truck (think semi/dump truck) had run head on into a matatu taxi (like a bigger minivan type taxi that is all over Uganda). It had probably happened less than 5 minutes before we arrived on the scene. There were people on the side of the road with blood pouring down their heads, arms, and legs; there was a baby on the side of the road just sitting and crying…I didn’t see anyone attending to it, so I don’t know where it’s mom was…; and you could see the front passenger just hanging out the door…I’m pretty sure he was dead (along with the driver, whom we couldn’t see). It was pretty bad.
The fishing village is off the coast of Lake Victoria and is really in a beautiful spot. Unfortunately, the people are horribly poor and HIV/AIDS is prevalent. Fishing appears to be a lucrative trade for the village; one day can bring 30,000 shillings (we get 35,000 per week). However, since fishing must be done at night, the men have nothing to do during the day and therefore spend all the money on alcohol, drugs, and women. All of the children were stunted, underweight, and had extended bellies. We brought with us a little 7 year old girl, Josephine, from the orphanage that David works at with us. She came from this village and her father and little sister still live there. It was really heartbreaking to see her reunion with her father. It was probably 10 in the morning and he was completely drunk and didn’t even acknowledge that she had returned. Her little sister was much happier to see her and never left her side. You could really see how stunted Josephine was when she stood next to her little sister. Her sister was only 3 years old, but they were the same height.
On Thursday we visited David’s orphanage/tech school. It wasn’t what I expected. There were only a few structures, and they weren’t in the best shape. The dormitories were minimal and only some of the students had mosquito nets. We visited with some of the women who work there and toured the grounds. David had built a garden to help feed the students, but it was quite some ways away and the rains had yet to come, so the future of the crops is a little shaky right now. David told us that the orphanage should be spending around 100,000 shillings for food, and right now they can only afford to spend 80,000. This leaves the children eating a lot of porridge. Still, it’s better than they would have gotten on the streets or at home.
It was interesting to find out that most of the “orphans” living there still have living parents. Many of them were taken/given up from their homes not because their parents died, but because they were not being adequately cared for, like Josephine.
On Friday we went to Masaka town to visit another PCV, Lisandro, who works at a baby orphanage. It was interesting to see the difference between the two. Lisandro’s organization seems to have more money and therefore the children get more/more nutrition food to eat. He showed us several of the children who were disabled and several who arrived severely malnourished and are now well on their way to better nutrition. One of the disabled children at the orphanage he found on the side of the road covered in her own feces. Somehow she was taken in by the orphanage and is doing well. When she first arrived, she was solitary and refused to play. Now she’s playing with the other children and much happier. A teacher works part time at the orphanage and is trying to get some of the older (5-6yo) children ready to begin school.
After we went to Lisandro’s organization, we went to the Masaka market, which is much nicer (less crazy!) than the Kampala market with about the same quality of goods. I really liked Masaka a lot and would love to be placed near it (or in it)! I found some really pretty fabric that I’m either going to make a dress out of or a skirt for swearing in. I’m thinking a dress…I got soooo much fabric! Haha
We returned to Kampala on Saturday and I spent a lazy day in town. We went to an internet café, and just lounged around Garden City (a large shopping center) for most of the day. I had some really good chicken pizza and caught up with some of the trainees.
I’d been feeling sick for several weeks so I bought some medication the med nurses suggested in Kampala but that didn’t seem to work, so now we’re trying other options.

