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.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

When bad days turn good

What started as a crappy day (hearing the DPP ask students what to ask the visitor to donate to the college, having a 20 minute conversation with a GROWN man explaining why it's challenging to be harrassed on a daily basis and how sometimes the thought of going to the market just puts me in a bad mood because it means leaving the safety bubble of the college, stress over planning GLOW, realizing I'm actually leaving Uganda soon with no plans in sight, a persistent headache I've had the past 3 days that just won't go away, etc.) turned into one of the best evenings I've had with my students.

I've gotten really close to Fina, the college secretary, the past few weeks. She's come to my house for baking, invited me to her house for dinner, given me a chicken, continues to give me bananas and eggs, and is just a fun, easygoing person. She's my age, progressive, and, honestly, reminds me more of an American than she does a Ugandan. Needless to say, I love spending time with her.

Anyway, after the whirlwind of a day that consisted of a program set around our "visitor from Sweden" ($$$), Fina told me we were playing volleyball with the students. I grabbed Buzi and my new frisbee (best Peace Corps grab box find!) and headed to the field. I've been trying to play with the students since I got here...2 months ago.

Seeing Madame Kirabo head to the field with dog in tow definitely brought in a crowd. We quickly had a game set up and my team dominated! I like to think it was from my killer soon as they realized I could serve over the net, that became my designated position and I didn't rotate the rest of the game.

There was something about running around in the grass and mud barefoot that melted away my bad mood. Walking barefoot in the grass is something I need to start doing more of. It feels amazing and immediately brings me back to summers in Texas, sitting on the back porch swing, eating watermelon and drinking lemonade.

My students also surprised me. They usually speak a mix of Luganda/English pretty much all the time. A few were surprised I could "handle the ball" and when I busted out with "Kitufu, manyi kuzannya. Kati, mugambe oluzungu!" (It's true, I know how to play. Now speak English!) they were beside themselves. For the rest of the game they were correcting each other whenever they slipped into speaking local language. That and having Buzi run on and off the "court" without scaring any of them absolutely made my day. Students finally saw me as more than just the white lady who teaches PES and gets pissed at them if they're late to class.

The good: During the first half of the volleyball game there was a gorgeous rainbow over the hills behind the school. Have I mentioned I live in what I like to describe as a zen yoga retreat oasis, complete with hills and greenery as far as you can see? Breathtaking.

I also sold 25 AFRIpads to my girls. In two hours.

The bad: I ripped my skirt while playing volleyball. I'd like to say I had an intense move where I face planted into the ground to save the ball, but what really happened is my spaz of a dog got too excited and bit/tore my skirt. He was tied all day. Can't blame him.

The ugly: The pump is broken. I don't have a latrine. Bucket flushing your toilet once a day (sometimes once every 2 days) sucks. Enough said.

Sorry for not posting in over a month. Will work on that. And congratulations to Mar, got accepted to UNT! So proud!


Saturday, September 24, 2011

The quality isn't the best, but you get the idea.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Finding the Silver Lining

I've been awful at updating this thing. I wanted to wait until something amazing happened at my new place or until I had some really cool integration story, but nothing like that's happened yet. I keep forgetting that my posts don't always have to be positive and a lot of the times I try to avoid writing a negative post, no matter how honest or accurate it may be, because things sound so much worse back home and I don't want anyone worrying about me.

Having completed more than half of my service I'm definitely guilty of having the mentality that I'm entitled. It's the sense of having earned something. You put in the effort, and you get acceptance and respect. Makes sense. Changing sites knocks you to the very bottom of the totem pole and forces you to do the work all over again.

In the timeline of PC service, right about now is when I'd be handing over projects and stepping back even more than I had been. Getting my site ready for life without me there or, in otherwords, making all of my work sustainable. The last 6 months are supposed to be easier, fun, and a time to really enjoy and appreciate all the work and effort you've put into the past year and a half you've spent with your community. It's not typical for a volunteer to start over with so little time left in their service. To put it bluntly, site changes completely suck. Especially when you don't want one. I'm trying my best to stay positive, but lately I'm feeling a little bitter.

It was hard to leave behind my old site and to leave behind students that I've taught my entire time here. It was even worse not being able to observe them during their final school practice (student teaching) and get them ready to apply for jobs. It was difficult not being able to say goodbye to the people that took me in and made me a part of the community. But I got over it, or at least I accepted that it was something I had to do.

Now I'm struggling with being seen as a new volunteer when I've already gone through all the work and growing pains of establishing myself as a legitimate member of a community. Sometimes you have days when you feel like you never want to leave this place. Everything have work, you're busy, projects are successful, everyone knows you, and you even have a social life in the village. These days are what I live for. It also takes a lot of work and dedication to get to that level of integration. As awful as it sounds, right now I'm not motivated to do that work.

