To never have to start a sentence with "I wish I would have..."


The contents and opinions of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I’m thankful for my incredibly accepting and supportive family and friends. I’m thankful for the amazing experience I am having and the things I am learning about myself every day. I’m thankful for my new PC family, without them I’m not sure I’d still be in Uganda. This Thanksgiving was kind of tough. Even though we are here with a different culture, last Thursday we were able to bring a little bit of America to Uganda.

About half of my group spent the better part of 2 days cooking and preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Pies and stuffing were prepared Wednesday night and early Thursday morning we all woke up to watch our turkey get slaughtered. That’s right, we had our own turkey and one of the volunteers was brave enough to kill it for us. It definitely gave me a much greater appreciation for eating meat. A Ugandan taught us how to clean the bird and explained the significance of each part as it was removed. I have to admit, none of us knew how to cook a turkey much less how to cook a turkey when you don’t have the luxury of a big oven! We ended up cutting the meat into pieces and boiling it for a few hours before baking it. It turned out pretty good.

The menu included turkey, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce (someone brought back from the states!), mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, tuna salad, tomato basil salad, herb foccacia bread, pumpkin and apple pies, broccoli macaroni and cheese, fruit salad, pita bread and humus, pumpkin bread, and beets. Oh yea, and everything was homemade!

We ate dinner outside in the middle of the compound at three long tables, end to end to end. Before eating, everyone went around and said what they were thankful for. It was emotional and many tears were shed as people talked about their families back home as well as their new family here. I miss you all very much and it was difficult to be away on such a family oriented holiday but don’t worry, the people here are taking care of me. We are all taking care of each other.

Love everyone and miss you even more during this holiday season.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cultural Differences

I’ve never been to summer camp before much less been a camp counselor before. Nest week I’m privileged to be able to participate as a counselor for camp GLOW (girls leading our world). It’s a week long girls’ empowerment camp for Ugandan girls 13-15. There are about 150 girls from all over Uganda who will be attending the camp. We’ll teach them multiple lifeskills topics including HIV/ADIS facts and myths, puberty and taking care of their bodies (the topic I’m teaching!), arts and crafts, team building, self esteem, public speaking, etc. The best part is, it’s free for them to come!

Last weekend I went to a training for all the counselors who will be at the camp. Each American counselor will be working with a Ugandan co-counselor. During training, we all stayed in the dorm we will be using during the actual camp. I live with Ugandans but I have never before spent the night in a dorm setting with one. After sharing close quarters with Ugandan women I got a deeper insight into the Ugandan culture and just how different it is from the American culture. Below are some things we’ve had to adjust to as well as some things we just don’t see eye to eye on. The first couple are from the weekend at training and the rest are things I have learned my last 9 months here. Hope you enjoy…

-It’s not uncommon for Ugandans to get phone calls (and answer them!) at 3 or 4 in the morning while sharing a room with 40 other people. Apparently the talking rates are MUCH cheaper during this time.

-It’s not uncommon for people to “flash” your phone (call and hang up before you answer) because they want to greet you or they just don’t have enough airtime to spend on having a conversation with you so they want you to use your airtime to call them back.

-In a professional setting it is socially acceptable for a woman to bring her infant child with her. I can understand this, especially if the baby is breastfeeding (which is also VERY socially acceptable to see on taxis, in church, during meetings, in your living room…) What I don’t understand is bringing your toddler to a camp counselor training where you have to spend consecutive nights in the same room with a large group of people…especially when your toddler likes to cry at night.

-It’s a common belief that water treated with Waterguard or AquaSafe will upset your stomach. Some Ugandans fear this so much they will refuse to drink treated water. They insist boiling is the only way to treat your water.

-Ugandan women are surprised when American women “cover themselves” when changing to go and bathe. Apparently, they want to see the “bazungu breasts.”

-I don’t think I’ve seen a Ugandan sneeze. EVER.

-Nose picking is very common. I mean obvious, finger in the nose, digging around nose picking. While carrying on a conversation!

-While it’s ok to pick your nose, if you blow your nose with your napkin after finish lunch it’s absolutely taboo.

-“I’m fine” is an appropriate response to just about anything.

-Never show up to a meeting on time. 2 hours late after the set starting time is more likely to be closer to when the meeting will actually begin.

-I bring a book with me EVERYWHERE and I’ve found that it’s completely acceptable for me to read during class, during a meeting, while at a big important social event, just about anywhere a group of people will be meeting. (See above…meetings never start on time).

-Ugandans tell me cold drinks cause cancer.

-If I am feeling a little under the weather, it’s not uncommon to be asked if I have “a little malaria.”

