Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy, Happy 2012 Everyone!!

Happy New Year! I must say that this period of reflection that befalls us each and every year is taken for granted and diluted by unfulfilled promises of more time for ourselves and family, a pursuit of long lost projects and of course, smaller waistlines. I challenge each and every one of us out there, who mistakenly believes that this is the only time of year to make a meaningful pact, to keep to their guns (2nd amendment?) and not let the true wealth of an accomplished goal fall from their sights. What will happen to us, our nation, our little island of stagnancy, in the year of 2012 (and for our Islamic population out there, 1432/33)? All I can tell you is what I know (as an unrefined and unrelenting oracle more or less):

Syria is going to get worse before it gets better. The fact that the current Islamic oversight group, Arab League, is not allowed onto some of their most controversial sites and all of their military bases raising red flags to most all of the concerned Islamic world. The western world does not care obviously.

The United States and most of Europe is falling deeper into the pockets of our Chinese benefactors and it will be most extraordinary of circumstances should we ever climb back out. The US will have to learn the hard way what it is like to not be on top and her constituents will blindly believe otherwise (until they travel abroad and realize the best currency is the Indian rupee and you can’t buy a damn with a dollar).

Basic food staples will continue to rise in cost on almost a direct correlation with healthcare. As we continue to pollute and genetically modify our most basic of foodstuffs, we continue to do hurt ourselves. With 7 billion people in the world (more like 7.2) we shall start on the most bizarre of downward spirals revealing our most incriminating human nature. Shall only the strong survive or will it be just the ones who can pay for it?

Now that I’ve gotten some of the ugly out of the way, I do have good news. My significant other, Omar, has an interview with the US Consulate in Morocco. With every finger and toe crossed, hail marys muttered and prayer energy sent out to the most beguiling of gods and goddesses, I hope Omar succeeds with flying colors and is able to come join me here in the good ol’ US of A. We hope to start our life together here and are able to infect as many around us as possible with our light-hearted humor and good will.

I will start classes at UNCC come January. I need a few prerequisite courses completed in order to apply and be accepted into an ABSN program. After speaking to an old college professor of mine, I do realize that I may not be accepted just because the completion of the courses is so close to the beginning of the program. I am not afraid of being unaccepted, I just hate wasting time. I am ready to start back to school. I am ready to join the healthcare professional world. I am ready. I just need to wait.

I do hope that everyone out there has the best evening and kisses any and all who need a nice smack to start the new year. Make your promises and tell them to others. Be accountable and for goodness sake, pay attention. The world is crumbling around us, get out there with your Elmers and at least try to hold some of it together!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Leaving Uganda

The chapter to this part of the book is slowly drawing in to a close. My insides are a tangled web of emotions and physical draining: my heart beats uncontrollably, my stomach sits deep and empty, my head feels disconnected. I am excited yet sad. I feel relief but cowardly. Anxiety is an understatement. Yet my breathing is calm and controlled. My hands steady as I hold the pen. My eyes are the most obvious sign. The tears collect under my chin, leaving a wet chinstrap. As the winds rushes in the window of the mutatu, I can feel my eyelashes drying together, the skin once wet now feels tight. As I watch these things pass by, I wonder if I will ever get to relive it again as it is right now. Of course not, and I just want to crawl inside my remorse and self-pity and cry harder.

I am so uncomfortable at the thought of returning permanently. Even as I say permanently, I wanted to write semi-permanently or for the next several years or even in its defined sense, temporarily (as being the opposite of permanent).
These faces, these eyes that stare back at me, I look at hoping, wishing, that that common thread of humanity, family, needs, presence, are felt. That you and I are not so different. We both love our mothers. We both want long, happy, fulfilling lives. You and I are one in this world and despite the vast chasm of differences; you can still feel that bridge of humanity spanning the gap. I started walking across a long time ago. I pray that you are headed in my direction.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Simply Speculation

I have spent 3 months in Uganda. I am still just an amateur on the African scene and inexperienced speculator. I have little to compare Uganda. I acknowledge that my views and observations are just that, my own, and therefore of little importance to much else. I have chosen to share and hopefully not persuade or cause bias for each opinion, each story, has the opposite side and another, perhaps, more refreshing perspective.