I know what I have to do to be not only accepted into a community, but also to be happy in the village. I've done it before, and I've done it correctly. I'm having this terrible inner struggle with myself where I know the work that needs to be done, but I feel like I shouldn't have to do it again. It's that awful and selfish sense of entitlement I was talking about before. I'm indirectly taking out all my frustrations on my new community by not giving them the same effort I gave to Kyotera. While my situation is by no means fair, the way I am reacting is completely unfair to Nakaseke.

I've been too negative lately and I'm working to focus on the positives and how fortunate I am to be at such a well-off school where the tutors are qualified. Today is just one of those days where I woke up and thought I was back in Rakai. Being homesick for a place in Uganda is something I never thought I would experience.

I guess with all the negativity and bitterness and pent up resentment I'm waiting to find the opportunity that I know has to be right in front of my face. I've taken my time to be upset and to mope around. It's way past time for me to get motivated and find out where I'm needed here. They say there's a silver lining to every dark cloud; I'm just waiting to find mine.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I've moved!

More to come soon, but I am officially a tutor at Nakaseke Core Primary Teachers' college in Nakaseke, Luweero district.

**I have a new mailing address: P.O. Box 26 Wobulenzi, Uganda**

I'll write a longer update soon. Know that I am ok and have transitioned as best as possible. Miss you guys.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I've been up an down lately. With all the difficulties I've been experiencing, both personally and professionally, I have lost focus of why I'm here. I feel like I'm going crazy. My emotions have gone haywire and I cry almost every time someone asks me about my site. I hate not having control and not being able to keep myself in check. I'm not that person, and I don't want to become that person.

Yes, I am here for a certain extent. I'm here to learn about myself, to push myself outside of my comfort zone, to grow, and to to get the experience of a lifetime. After living here for a year, I can confidently say I know myself better than I ever have before and that I have changed. Africa changes you. Peace Corps changes you. I think it's change for the better, though.

So while I am here for myself, more importantly I am here for my community. For the little boy sitting next to me on my taxi ride home who I share a muffin with. For the kids who greet me at my doorstep. For the shop owners who offer a genuine smile and handshake every time I stop by to buy eggs or bread. For the voices calling "Bye, Kirabo!" from the matooke fields as I pass by on my way home. For the lady who gives me a free pineapple because I greeted her in the local language. For my students whose scores have dramatically improved since I started teaching them. For the girls and women all over Uganda who I have been educating end empowering to be able to take care of their bodies. For the brothers who now know how to bake. For the children's ward in the health center. For the sisters who feed me dinner every Sunday night. For teaching scrabble. For playing volleyball. For being invited to visit family members. For every member of Biikira Parish who picked up a paint brush to help complete 8 murals in the village and for every person who reads the messages from these murals.

That's why I'm here. Life is difficult and messy and right now I seem to be getting hit from all angles, but I've spent enough time being sad. It's time to pick myself back up and make the best of my situation. I love my village and my community too much to give up on them now. Does that make me crazy? Maybe, but I know they love and respect me just as much, if not more. And maybe that makes them crazy.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Third Gender

Being a woman in Uganda is challenging. Living here has made me realize how much I took for granted being a women in America. Uganda is a country where women are still seen as lesser than men. This is apparent when you see any Ugandan woman greet a man...she kneels down, lowers her eyes, and shakes his hand. It's the way the culture is here and while I may not agree with it, I'm by no means in any position to try and change it.

What's more challenging is being a white woman in Uganda. Sure the sexual harassment and the negative attention are a lot to deal with, but I've learned to tolerate them (most of the time). What I still sometimes struggle with is being part of a "third gender." The Ugandan man is definitely at the top and the Ugandan woman is definitely at the bottom. Based on the color of my skin and all that it implies (that I have money, that I'm educated, etc.) I fall somewhere in the middle where I'm not quite equal to a man but I'm treated with more respect than a woman. I understand this, but it doesn't make it any easier.

Sometimes I am treated like a man out of respect but I definitely don't get the same privileges. As a woman if I speak my mind I have to be very careful of what I say and who I say it to. If I have an idea that I know will benefit the community I need to make sure it comes from a man if I every want to implement it. Other times I am separated from the women, again out of respect, because as a "visitor" you are expected to talk and eat with members of higher class, ie men, and not those who prepare the meals and clean, ie, women.

Just something interesting to think about. Uganda is behind America in terms of gender equality (Ugandan men can't believe male Peace Corps volunteers cook for me or help me wash dishes!). Being a part of this culture has made me appreciate how I am viewed and treated in America. Definitely something I'm looking forward to coming home to.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What makes a good Peace Corps Volunteer?

