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.

Monday, June 28, 2010

“I’ll tell Obama you say ‘Hello’.”

Ugandans love Obama. You can find Obama’s face on practically anything here: tshirts, sandals, plastic bags, fabric, banners, etc. There are car washes and hole in the wall restaurants named after Obama. Ugandans also think all Americans personally know Obama. On countless occasions I have had people, after having an in depth conversation or even just in passing, ask me to tell Obama they say “Hello.” Even though I have never seen—much less met—Obama in person, Ugandans think I have a personal relationship with him. I’ve found it’s easier to humor them and save myself from a half hour explanation of why most Americans don’t actually know Obama than it is to tell them I have never met Obama. I have started ending conversations by saying, “…and I will tell Obama you say ‘Hello’!” They love this! It cracks me up how excited they get whenever I say this. So if any of you just happen to run into Obama one day, make sure to tell him the people in Biikira Parish in Uganda say ‘Hello!’

Last week I found a primary school in Kyotera (my closest town) where I am going to start teaching. It’s a small boarding school for P1-P3 students. I toured the school and immediately fell in love. It’s considerably small by Ugandan standards and there are only about 40 students in each grade level. I brought all of my Pre-K music with me from the states (Thank you so very much for the PPCD mix, Angelique!) and have decided to start a music and dance class to help the kids with their English. I figure this will be a fun and interactive way for them to not only practice their English but also begin to understand my American accent before I start teaching them core subjects. I have made picture flash cards of vocabulary from the songs and plan to use them to teach the kids. For example, the song “Head and shoulders, knees and toes” is the first one we are working on. I made cards with the words on one side and the corresponding picture on the other. So there will be a flashcard with the word ‘head’ on one side and a picture of a head on the other. The kids will be able to associate a picture with the written word and then identify the specific body part on themselves. Once they have mastered the vocabulary I will teach them the song. I plan to do this with most of the songs I brought with me. As soon as they get the songs down I will be sure to post a video for you guys to check out.

Some of you know that I have been having issues with water lately. I don’t have running water in my house. My house is set up for running water, but the pipes don’t work and the pump is broken. I have had nice access to a rather large rain tank up until recently, when we discovered the rain tank is almost empty. It’s the middle of the dry season and we don’t get much rain this time of the year. This has made me rather nervous, especially when I have to “bucket flush” my toilet. This basically consists of pouring a huge amount of water into the back of my toilet tank so the toilet is able to flush. The whole process is really kind of gross since I can only flush the toilet about once a day because it uses a ridiculous amount of water. With a water shortage I have become even more worried because the situation turns into a health issue. I’ve been expressing my concern to my college almost on a daily basis and they have been trying to work to find some other water source for me. A few days ago I discovered that I actually have a pit latrine. No one told me I had one! I know, this may seem like something strange to get excited about, but it means I can save so much water by not flushing my toilet. So in short, the water situation is no longer a crisis because I am not wasting water flushing my toilet. Also, all of you who decide to come visit me will have the privilege of using a pit latrine! Very exciting, I know…

If you weren’t grossed out by that, maybe this one will get you: Buzi had worms. Not parasites, but worms that were actually in his skin. I discovered them the other day when I was petting him and I felt a small bump. As I looked closer, the bump looked sort of like a big pimple but had a small black hole in the center. The black hole moved a little and I realized something was inside. I squeezed the bump and a white grub-like worm popped out of my dog’s neck! It sounds absolutely disgusting, and it really kind of is, but it was the coolest thing I have seen. I have no idea what it was or even how to prevent it, so if anyone knows or can find out I would really appreciate it! Later that night I found a similar bump on his back leg, but this one was much bigger. Sure enough the bump had the same black hole in the center, which turns out is how the worm breathes. The next day I found 3 more, two in his back leg and one on his front paw. This time I made sure to get Courtney, my neighbor, to video tape the whole thing. So all of you who are interested in actually seeing the process can check the video out! It’s definitely better to see in person, but you can get the idea.

I have been told that I have mad bargaining skills. Whenever you want to buy anything, in the market or on the side of the road, if it doesn’t have a marked price you have to bargain to get a fair price. This is especially hard for white people because we are always charged “muzungu” price, which is most times double the normal price. When I first started going to the market in Kyotera I had to bargain for everything. Now, I have my own vegetable ladies who charge me “muganda” price and even give me extra vegetables for free! I do all of my bargaining in Luganda, which usually gets me a really good price because the locals are so impressed I know their language.

A few highlights:

-When I was going to the market the other day a man punched m y arm as I walked by. Without even thinking about it, I turned around and punched his arm as hard as I could. Everyone thought it was hysterical, except for the man of course. He didn’t try to touch me again.

-After I finished bargaining for fabric, the shop keeper offered me one of her children.

-I went to a Rotaract club initiation celebration at my college. The entertainment was DJ from Kyotera who played a mix of Ugandan music and old American pop songs. The kids came up and danced while the LIP SYCHNED to the songs. This is a common, an rather humorous, form of entertainment here.