Despite the release on life and freedom given to Ugandans once Museveni came to power (unfortunately compared to Obote and Amin), they continue to take their fortunate change of events for granted. There is a lack of pride and structure within the system and within themselves. The streets are dirty and have putrid, stagnant water in their clogged drains and run-off ditches. Their babies, naked, play less than a meter away, in the dirt and trash. Uganda was recently awarded one of the most fertile countries in the world, it also has a number of NGOs working here, and I have to ask,

“What the hell is going on?”

Where and why is the system failing these people?
Why are women continuing to have so many children? Why are there so many orphanages and street children? Where is their government intervention?

Uganda’s leaders have been filling their pockets long enough. What does it take for people to demand their most basic human rights? The quality of education here is substandard to say the least until you get into Kampala. The quality of health here is almost unmentionable. And perhaps, because of my experience in health education and prevention, I have a harsher perspective. These men and women, young girls and young men need health education immediately. The structure here has failed them. I have been told that men measure their wealth against society by how many children they produce. And trust me, I have heard the numbers. One man can have multiple wives, and within that family, I have met people with 10, 16, even 25 brothers and sisters. I met one guy yesterday with 14 brothers and sisters alone, from one mother.

Total fertility rate:

6.69 children born/woman (2011 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:

total population: 53.24 years

Median age:

total: 15.1 years
male: 15 years
female: 15.1 years (2011 est.)

(updated statistics from the CIA World Factbook)

Uganda is only beaten by Niger. It has the second highest fertility rate in the world. No cause for celebrating. This is an uproar. We need a response from the Ministry of Health, from the government immediately. What measures are we taking to protect our youth? Our women and men? Projected growth of Uganda by the year 2050 is to have around 95 million people. The current population is almost 35 million.

In this negative light, all I can think of to say at this point is,

Good Luck NGOs.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rugby in the Rain

To feed into obsession and maintain my mental sanity, I have been playing rugby with a few of the local boys here, both with the Busoga University team and Nile Rugby Club in Jinja. On Mondays, I stay close and practice down the road at the university. The boys are hard-working and determined. Without a formal coach, a few of the more experienced members run various drills before we conclude with an hour long game of touch. A number of the boys are fast and try out various plays involving one-handed passes, switches and grubbers. Some of the boys play in tennis shoes or no shoes at all.

This past Monday, I got there right on time, 5:00, a feat for anyone who knows “Africa time”. A few of the other boys were already getting warmed up and stretching, a few were still doing laps around the field. I was already kitted up and ready to go, having only brought a few notes to get home, my cell phone, and a water bottle. The field is relatively flat and expansive, with only a few minor bare patches located in what would only be described as the try areas. I started jogging around the field, noticing a few sore areas from last practice. There were a few cows that were grazing off to the sides that I had to avoid, their owners languidly sleeping in the grass beside them. After we stretched and worked on a few kicks, we then ran a few hand drills; simple passing drills, pick and go’s, mauling and the like. I happened to notice that not all of our passes were the best nor was every one caught. The boys shouted words of encouragement and reprimand in Swahili (most of the team is Kenyan). I found myself being drawn into a coaching position once again, stopping drills and explaining our focus, there is so much potential and talent on this team that just needs to be directed and encouraged. I miss coaching a lot.

As we got ready to divide our teams, partnering up into X’s and Y’s, I heard the first far off rumble of an approaching storm. The air was saturated already with humidity, it now buzzed with a new static tingle which we all ignored. I couldn’t help but notice that Romeo, Tosh, Terminator and Manu were all on the same team and I was on the other, the majority of the forwards and a completely new guy. I guess the whole X and Y partnering is a little rigged…

The first rain drops fell with a fat splendor, splashing into my hair and eyes. My only regret being that I still haven’t purchased pleather cleats from the market yet, knowing I was five minutes away from slipping into the anthills-turned-mud castles. The rain fell steadily at first, Romeo jogging beside me, “See? I didn’t have to bring a water bottle,” he told me, opening his mouth to the sky. He shook his thin dreads and ran off to join the action. The rain fell harder and harder, the size of the rain drops just as big as the beginning. I was soaked. The sun was setting then and disappearing into the clouds. I looked around, our plateau giving a 360 degree view of the surrounding fields and countryside. The smell of the rain, the dirt and the verdant life filled my body. My side was losing badly. Good runs by Terminator, fast passes from Tosh to Romeo who broke through our defense and quick restarts by Manu easily exploited our team. It looked like we needed to step our game and start motivating each other. The rain made our already slippery ball almost uncatchable, high steps and fake moves ended up being wet muddy disasters and I found myself bent over, trying to catch my breath from laughing so much.