This is a topic I’ve been contemplating, especially since my latest coping mechanism involves dodging site. We all joined Peace Corps with notions of what our lives should or shouldn’t be like. A year and a half later I still don’t know if there’s a set definition for what it means to be a PCV, much less a good one.

When I found out I was coming to Uganda, I researched as much as I could about this tiny country. I thought I’d be living in a mud hut, isolated from civilization, never speaking English, and eating bugs with my neighbors. Aside from the bug eating part, I couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I live in the doctor’s quarters of a health center in a house that is bigger than my apartment in America. Granted, I don’t have running water or consistent electricity, but my house is pretty ballin’. Life here is nothing like I expected it would be.

I didn’t think I’d get super close to other volunteers and was genuinely shocked at how quickly I became part of a family with my training group. These people have been the foundation to my success here and without them my life here would have been bearable, but not nearly as enriched.

As volunteers, we tend to get a complex about being a “good PCV.” Does it mean we’re not supposed to leave site to socialize with each other? Does it mean we shouldn’t splurge every once in a while on “American” food and luxuries, like Heinz ketchup instead of tomato sauce, and decent shampoo? Does it mean we shouldn’t allow ourselves access to daily internet? The longer I spend here the more I realize I don’t have to deprive myself from the things that give me joy, I don’t have to limit my happiness in order to be a good PCV.

Does being a good PCV mean you close yourself off to the outside world? Absolutely not. To me, it’s about sharing experiences and growing as a person. I’ve learned more about myself in the last year and a half than I did in all of my college years. I’ve changed as a person. I’ve begun to realize how short life really is and just how quickly time passes (I only have 9 months left??). I’ve stopped holding back as much and I’ve opened myself up and shared myself with people.

So what If some of us pay for someone to cook us dinner or to wash our clothes, does that mean we’re not “Peace Corps”? If something contributes to your overall wellbeing and doesn’t harm anyone in the process, then do it. I’m tired of getting caught up in the immense guilt of constantly trying to “be more PC.” Life here is hard enough as it is and only gets unnecessarily harder if I limit myself by falling victim to this mindset.

I like to think I’m a good PCV, but then again I’m biased. I have a dog and an internet modem and make up that makes me feel feminine and pretty when I wear it. I have 2 phones and 4 different network sim cards to be able to connect and stay in touch with volunteers here. Communication keeps me sane and reminds me that I’m still at least a little normal and haven’t turned into a total freak show here. I have a truly incredible boyfriend who continues to help me grow into a better person, and a better volunteer. Without that constant support and encouragement from him and my best friends here, I wouldn’t be happy. I wouldn’t be as strong as I have been to deal with what Uganda, and life for that matter, throw at me.

I would still be “PC,” but my life wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as it is now. If I am happy and emotionally and mentally stable, I get more work done and more fulfillment out of the work that I do. If I’m not happy and emotionally sound, then I’m not worth anything to the people here.

The one thing I know with absolutely certainty is that I refuse to close myself off to happiness. PC doesn’t always have to mean suffering. Of course life here is way harder than it is in America, but at the end of the day, I know I’m doing good things here. I’m focused and determined and I know when I need to take a mental break from site. To me, being able to maintain that balance is what it means to be a good PCV.

Friday, July 8, 2011

When it rains it pours

There are two things I hate the most in Uganda: getting sick and transport. These past few days the stars aligned and I was fortunate enough to be blessed with both.

Since my PTC shut down, I've been out East doing AFRIpads presentations. 11 presentations, 400+ pads, and hundreds of girls in two weeks. It's been equally awesome and exhausting.

Towards the end of my Eastern trek, I managed to get some sort of nasty cold as well as some pretty wicked flu symptoms. Being away from site and being sick just puts me in a crappy, negative, even depressed mood. Traveling is exahusting and, when paired with being sick, it's downright debilitating.

Turns out I had a bladder infection and schisto. Fun stuff. I was looking forward to getting back to site, turning off my phone, taking a boatload of meds, and getting back into the swing of things. Aside from taking a boatload of meds, everything else was a disaster.

Long story short: My principal continues to be a very corrupt man, "mismanaging finances." And it turns out he was transferred from the last college he worked FOR THE SAME REASON. Peace Corps knew this and willingly gave him another volunteer. What I didn't know was that the Ministry of Education only wanted him to get another volunteer to help correct the budget and money management. Woah, I'm finding out a year later this is what I'm supposed to be doing? No thanks.