-Greetings are the most important part of social interaction. If I don’t greet someone or forget to greet someone as I’m walking past and later need to ask directions from that same person, it wouldn’t be surprising if they gave me incorrect directions because I didn’t greet them.

-Everyone who is anyone has a visitors’ book and will make you sign that visitors’ book not once but every SINGLE time you visit the person’s house, organization, church, office, etc. At first, I felt like I was being asked for my autograph and it was kind of cool. That got old fast…about after the 30 thousandanth book I signed.

-I’ve grown accustomed to waiting anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours for a bus or taxi to actually leave after I board it.

-Dogs are dirty animals and should ride in the boot of a car but you can hold chickens on your lap and people won’t even give you a second look.

-I’ve eliminated the word “no” from my vocabulary. A straight out “no” response or answer is usually interpreted as rude so now I find myself saying “somehow” or “God willing.” Everyone knows both of these responses mean no but they’re somehow more polite…somehow.

-I eat bugs. Both by choice (it’s currently grasshopper season here) and because I don’t really have any other option. If ants are in my rice and beans or have gotten into my bread I just consider it another source or protein.

-People think my dog needs a visa to get back to the states.

-It’s totally acceptable for a Ugandan man to tell you just how much he wants to marry you and how you are “his size.” Absolutely hate this one.

-Children like to greet me by saying “Bye-eeee!”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Sexual Network

AIDS is a problem in Uganda. I live in Rakai district, the first place in Uganda to be hit by HIV/AIDS. It’s apparent just by looking around how heavily impacted my community has been by the virus; there is an entire generation missing. We have primary schools and vocational schools whose sole purpose is to offer an affordable education to orphans in the area. With the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, you’d think my students would be more educated on the topic. I was surprised to find how shocked they were that HIV can spread so quickly through the sexual network. The sexual network is a common term in Uganda used to describe the web-like structure between people and their sexual partners. Person A sleeps with person B, who is also sleeping with person C. Person C is sleeping with person D and E who are both sleeping with persons F, G, and H. Before you know it you have an entire community sleeping with each other and a widespread breakout of (insert STD/STI/HIV).

I did an activity with my girls’ club this week that I later repeated with my entire student body, all 300+ of them, and tutors at the college. The activity goes like this…You give every person a notecard. Some notecards are blank and others have symbols or instructions to follow. One notecard says “DO NOT shake hands with anyone else.” Two notecards say “Find the other person with the * symbol. Shake only his or her hand.” One notecard has an X on it and another has a C on it. After everyone is given a notecard and told to follow the instructions on the card, if there are any, the participants begin to shake each other’s hands. After you give participants time to “mingle,” you bring them back together to explain the purpose of the activity. As you may have guessed, shaking hands symbolizes having sex with a person. In the activity, the person who did not shake anyone else’s hand was practicing abstinence and did not contract HIV or STDs. The two people with the *symbol were in a faithful, monogamous relationship and did not contract HIV or STDs. The person with the X was HIV positive. Everyone who shook this person’s hand contracted the virus. Everyone who shook any of those people’s hands also contracted the virus and so on and so on. The person with the C on their notecard was wearing a condom and was practicing safe sex. Their risk of contracting HIV was much lower than the participants not using condoms.

The point of the activity is to show how the sexual network works and for students to see how quickly and easily STDs and HIV can spread. My girls were shocked. When I repeated the activity the next morning with my first and second years at the college, they were shocked. My tutors who also sat in on the activity were shocked! These people know how HIV is spread. It is drilled into their brains from an early age, yet having a physical representation in front of their eyes still managed to surprise them.

After the activity I allowed the students to openly ask questions, and boy did they have questions! I think this was the first time since the beginning of the term that I had a full classroom. My students are deprived of this information. They are not used to openly discussing sex and getting their questions answered. Living in a Catholic parish makes talking about sex and condom use a little controversial and my students were so appreciative to have the opportunity to discuss the topic. I have to admit, I was surprised with how open and honest I was being with my students. These are kids my age if not older and I was talking to them about the difference between using a condom and using a plastic bag as a contraceptive!

The level of ignorance continues to surprise me, and I have taught my students about sex and the reproductive systems multiple times. I’m going to take some of my girls from the girls’ club to the primary school next week to do the activity with them. I know, shocking that such an activity should be taught to 10 and 12 years old girls but the reality is that these girls are the ones who need it the most. They call sexual intercourse “playing sex” because it’s a game for them to do when they get bored. If anyone has tips or activity suggestions to teach sex ed or STD spread, please let me know!

I’ve officially been a PCV for 6 months now. I can’t believe it’s already November! 6 more weeks until Mom and the girls come to visit. Hope everyone is doing well and keeping warm. I miss you all so much!