Week 3: It’s a good thing I like bananas

This week continued the regular schedule of language from 8-10, tea, tech session and lunch at 1230 and more tech sessions in the afternoon. Much of this week’s language sessions focused on our upcoming trip next week to see a current PCV.
Wednesday brought more shots: Typhium IV and flu shots. My Rabies shot last week left a wonderful bruise on my arm (see the picture in the previous blog post) so the nurse got to see her handiwork! I really do suck at shots…I always either bleed or bruise and they hurt like hell!
Wednesday we also went out into the surrounding communities with our language groups to practice PACA (Participatory Analysis for Community Action) tools we learned about the previous day. Our group did a community needs assessment and a priority ranking of those needs. The community we visited was a small, poor village near the training center that had many needs. Several were: the inability to sell their goods (crafts) at market, the lack of affordable seeds this year, no way to make money since the harvest hasn’t gone well recently, a lack of youth organizations and adequate and affordable schools, lack of transportation to other towns, including the town we’re living in which is a trading center and has a large weekly market, and finally safety concerns. Apparently, this area has seen an increase in kidnappings and murders – they called them sacrifices. One example they provided was that if a wealthy individual (they said accountant) wanted to build a new house, he would contact a local witch doctor to ensure the safety of the home. The witch doctor would then take a child and either kill him/her for their blood or behead them, either way putting the bones in either the structure of the house or buried somewhere on the grounds. We really didn’t know what to say at that point…it wasn’t anything we were prepared for. We later learned that generally it happens once in a community and then the sacrifices move to another community, but as you can imagine, it was the number one concern for the community. We didn’t have many answers for them at that time; we didn’t have much time to prepare for giving recommendations.
On Thursday we had a youth sports clinic with the PCV stationed in our town, Nick. It was a lot of fun, and while it wasn’t as structured as he had hoped, the kids had a blast playing football (soccer) and catch. We learned that it was Nick’s birthday so we took him to a local bar for a few drinks and fun.
On Saturday we had a mid-term assessment where they told us how we’re doing so far and asked us if we had any recommendations on what they could do better. My language teacher and the trainer I spoke with told me that I’m doing well; I just need more confidence in language class (which I know). I told them that I sometimes have a hard time maintaining focus in technical sessions. The Ugandan way of teaching is to lecture, lecture, lecture…that’s not the type of learning I do well! They’ve tried to adjust their teaching styles to American ways, but sometimes there’s still a lot of lecture!

Week 2: I’m starting to dislike Tuesdays

On Monday the community health volunteers (that’s me) went to the local health center (HC4, District health center) to see what it’s like. It’s quite different than the doctor’s offices back home! There’s one doctor and only a few nurses and they serve close to 100 patients per day. Since there’s only one doctor, he has to do administrative duties in addition to his medical practice. They’re stretched pretty thin. One nice thing about the medical system here is that all childhood immunizations are free. However “free” is a relative term. The cost of traveling to the health center frequently often limits which families can receive the free immunizations. Many families don’t receive them or don’t complete the schedule leaving children vulnerable to preventable diseases. The center also does HIV/AIDS testing and distributes drugs to positive patients (also “free”), has a once-monthly dental clinic (which is more extractions than preventative dentistry), a diabetes clinic, a small inpatient wing, and a maternity center. They have built a surgical theatre, but a lack of funds has prevented its opening. It seems that many projects in Uganda go uncompleted due to a lack of funds. I’ve seen multitudes of unfinished houses and structures. They at times seem to outnumber the completed buildings. Something is always under construction.
Tuesday once again brought the medical nurses who gave us Rabies #2 and meningitis shots. We also had a discussion, including skits, of proper first aid procedures. I’m really not good at all at getting shots and have started to dread Tuesdays :(
On Saturday we had a “class” with our language groups cooking at one person’s home. We all went to Zach’s homestay early that morning (around 9am) to begin cooking lunch. Cooking in Uganda is quite different than cooking in America. There aren’t any stoves or the regular equipment we’re used to, including knives that actually cut! We attempted to make tortillas, but that failed tremendously. Ven, my language instructor, made some amazing chapattis instead. We also had boiled matooke, rice, beans, guacamole, shredded chicken, passion fruit juice, and mozzarella cheese, our one luxury…and it was glorious! Haha. We made way too much food, but it was great anyway.
On Sunday a group of us went to Kampala. It was a nice change from the everyday stuff we do. We went alone, so we had to figure out how to get there and back safely! Luckily, another PCT, Lizz, had been to Rwanda before and knew her way around African transport. There were around 16 of us so we were able to get a whole matatu to ourselves. It was a tight fit, but it’s not a long drive at all. Before we got off the taxi, we arranged with the driver to pick us up at Garden City, a shopping center (mostly for wealthy Ugandans and Muzungus – white people or foreigners – like us) and drive us back to town instead of us walking to the taxi park, which was a ways away. I spent the day being lazy, and it was wonderful. We found a coffee shop in Kampala that kind of caters to Muzungus…it was opened by an ex-pat and has American and European style coffees and snacks/breakfast-y items. I had some really good green tea and a delicious croissant. After that, we went to an internet café where I was able to open many internet windows at once! Yay! I set up my twitter account to post on my blog sidebar by text message so now I’m able to give short little updates for only 220 shillings! Lucky you :)
After the internet café we went to a nearby pizza place (Pizza Inn, which is in the same building as the Chicken Inn and the Creamy Inn – ice cream) for lunch. It’s not too expensive, only 9000 shillings (4.50$) for a fairly large cheese pizza. It had started raining when we were in the internet café and had let up for a few minutes while we walked to the pizza place. After we got there and started eating, the rain started up again. Unfortunately a few of our group got unexpectedly stuck in the rain and were a little soaked by the time they met us at Pizza Inn.
After lunch me and three others went to the nicest hotel in Kampala to have some drinks and relax. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon. We met as arranged at Garden City at 5, and our taxi was not there. We called him and he said that he got delayed and to meet him on Kampala road so we started walking. He wasn’t at the new meeting spot and several other taxies pulled up trying to get us to ride with them. We had arranged to spend 2000 shillings on the ride back to town, but we got one of the other taxies down to 1500, so we took that one instead of our guy, who never did show up. He texted Lizz later that he was arrested by the traffic cops and that’s why he wasn’t able to pick us up! Who knows if that’s really true or not…it was a nice day anyway!