The list goes on...Brother Lawrence turned in his keys and quit because, big surprise, the principal refused to pay him. My principal made a blatant pass at me bordering on sexual harrassment in the middle of my having, what I thought was, a serious conversation with him. On top of all this I took my last round of schisto meds and passed out for a good two days. I'm talking didn't get out of bed and barely woke up. Nasty stuff, I felt like death.

Throw in my post office closing down (again), the secondary school calling to say Buzi killed 3 sheep and that they are going to kill him (when the brothers watching him said they didn't know anything about this and Buzi has been well behaved the whole time), and someone stealing a brand new roll of TP from my latrine (I've been here a year+ and have never had to lock my latrine!) It's been a hell of a week.

Oh, and did I mention that Peace Corps wants me to "seriously consider moving sites" due to all the financial crap going down at the college? After integrating into my community and becoming family with some of the people there the thought of moving brings me to tears.

Such is the continuous roller coaster that is Peace Corps. You have incredible highs, and then you have incredible lows. This is definitely one of my lowest. Not to worry, I'll get through it...I always do.

Missing everyone.

Monday, June 27, 2011

50 Books

I just finished reading my 50th book in country (the ones with stars are my favorites):

*Educating Esme (Esme Raji Codell)
The 10th Circle (Jodi Picoult)
The Alchemist (Paulo Coelino)
A Wrinkle in Time (L'Engle)
Last Summer of You and Me (Ann Brasheares)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Mark Haddan)
*The Glass Castle (Jeanette Walls)
House of Sand and Fog (Andre DuBus III)
Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
Three Junes (Julia Glass)
*Running with Scissors (Augusten Burroughs)
Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood (Rebecca Wells)
*The Art of Racing in the Rain (Garth Stein)
The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
The Pact (Jodi Picoult)
*The Giver (Lois Lowry)
Boy Meets Girl (Meg Cabot)
Queen of Babble in the Big City (Meg Cabot)
The Beach House (Jan Green)
Three Cups of Tea (Greg Mortenson)
Cesar's Way (Cesar Milan)
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
*Mister Pip (Lloyd Jones)
*Naked (David Sedaris)
The Fall (Albert Camus)
Picture Perfect (Jodi Picoult)
*Same Kind of Different as Me (Ron Hall and Denver Moore)
Bloodsucking Fiends (Christopher Moore)
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitsgerald)
*The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
Disgrace (J.M. Coetzee)
*Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer)
For One More Day (mitch Albom)
The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
In the Time of the Butterflies (Julia Alvarez)
The Indian in the Cupboard (Lynne Reid Banks)
The Post-Birthday World (Lionel Shriver)
The Hour I First Believed (Wally Lamb)
Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)
The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
The Devil in the White City (Erik Larson)
*A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini)
Conversations with my Dog (Zig Ziglar)
*The Forgotten Garden (Kate Morton)
*Little Bee (Chris Cleave)
*5 Quarters of the Orange (Joanne Harris)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larson)
B is for Beer (Tom Robbins)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

41 PCVs + 36 cans of paint + Ugandan students + 8 walls = best and most productive weekend ever

I've delayed. I know. But the story (and more importantly, the pictures!) is finally here. As of 2 weeks ago I finished up my huge mural painting project. The idea was to get people talking about how to avoid the spread HIV/AIDS. My students drew pictures depicting situations that can potentially lead to spreading HIV, such as sharing needles and having multiple sexual partners. Aside from the planning and organizing, I really can't take that much credit for it. My students did the majority of the prep work and, with the help of some truly amazing Peace Corps volunteers, we finished up the painting in one day. The pictures are posted on facebook, from the beginning of the project to the (almost) end. We still have to put a few messages in local language up, but we're getting there.

The entire weekend was a huge success. I was anticipating a few bumps along the way, but honestly it couldn't have run more smoothly. I hosted about 28 PCVs at my house and when everyone arrived Friday night we ate 4 kilos of rice (and who knows how many grilled veggies) out of a huge pot, family style.

Saturday was painting day! Each of the 8 painting sites had 2-3 PCVs and several students from the college. By the time I finished running around making sure people had paintbrushes, mixing containers, paint thinner, etc., most of the work was finished! I can't even begin to express my gratitude to the group of PCVs who came down to help out. Even more amazing was how proud my students were of their work. They were the artists and had a lot of say in how they wanted their pictures colored. It was one of the best days I've had at site.

As a thank you to having everyone come down and help, we roasted 2 goats and a chicken on Sunday. We also had a football match, PCVs vs. Rakai PTC students. Sunday was pretty much a day to relax and hang out. We had another family style meal while we were waiting for the meat to cook, this time an appetizer of guacamole. I think at least 20 avocados went into the mix!

