Tuesday, September 15, 2009

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).

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