How many times can you say you played rugby in the pouring rain in Uganda?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

He stole my phone!

This country is not my own. I feel very disconnected from it.

It rained yesterday afternoon, well, it poured and I got caught in it. I was on my way back to the house to find my phone. The rain pelted me and seemed to change it’s direction every minute or so. At first the air around me was warm and soft. The rain felt good on my bare arms. My shirt and skirt were getting soaked and my feet were beginning to slide in my sandals. But it felt so good. When I turned on the road to our house, the rain came in sideways and the air suddenly got colder, I hurried my pace knowing in a few seconds I would be inside and out of the capricious weather. It continued to rain for more than an hour. The streets had become mudways and their potholes red soup. I was unsuccessful finding my phone. It was a brand new one. My previous pal had been stolen at the Agricultural Fair in Jinja (as had Lyndsay’s and Claire’s). I think we were targeted, just a guess. I had immediately replaced it. This is unfortunately a lifeline to my boyfriend and my parents. When I tried to call my phone from Lyndsay’s, I had a sinking dread that it would be turned off. It was. And then it hit me. The sequence of events came flooding back and my stomach flew into my throat and my heart dropped to the floor. When I was walking through the market, less than 30m from the restaurant, a man bumped into me. I had on my backpack and he just sort of ran into me, like he didn’t see me or something. We made eye contact and he turned and walked quickly away. He stole my phone.

I’ve said this once and I will say it again, karma is a silent and sometimes painfully swift avenger. I hope that whatever bad luck befalls him, whatever truly unfortunate event finds him, I wish that he correlates the theft and his misfortune. As I said on my facebook, the man is going to fall into his pit latrine today, and I hope he has my phone in his back pocket. The last kicker is that I had just bought a significant amount of credit and registered it on my phone to be used that day, to call Omar and his family to pay my condolences for an Uncle who had recently passed away. That has to count for double karma, right?

This morning I made my way to the restaurant through the market. I went the same route, determined not to be caught off-guard if my assailant decided to strike again, or better yet, I could find and identify him and then explain to the mob of angry citizens that all of a sudden appear to my aid, that this man stole my phone and I saw him push an old lady down (or something equally terrible!). The walkways were covered in mud and drowned out pieces of trash and plastic. I picked my way slowly to avoid the slickest of areas and worst puddles of wet refuse. The road before the market is in a bad state of erosion, at times the shoulder comes close to a foot or so difference in height. Motorcycles (motos in Morocco or Bota-botas in Uganda) are taking people back and forth, bicycles slowly make their way past and an occasional car or truck dominate the better part of the blacktop. Women walk barefoot past, carefully balancing a load of food or goods on their heads. Kids with torn clothing and dirt smeared on their arms and faces continue on to their destinations, home or school or to possibly sell empty plastic bottles by the gas station. Men are outside working, fixing, repairing goods like trucks and cars, banging out dents in old oil drums, welding together window grates and doors. Small tiny food stands are preparing for their day, their smoke and smells reaching my empty, fasting nose and belly, their broken umbrellas doing little but to protect them from the near constant drizzle of the morning. I walk past men repairing old bikes and painting them a beautiful shade of blue. I keep my head high but avoid eye contact, something I learned in Morocco. I do not wish to have a conversation or to buy anything or to show any interest in anything except to be aware of my surroundings and pick my way through, avoiding the path of the other half coming towards me. I pass by a huge assortment but rarely any diversity in shoes. Shoes as far as the eye can see. Some are on display on small thigh-high tables, others are kept in large, plastic rusacks. These shoes are also individually wrapped in shiny, loud plastic. Most all of these shoes are plastic foam sandals. Colors are the only variation besides size, dark blue, baby pink, yellow-green, red, and black. These sandals do not need to fit you if you take any obvious hint from the people passing by, nor are there any gender colors like pink for girls and blue for boys. A large man could easily and acceptably be seen walking past wearing a baby pink shoe two sizes too small for him, his giant toes reaching out the front like ant feelers. We would instantly reel back in disgust, easily putting together that this man had no disregard for his daughter’s feet and their journey to school today! And then following behind the giant man, is a younger version of himself, we guess she is female because of her skirt, but her head is shaved and her features ambiguous. She is wearing large blue sandals, her toes squished to the front, the back heel wide open, slashing mud onto the backs of her legs. Eh.