Thanks for everyone's support throughout this project. Feedback is welcome!


Sunday, June 5, 2011

Laziness takes on a whole new meaning

This past week has been my busiest since I’ve been in country. I’ve been waking up at 6 to try and squeeze in a work out before spending the better half of the day at the college (on average from 8-6 every day). My students have been phenomenal. We managed to paint, grid, and draw all 8 pictures on the mural sites in 3 days. I thought drawing the pictures would take us all weekend and part of Monday to finish…my students finished on Thursday! When I told them to break for lunch, they told me they were going to finish before eating. I was shocked; I’ve never gotten that sort of response from anyone here! In my experience, they try and find any excuse they can to get out of working. It really made me realize how pumped my students are about this project. Joan, one of the second year girls in my girls club, came up to me and said how proud she was to be involved in the project and how it was going to do amazing things for the community by spreading educational messages. This whole week I have been busting with pride. I can’t stop smiling! This magnificent high I’ve been riding is still around, and I ‘m freaking loving it. To feel this good about work for this long is a foreign concept for me, but I really hope it continues to last. My community is coming alive and I can’t wait to see how they interact with the 35+ Peace Corps volunteers that are coming down my way next weekend to help us paint.

Now for the downside…getting all the work done on Thursday meant I really didn’t have much to do over the weekend. I decided I’d take Friday off and have a “me day.” Bad idea. Laziness here is like this terrible black hole. It sucks you in without warning and before you know it you’ve watched 8 episodes of Freaks and Geeks, had 5 cups of hot chocolate, and devoured an entire 2.5 serving pasta meal. Did I just confess to that? Oops. But it’s true. And after the awesome productive week I had I felt so disgusted with myself after Friday. And guilty. I felt like such a waste of a human being and I really didn’t like it. I didn’t leave my house and I don’t even think I changed out of my pajamas all day. I guess days like that are good every once in a while, but they’re also dangerous. It’s terrifyingly easy to slip into that mindset of “just one more episode…” and the next thing you know it’s 8:00 at night and you haven’t done a single productive thing all day.

I’m definitely going to make up for it this week, though. Before Friday I have to slash my yard, clear the walk ways, clean the latrine, empty out and clean the neighboring house, clean my house, arrange to have 20 mattresses delivered, teach 7 lessons at the college, pay for and pick up the 2 goats we’ll be roasting at the celebration on Sunday, make sure the football pitch is ready for the tournament, sensitize my kids about proper behavior around visitors (ie, not begging for money or calling them mazungu), and have a meal ready for the 24 people staying at my house by the time they all get here Friday evening. Just another week in Uganda!

Wish me luck! Completed mural pictures to come soon!

Love y’all,

Monday, May 23, 2011

All you need is love

Love is a funny thing. It takes seconds to fall in love but years to fully understand what love is. It’s that warmth that pulses through your veins and makes you feel fuzzy. It seeps out of every pore of your body. It means accepting something for what it is, flaws and all. It’s irrational. It makes you feel invincible and ready to take on the world. It makes you venerable and open to the possibility of hurt but even more wonderful it opens you to the opportunity of feeling pure happiness.

Ask me on a different day when I’ve been woken up on a bus by getting a face full of curdled yogurt vomit slewn in through the window by someone retching out the window two rows in front of me (which really happened, by the way) and I may deny what I’m about to say, but right now where I am, I am genuinely in love with my life in Uganda. It’s been a roller coaster full of ups, downs, dips and turns, but it’s led me to one of the most rewarding places I’ve ever been.

I’ve been in a sort of “non-funk” lately and it took some quality time with a group of amazing people and a home cooked Chinese meal by a very respected fellow PCV to make me realize just how negative I’ve been. As volunteers, we go through a sometimes vicious cycle of ups and downs. Peace Corps service truly is love hate. I recently had my mid-service conference and after talking with the other volunteers from my training class, I was able to step back and reflect on my overall outlook on my life. I didn’t like what I saw. I saw this jaded and cynical person. That’s not who I am.

I’ve been holding onto this irrational sense of entitlement. So I’ve been living here for a year, who cares? To everyone else I’m just another white person, just another short term volunteer to take advantage of and earn a few extra shillings from. Just another dollar sign with the potential of paying for school fees or another sachet of Waragi. Can I blame them? Honestly, not really. With the amount of foreign aid that’s been dumped into this country it’s no wonder (most) Ugandans think white people are the cure all. Why should I work when the mzungu is going to come in and build a school for me? This is the bitter cynical side I’ve been talking about. But if letting go of my pride and even some of my feeling of self worth means I’ll have an overall more enjoyable and rewarding experience here then sign me up. I need to stop being so sensitive to the general population’s view of me. What matters is how I present myself to those I actually respect, the people I see on a daily basis, my colleagues and friends.