Week 1: Homestay and first week of real training!

On Monday we moved out of Lweza and went to our training town where we put some of our stuff in a storage room and met our homestay families. I’m staying with a first time family with 6 children, the youngest being around 8 and the eldest 24. They all live in our compound, which is pretty nice. The youngest is still in Primary and others are in Secondary. I think only two of them go to University in Kampala. The mother works at home and the father drives for the Ministry of Education in Kampala. They seem really nice and anxious to please me; we’re both figuring out this homestay thing together right now.
The week consisted of language from 8-10, break for tea at 10, and lectures the rest of the day with a break for lunch at 1230. We had two more shots on Tuesday, rabies #1 and yellow fever. We also were issued bikes on Tuesday. They look really nice, but we’ll see how much I’ll ride it. The roads are much different than the roads back home, bumpier and less stable, and I’m convinced the drivers, especially the boda boda drivers (motorcycle taxies) want to kill me. I walked it home. It’s about a 40 minute walk each way to the training center, and I really like the walk – lots of people to see, the landscape is beautiful – so I don’t think I’ll miss riding the bike or mind having a longer trip each day. On the walk home I noticed many trainees with bike problems – chains coming off, peddles falling off the bike mid-ride, etc… I guess the bikes weren’t as nice as we thought.
On Saturday I did laundry for the first time. What a process! I miss my washer and drier! We wash everything by hand here and it’s quite time-consuming. But my clothes are relatively clean, although it’s nearly impossible to get all the soap rinsed out and hand washing tends to stretch things out.

Week 0 - Travel

These are post-dated as I’ve been negligent in posting blogs. Therefore, please begin by reading the blog titled “Week 0 – Travel” first.