Next I pass through store after store, my eyes becoming blurry with déjà vu. Each store looks exactly the same save the proprietor. Each store has 7-8 russacks out front, carrying various beans, flour and rice. The inside halted by a wide counter with a scale perched on top, behind are shelves lined with various but somewhat unrelated goods like Vaseline and hair brushes. I finally burst from that scene to a muddy tarmac somewhat organized with taxis (mututus in Uganda) being unloaded and loaded with people, goods, and your occasional upside down chicken. Chickens travel well upside down. I was told that they get disoriented and calm. I would too if I had never seen the world upside down, possibly the last way I would see the world until my quick death. How interesting…. Anyways, once I finagle my way around gentlemen trying to convince me to go to villages I have never heard of, I am on the home stretch. Much like during a marathon, I imagine, because I have never actually ran one, that the very end you become somewhat delirious in your pursuit of the finish line. Bright and beautiful colors flashing by your strides getting longer and your breathing labored. I don’t exactly breathe laboriously but I’ve caught myself one or two times making little happy humming noises. This last hallway of stores are mostly owned by Indians. They sell beautiful, shiny, patterned bolts of cloth. They have a number of models on display lining the entrance to the storefront, a matching solid sash of cloth wrapped around her middle, giving the models a more feminine shape. They are faceless, not much more than a T shaped stand, but I can imagine myself in each outfit and fabric, dancing in the mud through the market, my arms open wide as I serenade each shopkeeper with my lyrics about love lost and life lived... Not.

Finally, after crossing another street I am under the Suki Hotel building. Stores selling more cloth, a barren pharmacy, and a supermarket are located on the ground floor, and rooms and apartments are available on the second and third floors. And what? A delicious and delightful restaurant and bar that serves an array of Ugandan and Indian favorites paired with local beers?! Trivia played on Thursday nights! Sunday and Monday nights movies start at 8pm with free popcorn?! With a really cool American that has lived outside of America for 2 ½ years (who’s counting?!) that is observing Ramadan and possibly facing some serious issues of culture shock (from Morocco AND America). Hello! What a cool person! What a cool place! I wish I could be there every day from like 9 until 8pm, that sounds so awesome.

Scraped Knees and Tears (of laughter)

This past Sunday, the 31st, at Musana, we had a fun birthday party for our manager, Haril, with everyone surprising him first, then by celebrating; eating cake and having sodas and singing a big Happy Birthday! Lyndsay did a great job baking three Funfetti box cakes back to back and icing them each. They turned out quiet lovely! And no one got hurt… well yet.

Brenda Down for the Count

Brenda Splenda is another volunteer at Musana. She is awesome. She hails from the almight Colorado and from a large family of girls where she was the baby. Her five older sisters taught her the ropes and put gum in her hair to excuse a new haircut from time to time. She seemed to have turned out pretty darn well. She recently decided to change her flight from October to December. Quite commendable. So she, Gala and I are going to be together for the winter (or wet season?)! I feel really lucky that she is here.

Andrea, Brenda and I decided that it would be best to have all the girls together for activities and recapping the previous week but then splitting up for small group discussion.

Girls’ Group:

What did we discuss last week? What were some of the lessons learned? How was your week here at Musana? Did you have to trust someone this week or did someone have to trust you? How did you feel?


(These activites I pulled from numerous resources but mostly from my manual Team Building and Leadership Activites that I created during my Peace Corps service.)


Chair Swap (with our old Happy Birthday plates as markers) Brenda is somehow bullied by a tangle of brown arms and legs and falls somewhat gracefully to the ground in her brown dress. She also lost her paper plate and was demoralized into the middle.