I’ve decided to do whatever it takes to make this next year truly count. I’m having the most unforgettable experience I could ever hope for and I’m finished taking it for granted. The last few weeks I’ve taken the time to think about my life. I live in a beautiful country. I’m able to see the stars more clearly than I ever have before. I’ve seen some of the most breathtaking sunrises. I’ve seen pure and undeveloped nature. I’ve gotten closer to people in the last 15 months than I have with some people my entire life. I’ve felt comfortable in my own skin and grown less afraid and skeptical of change. I am so privileged to be where I am.

I made sure to come back to site with this outlook and it’s been fantastic. I’m taking the time to do the things that I’ve for some reason or another been putting off. I managed to invite myself to dinner with the sisters last night and ended up having one of the loveliest evenings I’ve ever had. They are genuine people and were so happy to have my company for dinner. You invite yourself over to dinner in America and you’re not always greeted with the same hospitality. Now I have a dinner date every Sunday at the convent. Even better, through casual conversation they presented ideas for new projects and now we’re going to work together to train the community health workers to be able to issue ARVs to the HIV positive patients in the area.

My best friend, Brother Lawrence, is back. He’s Kenyan and therefore doesn’t get paid by the Ugandan government. For the past year he’s basically been teaching for free because the principal hasn’t been paying him. He finally had enough and decided to leave the college to finish his studies. The University is on holiday for the summer months so he came back to volunteer at the college the next few months. I went to greet him today and ended up spending the entire morning and afternoon playing scrabble, washing his 6 new puppies, and having lunch with the brothers.

The people here truly care about me and trust me. I’ve been taking that for granted. I’ve been taking my life for granted and for a while I lost sight of why I’m here. I got caught up in the negativity and the bitterness I’ve been harboring. A really good friend of mine recently told me to figure out what’s important and what you’re willing to give up to keep it. My relationships in this country are what are important. They’re what matters and what keep me in Uganda. If being harassed by people who don’t know me the same way Brother Lawrence and the sisters do is something that I have to deal with then so be it. I’m willing to give up my pride to keep what really matters: the friendships I have with Ugandans that continue to change my life every day I’m here. I’m in love with my life and I plan to continue riding this high every minute I’m here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

What a year in Uganda has taught me

A year ago I swore in as a PCV. I moved away from my family of other volunteers into my village and began to understand what a “primary school teacher trainer” really did. I’ve overcome more struggles this past year than I have my whole life, and have had even more successes.

A year in Uganda has made me learn to appreciate the small things in life and the importance of patience. The littlest thing like being addressed by name can make all the difference in how much satisfaction I get out of my day.

A year in Uganda has shown me how much of a self motivator I really am. It’s taught me to not care about what people think or how they perceive me because, here, they’re going to talk about me and stare at me no matter what I do.

A year in Uganda has taught me the value of being a woman, something I definitely took for granted in America. I’ve been sexually harassed on a near daily basis here, from being asked for sex in a somewhat joking matter to be flat out propositioned for sex as a fee for getting my mail.

A year in Uganda has made me realize how strong I am and how much I can endure. I’ve pushed myself to the limits and, if possible, have set higher standards for myself than I ever did in America. More importantly, I’ve learned how to pick myself back up and try a new approach when I don’t quite meet the goals I’ve set for myself or when I’ve utterly failed.

A year in Uganda has made me realize the value of relationships. I first had the know-it-all approach of wanting to “fix” everything that was wrong with my village, or what I thought was wrong at least. I’ve learned without the trust and respect of my community, nothing can get done. My relationships in this country are the backbone of my success and along the way I’ve met some truly inspiring and amazing people. They have changed my life more than they know and I hope I have done a sliver of the same for them.

A year in Uganda has taught me that while having initiative is one of the keys to success, you won’t get anywhere without follow through. Watching foreign aid come in and build schools without training teachers devastates this country and instills in it the notion that white people are the save all because they throw money around to fix problems. I’ve truly learned to respect and appreciate the value of Peace Corps as an organization. They have it right when they put volunteers in high need communities with the expectation of training locals and providing them with the skills they need in order to live a successful life. Like the old saying goes, if you give a man a fish he eats for a day but if you teach a man a fish he eats for a lifetime.

A year in Uganda has shown me that change doesn’t necessarily mean the end. Change is definitely a scary concept that I am still getting comfortable with, but more than that change brings about opportunity and growth. Without change things would remain stagnant and boring. Change means excitement and the chance to learn even more about yourself.