-I am in the process of starting a cooking club at my school where I will teach my students to cook American food and they will teach me to cook Ugandan food.

I love you all very much and think about you often. Thank you for your encouraging emails and for your thoughts and prayers, they’re what get me through the tough days. Thank you for the birthday letter, Kadi! It’s hanging on my wall. Happy birthday Angie, Sebastian, and Kelsey! Hope you guys each have a wonderful birthday! Hope everyone has a safe 4th of July. Shoot off some fireworks for all of us over here; we’ll be celebrating our country’s independence with you guys in spirit! Miss you guys!

Much love,

Friday, June 18, 2010

Integration, Caning, and Conquering the Nile

Sorry in advance, this one’s pretty long but a lot has been going on the past few weeks. The longer I spend at site the more it is starting to feel like home. Here are a few recent examples of what I consider integration success…

-I’ve started running with my neighbor Courtney, another PCV, in the mornings. One morning we were running in the village and we heard the kids shouting our names…in the village! I’ve only ever been in the village once when I first got to site. It was such an amazing feeling to have people I’ve never met know my name and not call me muzungu. The kids at our trading center (TC) even know the difference between the 2 of us now and whenever we walk through town they call out “Bye Ashery! Bye Coatin!”

-There’s a vegetable market in Kyotera, my closest town that’s about a 45 minute walk from my house. I have my own vegetable ladies and they get so excited whenever I come to buy from them. I don’t have to bargain or haggle and they don’t charge me muzungu price anymore. Sometimes they even give me extra vegetables just because. They love when I talk to them in Lugunda.

- I slashed my yard! Or I tried…it’s so hard! Francis came over after classes one day and taught Courtney and I how to do it. I got nasty blisters on my hand but my yard is beautiful now. It’s definitely extremely hard work and I have a greater appreciation when people offer to slash my yard now.

-I made oatmeal cookies that everyone said “tasted like home.” We baked them at the vocational school (which has ovens!) and 2 of the students helped us and told us they would teach us how to cook Ugandan food.

-I finally found a tailor in Kyotera. I bought some fabric and took it in to her. She doesn’t speak English, so communicating with her can be challenging sometimes. She measured me and made me 2 beautiful skirts, all for about $9 each…including the cost of fabric! I told her if she gave me a fair price I would use her the whole 2 years I’m here. That made her very happy.

I had my first experience with caning, it was terrible. One morning before a run I wanted to stop by the college to let them know I’d be in after the assembly. As Courtney and I were walking past the demonstration school (a local elementary school linked to my Teaching College that’s supposed to be a model and example school) we saw one of the male teachers caning the little girls. Worse was that he had a smile on his face the entire time, the bastard was actually enjoying it. Caning is illegal in Uganda, and the teachers know this but some claim it’s the only way they can discipline their students. At first I didn’t know what to do and I just stopped and stared at him. When he realized I was watching he stopped then walked away. I went to my college and saw Francis, my counterpart. I told him what happened and he came with me back to the demonstration school where the guy was caning the girls again! Francis called him into the principal’s office so we could talk to him. As we were walking to the office Francis told me the teacher was a former student at our college and was a former student of Francis’! I couldn’t believe it. I started crying. How can a student who graduated from our TEACHING COLLEGE and is working at the DEMONSTRATION SCHOOL cane little girls? At our demonstration school that’s right next to the college! I was fuming. When we got to the office Francis explained to the teacher how caning is illegal and there are other ways to discipline. Of course he said that was the only way he could discipline. I told him I work at the college and I have a background in alternative forms of discipline and that I would be more than happy to talk with him if he had any questions. The jerk still had that smile on his face the whole time Francis and I were talking. I told him if I saw him caning again I’d call the Ministry of Education and he’d lose his job. I think the only time I really got through to him was when I asked him if I could cane him because he had misbehaved. He didn’t like that idea very much.

I kayaked the Nile! I went with a group of 5 other PCVs to Jinja where we had 3 Ugandan trainers who taught us how to Kayak. We learned how to release ourselves from the kayaks if we flipped over and they also taught us different ways to flip back over if we went upside down. If you’ve never kayaked before, the idea of flipping over and being trapped underwater absolutely terrified me! I was so nervous I would get stuck and then drown. They teach you how to get out of the kayak if this happens, but when you’re actually upside down and under water it’s difficult to remember how to flip yourself back over. I was definitely the worst one in the group but I had a blast. They took us down the river, which was super easy. Paddling back upstream against the current…not so easy. It took forever! And the stream kept pushing everyone back to where we started. They had to take us one at a time to make sure we actually made it back to the other side. It was physically exhausting and I wanted to give up so many times, but I did it. We all did it and it was an amazing feeling. I kayaked on the NILE! How cool is that?

I went to the post office earlier this week and had a padded envelope from Leah, the teacher whose kindergarten class I student taught with. Inside were handwritten birthday cards from all my kids! It was the best thing ever to see how much their writing has progressed since the beginning of the school year. Those cards mean so much to me and they are hanging on the wall in my hallway right now…every single one of them! Thank you Leah, for the birthday cards, you have no idea what that meant to me!