After a quite frustrating drive through Philly construction (thanks Kim!), I arrived at the hotel for staging. I was nervous walking in the doors; what would my training class look like? Who would they be? Would they like me? Would I like them? The first people I saw were Chase and Nicole. I immediately felt better. I had talked to Chase online before staging so I felt like I knew him at least a little and Nicole was as cheery as ever – which instantly put me at ease. They had already eaten lunch – I arrived nearly an hour and a half later than I expected to – but I was starving, so they agreed to accompany me to a nearby Starbucks where I had tea and a sandwich.
Staging started soon after and, if I may tell the truth, was a little boring. We did some get to know you activities, made posters of our fears and excitements (I contributed an elephant squishing a man with a laughing spider on the elephant’s back – a metaphor for our fear of the unknown, of course) and Nicole contributed teaching a monkey how to dance while drinking beer (in the excitement column). We also did skits demonstrating the appropriate responses to certain scenarios. It was a long day.
After the staging activities ended at 7, we were free to be on our own. We received a generous allowance to cover our needs until we arrived in Uganda and to cover any travel-associated costs getting to Philly. It was more than enough. Our pockets weighed with cash, we decided to have a nice dinner and all meet at a local bar to really get to know each other. I went with a group that decided on a nearby sushi restaurant, which wasn’t as good as I had hoped. We then spent the rest of the night poorly singing Karaoke and having a good time before our 18 hour flight(s) the next day.
We left Philly bright and early the next morning. I was a little late getting up – slept through my alarm like I usually do! – so I had breakfast by myself. I wasn’t feeling well, nerves I think…I’m not a good flier, so I just had a light breakfast. After checking out, we all piled our luggage in the conference room we used for staging and tied a piece of red yarn on our bags (checked and carryon). Patrick, our staging coordinator, said this was a Peace Corps tradition and that he still had his red yarn on his luggage. We then piled in the busses and were on our way. The staging team wasn’t going with us so we were on our own to get on our flight in JFK. The previous day we had elected team leaders to generally be responsible for getting us through check-in and onto the appropriate flights. I was a little nervous checking in since they were being a little strict at the counter, but my bags weighed in right at 80 pounds and I made it through security fantastically.
Since we left so early that morning we had a good four or five hours before our flight departed. I had a nice sandwich with some of the group and sat around in the terminal watching Flight of the Concords on someone’s laptop. The flight took off around 40 minutes late (at 6:20), but we mysteriously arrived in Brussels on time. I sat next to a guy in his 20s from Brussels on the overnight flight who drooled in his sleep and would randomly wake up and talk to his friends in the row in front of us. I didn’t really sleep much that flight, so I was pretty tired when we arrived in Brussels.
We only had about an hour and a half before our next flight would take off, so we all scrambled to get through security and find our gate. Once we found where we needed to be, I went off with some of our group to find some coffee and something to eat. Good God the Brussels airport was EXPENSIVE! Ouch. Good thing we got so much walk-around money in Philly! Haha
The flight to Africa was much nicer than the flight to Brussels. The seats had much more leg room and we were all sitting relatively close to one another. On the American Airlines flight, we all had window or middle seats so we were spread out along the length of the plane. My 30-ish pounds of carry-ons were no problem for the Brussels flight, despite what the website said about only 13 pounds being allowed. The flight was pretty nice. Although we did have one snippy flight attendant who obviously thought he was better than us. The food was pretty good too. I had a curry chicken dinner with some potato/veggie thing that was pretty good. We got chocolates, cheese, crackers and cookies in addition. Had a glass of white wine too. For our snack they gave us some pretty good sesame seasoned snack mix and I got a Dr. Pepper…my last one :(
We arrived first in Rwanda to let some people off and pick up new passengers; we just sat on the tarmac the whole time, but I can now say I’ve been to Rwanda too! Haha. During that time we all went to the bathroom to freshen up – 18 hours is a long time to be on a plane and none of us were too pretty right then! I brushed my teeth and used some wet wipes they gave us to wash my face. After a short flight (about 40 minutes), where they fed us again(!), we arrived in Entebbe, Uganda. After we got through security and gathered our bags (they all arrived!), we met Larry, the director, his wife and his daughter, and Garry the administrator. They welcomed us to Uganda and helped us get on the busses to our training center for the first few days.
After we arrived at Lweza, we each grabbed rooms and had a late (mid-night) tea and went to bed. Despite our late arrival, we had an early morning. Breakfast on Friday was from 7am to 830am and then we had class time the rest of the day. We had an introduction to the staff, an introduction to the program, a safety and security briefing, a medical session with the nurses about malaria, and our first survival Luganda lesson. Despite the fact that the majority of us would not be learning Luganda for our site placements, we all received a small amount of “survival Luganda” to help us when we’re in training (in a Luganda-speaking area) and whenever we’re in Kampala, the capital. I tried to learn as much as I could since I had an inkling that I’d be in the Luganda group after speaking to a couple of the staff members, but I’m not very good at language. Today we also got our first two vaccinations: Hep A #1 and Hep B #1 – ouch!
On Saturday, we had a long day of interviews with the placement staff and Luganda lessons from 8am to 5pm. In my placement interview they asked me many questions such as: do I like children, am I able to ride a bike for a long time, would I have any problems working for a faith based organization, what sort of activities am I interested in doing, do I have any experience with computers, with accounting/business, etc. I answered that I do like children and would very much like to work with them for my assignment as that’s where my experience lies. The majority of my jobs in the past have been with children and I feel like that’s where I might be most effective. I also said that I have very little experience with computers (besides the basic stuff) and am fairly ignorant in business and accounting. I feel like my interview went well.
We then had a session with some current volunteers on homestay living since we’d be going to our host families in a few days. That session made me a little nervous since we discussed several scenarios that didn’t seem to appealing. Besides eating alone, which I was prepared to do since Ugandans typically eat dinner close to 10pm, we also discussed what to do if your family experiences domestic abuse, etc. I think they were just trying to give us worst-case scenarios, but it wasn’t the most reassuring session.
On Sunday we got our first experience in Kampala. Wow. It’s one of the most insane cities I’ve ever been too. I’m sure there are rules that must be followed when one is driving on Kampala roads, but I’m not sure the drivers actually know what they are and certainly never follow them. We were darting in and out of traffic, squeezing our way through stopped busses, etc. We also toured the big market in Kampala which was equally insane. They have a lot of really cool stuff, but the market really intimidates me! The aisles are really narrow – barely big enough for a single person – and people shout at you from all sides and grab your arms…I’ll have to come back, but maybe when I’ve been here longer!
Today we also found out our language groups. I was right; I am in the Luganda group. There’s me and 8 other PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) in my group: Jon, Zach Mayo (there’s 2 Zachs), Courtney, Mary, Colin, Amber, Heidi (my roommate in Philly), and Chrissy (my roommate at Lweza).