A year in Uganda has made me appreciate family and friendship. Without the constant and never judging support I get from you guys back home, there's no way I'd still be where I am today. Your love and encouragement keeps me going on the days when I find it hard to muster up the motivation to leave me house. Thanks for all you do!


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Just another day in Uganda...

A lot of people have been asking me what a typical day in Uganda is like. Ask any PCV and they'll tell you there's really no such thing as "typical" in Uganda. Today, however, was an exceptionally amazing day so I'll use it as an example that will hopefully give you a better idea of what life can be like here.

Sunday usually means laundry day. I gathered all my dirty clothes from the past two weeks and proceeded to wash hand. By now, I have a pretty good system for laundry where I set up outside on my back porch: clothes basket with dirty clothes, wash basin with soapy water, wash basin with clean rinse water. The whole process takes about an hour. I wash each piece by hand, whites first then darks and finally towels. I hang everything (minus "unmentionables," which are hung on an indoor clothesline) on a clothesline behind my house. On a good day, with lots of sunshine and no clouds or rain, my cloths are usually dry a little after lunch.

After I finished washing, I worked out. P90X is my new favorite thing in Uganda, especially the cardio workout...that thing kicks my butt! And, thanks to some gracious PCV who donated an old pair of tennies to the PC grab box, I finally have a pair of running shoes! I didn't realize how much I'd been missing them until I got them and, trust me, I am using them every day. I finished up my workout and made breakfast, oatmeal with wheat bran and peanut butter.

I recently got a package from Grandma that had some coloring books and crayons in it. I took a book and a box of crayons next door to color with Jackie and Joy. They had a blast! They watched me color and then somehow copied me by staying inside the lines of the pictures instead of scribbling all over the page. Martha, the girls' mom, heard us laughing and came out to see what was going on. She ended up coloring, too. We were all sitting on Martha's front porch when Sister Immaculate, one of the supervisors at the health center, came over to see what we were doing. She got so excited about the pictures that she asked me if I would do the same thing at the children's ward with the patients about to be discharged.

I couldn't have been happier. By this point in my service, I've kind of backed off proposing project ideas because I've found that things work much better when people approach me with an idea. When they take ownership over a project proposal they become invested and don't want to see it fail whereas if I suggest something and it falls through, they aren't the ones failing...I am. The fact that Sr. Immaculate not only pitched an idea to me but was excited about it has a lot of potential for success. New project: arts and crafts at the health center in the children's ward!

Side note: Sr. Immaculate walked me back to my house and started asking questions about Afripads. She wants to start selling them in the canteen at the health center to raise money for the children's ward. Again, even thought this is a project I am 100% behind and have even suggested in the past, the idea came from Sr Immaculate which means that it has the potential to be sustainable.

Namusisi, one of my best friends and fellow tutors at the college, came by to visit me. We sat on the porch and made plans to walk to town tomorrow and go to the market. She went home and I read for a while in my hammock outside.

So that was my day. Granted, it was a Sunday and I didn't have any classes to teach. It may seem boring or slow or whatever you want to call it, but it was a good day for me. I take my victories where I can get them and seeing community members comfortable enough to approach me with project ideas is a huge victory. How did you spend your Sunday?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tugenda kusiiga bifaananyi!

I am writing this post with a very happy and excited heart. It's grant was approved today and we'll be painting 7 murals in Biikira! I had a meeting with the tutors at the college and I think they were more excited about planning the project than I was (shocker, you all know how I feel about planning!!). Here's a rundown of the project:

We'll be working with students at the college to illustrate messages that educate the community on the spread of HIV/AIDS and how to avoid putting yourself at risk. The students will be working together in groups to come up with 7 different pictures to be painted throughout the village. I'm hoping to have an HIV lesson in the upcoming weeks and have the pictures finished before the students leave for holiday, around Easter. When the return for 2nd term at the end of May we'll prep the sites with plaster and background paint then paint outlines of the pictures on the walls so that on June 11th, when all of my wonderful Peace Corps friends and staff will be making the trek down here, we will work together to basically do a paint by number to complete the project.

I am ecstatic! Not only for the knowledge we will be spreading to the community but mainly for the fact that my tutors are completely and 100% on board with this project! They are taking complete ownership and making plans to involve the entire community. They even want to turn the weekend into a whole HIV education event, including teaching life skills to the youth and having the health center host an HIV testing fair. I couldn't be more proud of them.

More to come and expect TONS of pictures!

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Love y'all so much,


Monday, March 28, 2011

Things I never thought I would miss in Uganda...