Bodas are common forms of transportation in Uganda. They are basically motorcycle taxis. The drivers are usually certifiably insane and they drive way to fast down windy, unpaved, dirt roads. Needless to say, they are dangerous and the boda drivers are extremely rude. I was walking into town the other night to get meat for Buzi. Buzi was on the other side of the road in the grass and as he went to cross the street a speeding boda man hit him. My dog was hit by a motorcycle! He's ok, the front tire just skimmed his face (I know that sounds awful, but it could have been much much worse). The worst part was that the driver didn't even slow down, the whole thing didn't even phase him.

I know this post was super long but there was so much I wanted to say. Hope you guys enjoy it and thank you so much for taking the time to read! Happy Fathers' Day, Dad! Happy early birthday, Angie and Sebastian! Happy belated Kadi and Sarah! Hope you guys are doing well!


Thursday, June 3, 2010


I got a puppy! I’ve been trying to find a male puppy since about my first week at site. (Ugandans greatly fear dogs so I figured having one would reduce my risk of a break in). Last week, 2 days before I was supposed to leave for Kampala for the weekend, Enid and Namusisi—two of the tutors at the college—took me to this lady’s house where there was a litter of the cutest puppies I have ever seen. There was one male in the litter and he was freaking adorable, I fell in love as soon as I saw him. Now for the gross part…he was COMPLETELY infested with fleas, ticks, probably lice, and these weird worms that Namusisi pinched out of his skin. It was awful! Namusisi told me I had to take him then or he would be gone and she promised to treat him for me. I was skeptical, but for 5oooUGX (about $2.50) I bought him. Namusisi took him back to her house and when she brought him to the college his fur had this chalky powder in it and within a few hours there wasn’t a single bug on him! I was definitely impressed. That afternoon we took him into Kyotera and got him a few vaccinations as well as some de-worming medicine. He was pretty sick from all the medicine and treatments so he slept that entire night and the following day. His name is “Buzibu,” which means difficult in Luganda. I call him Buzi for short.

The next day I baked a cake to share with the tutors at the college. They loved it! They insisted on singing to me, several times, and after a few failed attempts we all took a picture together…with the cake of course. Buzi slept in a box on the floor the entire day. He even went to class with me. Most of my students fear him and I tell him he’ll only bite them if they’re late to class. I think they actually believe me.

Which brings me to my next topic…I finally started teaching! Oh my gosh I love it! I’ve really missed being in the classroom. Teaching in Uganda, especially at a college is WAY different than teaching a group of snotty nosed 5 years olds. My first class was the year 1s, a little over 100 students, and I taught them on child growth and development. At first they were quiet and didn’t want to share. We are still getting used to communicating together and they have a hard time understanding my accent. By the end of class they were comfortable enough to ask me to slow down or repeat something, which I consider amazing progress. Then I taught the years 2s. They were 200+ students and that was a little intimidating. Once I got used to practically shouting at them so they could hear me, things went well. I taught them on the difference between guidance and counseling and they participated and contributed throughout the whole class. It was so much fun.

At the end of both classes I let the students ask me any questions they wanted to. The only off limits topics were my age (because there’s a good percentage who are older than I am), if I could bring them back to America, anything political in Uganda, and if I had a husband. They asked me the difference between Ugandan education and American education and they were really interested in how I was liking Uganda and how it was different from America.

Over the weekend I went to Kampala to celebrate my birthday and almost everyone from my training group came into town. It was the first time we’ve all been together since swearing in. Our group is super close and it was awesome being able to catch up with everyone and to just hang out without having to do anything. One of the nights we went dancing in club called the Iguana and I saw a Ugandan with a Tim Duncan jersey on. I started freaking our but no one really appreciated it because no one else is from San Antonio. I thought of you, Mom!

When I got back to the college I taught a few classes and sat in on a workshop. The workshop was awful and lasted 4 hours. After it was over I played a tutor versus students volleyball game, which I organized the previous week. The students were impressed that I knew how to play volleyball and they loved watching. It was a great way to bond with them and show them that I am just like their other tutors.
I’m much busier now that the new term started at the college. I love having some sort of schedule every day, I actually feel productive! My current tasks I will be working on are training Buzi (Ugandans don’t know you can train dogs and insist that I will not be able to since he is an African breed…yea right, I’ll show them!), planting a garden (finally), and starting a girls’ empowerment club at the college with Enid and Namusisi (I want to teach them about self esteem, reproductive health, and how to make reusable menstrual pads). If anyone has teaching suggestions or activities for very large groups of students, I would love to hear them. Thank you Mom for all the wonderful packages, it was awesome to open something on my birthday! And thanks Jill for the package, even though it was random everything in it was perfect…especially the tshirts! Congrats again to McKenzie and Preston, I can’t wait to see pictures! Hope everyone is enjoying summer break and I look forward to reading your updates.

Love and miss you all!


PS- I tried setting up a Picasa account so you can see the pictures without having to login to facebook, let me know if you are having problems accessing it. There's a link under the pictures at the top of the page. Love you guys!