Claps About It

Small Discussion Groups and Journal Time

I had wanted to tie in our discussion topics with the previous weeks subject on trust. I am not as aware of the situations and problems that the girls deal with on a weekly basis seeing that my current position requires my presence at the restaurant for the better part of daylight hours (and some evenings). I was caught off-guard and my lack of preparation beforehand is not to be lauded. We split the girls into three groups; I took the youngest, four 12-year olds, Brenda took six of the 13 year olds and Andrea took the oldest and most mature of the girls, a mix of one 13 year-old, three 14 year olds and one 15 year old. They all had the same situations and problems to discuss:
1. Situation: Sarah is friends with Betty and Mariam. Mariam is having problems with Betty and comes to Sarah to talk about them. Sarah feels bad and uncomfortable when Mariam talks to her about Betty.
Why does Sarah feel this way?
What should Sarah tell or advise to Mariam?
What should Sarah do?
Have you ever been put in a similar situation? What did you do? How did it make you feel?
2. Think of one person you trust. Can you tell them anything and everything? How do they make you feel? Why are they trustworthy friends? Do they just listen to you or do they advise you too?
3. Have you or anyone you know ever had a secret? Did you keep it? Did you tell anyone? Was it hard to keep that secret? When should you tell someone’s secret and to whom?
After we had discussed each situation and problem, we gave out a journal and pen to each of the girls. We asked that the girls write in the journals anything they wanted: tell about when you came to Musana, what happened this past week, what do you want to do in the next ten years, how do you feel today, etc., These journals are the girls’ only. We will never breach that trust. The journals will stay in Andrea’s office and she let the girls know that if they ever need or want to write in them, they are free to.

I was pleasantly surprised when I went to check on the groups and found that Andrea’s older group was still much in discussion after ore than a half hour. My younger group was finishing up their journal entries already. I will have to tweak our activites and discussion so that each group is given plenty of time to talk about these subjects and the other groups are not bored. I will compile a list of easy activities for us to do once we are finished journaling. My only hesitation is that I want to avoid their haste in completion of their journals to go on to a crafts project or something likewise.

Super Sunday at Musana

On Sunday, we had a great day at Musana Children’s Home. Inspired throughout my life by my lovely sister Becca, and my mom especially, to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, I collected numerous water bottles my fellow housemates had used and discarded to be used as Plant Catchers. I had cut these large 1.5 and 500mL bottles in half, originally using the bottoms for another project: My Big Healthy Example Teeth. The bottoms of the bottles look exactly like molars once painted. I used another 20 or so to hold bottle caps we had collected from the Sol Café. I divided these caps up into their respective makes, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Mirinda and Fanta, Nile Gold and Club beers. These I will use later to delve into some more artistic expression. So I had a lot of top-half empty water bottles… oh what to do!

Plant Catchers:
Overturned and with careful placement of a good sized rock (something my mom used to do with her planters) to prevent the flow of soil and nutrients out when watered, we could make and hang these new lovely planters!

First, we had cut the bottles and made two holes opposite at the top where the string would be strung to be hung. Then, we had all the kids go and fetch appropriate sized rocks. This was all too easy, with numerous rocks of all shapes and sizes right outside the pavilion. The unexpected cacophony that resulted next was a bit difficult to drown out once they had these new music-making devices in hand. Luckily, we got them calmed down and distributed string and beads to be tied at the ends around the neck of the bottle and would hang off and dance in the breeze. We also distributed foam stickers that the kids carefully placed around the outside of the bottles. With the addition of their names, some soil, and a number of wildflower seeds (bought and brought from the US : / ? ) we had over 80 amazing plant catchers! Despite a few spills and thrills, the bottles these were hung outside the pavilion in clusters of 8-9. They look great and the kids loved doing them. Afterwards, they were pointing out to volunteers which bottle was theirs with nothing but pride and a sense of accomplishment. Easy enough if you ask me.

Girls’ Group
While the Plant Catchers environmental craft project was going, Andrea and I had our first girls’ group meeting. I had originally proposed this idea to Andrea and Sally when I first got here (a month ago in two days!). I really wanted to take and combine my previous work experiences and make a girls’ group to talk about healthy lifestyles and choices, personal growth, and developing a skillset to become healthy, productive and hopefully, independent women. Like I can’t praise them enough, my work throughout the years at the YMCA has really pulled through at the most random times. Now, I am using my work as a Y Teen Coordinator, teambuilding and managing to do activities and games with the girls. When we had started the Plant Catchers project, in order to get the kids calm and quiet, I used one of the easy crowd controllers, “If you can hear my voice, tap your head… If you can hear my voice, touch your nose…” without having to raise my voice once. Having taken a 3 day HIV/AIDS workshop with Peace Corps and using their LifeSkills Manual here, we are going to slowly move this group into talking and discussing some more serious issues they will be faced with as they grow into adulthood.