I promise it's not ALL food!

water fountains
sturdy nails that don't bend in half when you hammer them
ice cream
chicken fajitas from Taco Cabana
concerts in general
traffic laws that people obey
real bakeries
using a debit card
milk and cereal
feeling carpet on my bare-feet
unlimited text messages and free nights and weekends
being outside after 7pm
high heels
genuinely feeling beautiful
frozen grapes
granulated sugar
having my own seat in a car
ice cubes
baking in a real oven
being invisible
fabric softener
wearing shorts in public

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


I just got back to site from a week and a half worth of traveling and putting on reproductive/menstrual health presentations to girls all over Western Uganda. I put on 5 presentations total: one to the new peace corps trainees, one on international women's day to 170 secondary girls, one to a class of p7 girls, one to over 400 secondary girls, and one to over 130 girls at another PTC. It's good to be home and I'm beat, but I freakin loved every minute of it! This is something I am so passionate about, and not to sound cocky, but something I am really good at. I teach girls and women (primary, secondary, girls at the college, womens' groups, health center workers)basic reproductive health, the gyst of their menstrual cycles, Afripads, and conclude with a Q&A where I am brutally honest with responses to their questions...I'm talking the idea of "safe days" to masturbation to myths about avoiding pregnancy. You'd be surprised at the break down of information and some of the misconceptions that exist over here.

A typical presentation lasts anywhere from one to three hours, depending on how much time the girls want to spend on the Q&A. I start by showing diagrams of both the male and female reproductive systems. I have the girls name and define each part. Then we move on to the menstrual cycle and talk about ways they cope with their periods here in Uganda. You find that many girls use pads during their periods (which cost about 3,000UGX per pack) but they also use things like towels, old clothes, chunks of mattress foam, toilet paper, and I kid you not feathers...that's hygienic. Then we do the breakdown of how much they are spending on pads a year, 36,000UGX if they use one pack of pads a month. I present an alternative to disposable pads, the Afripad.

Afripads are reusable menstrual pads made here in Uganda by Ugandan women. Each pack comes with the pad, 2 straight liners, 3 winged liners, a plastic carrying case for soiled liners, and instructions in Luganda and English. The total cost is 3,500UGX. Not only do Afripads save girls money, but they are also more reliable than their alternatives, ie, feathers, and they are environmentally friendly. Each pack can last a girl through 12 cycles, or one year, if she takes care of it and washes it properly. That means that for slightly more than the cost of one pack of pads, girls have an alternative that will last them through the whole year. It's common in Uganda for girls to miss school when they are on their periods. Especially in primary school, when girls have to sit for their exit exams, missing a week of school every month is hugely detrimental. Afripads aims at giving girls a cheaper option to help keep them in school. If you want more information check out

In other news I am one of the co-coordinators for camp GLOW this year, which I am super pumped about! You guys know how much I loved being a counselor last year and I can't even begin to express my excitement about being behind the scenes and planning the camp for this year. More to come soon, including ways you guys can help out!

Other than that things are pretty much the same around here. Observing my second years out in the field doing their school practice, starting to teach my first years, playing volleyball with them, getting my girls' club up and running. Not much more going on.

Hope all is well stateside. Happy birthday, Momma!

Much love,

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Happy 50th Anniversary, Peace Corps!

March 1, 1961 was the day that Peace Corps was established by Executive Order. 50 years later, more than 200,000 volunteers have served in Peace Corps. This is a big year for us and I'm proud to be a part of it.

Some exciting news...not only did all of my students pass my course last term but they scored higher in my course than they did ANY OTHER COURSE AT THE COLLEGE! THe highest score was 98! And if that's not enough, their scores for my course have drastically improved from the last year. Guess I'm not too shabby of a teacher afterall!

I've mentioned my mural painting project to some of you (I'm working with my students and other community members to come up with illustrations about the spread of HIV/AIDS and how to avoid it. These illustrations will be turned into murals to be painted around my village) and I'm extremely happy and excited to let you know that my country director not only loved the idea but wanted to get involved. He's put it on the PC calendar of 50th anniversary events in Uganda and even encouraged me to submit a grant proposal to get funding for the project. I turned in all my documents for the proposal and should find out later this month if we were approved.

If things go well, the funding should be in by April and I'll have my students submit their illustrations and prep the painting sites before the end of term (April 29). When my students come back May 23 we'll begin painting the base coats and doing the picture outlines so they will be ready for Peace Corps staff and volunteers to do a "paint-by-number" June 10-13.

Fingers crossed everything runs smoothly and according to schedule. As excited as I am about this project, my community is ecstatic. When I told them about my initial idea, they loved and and insisted we find a way to make it happen. They've even worked together to come up with a 30% contribution of the total budget. My grant requires a 25% community contribution and I was a little worried at first we wouldn't be able to do it, my village is dirt poor. Most of their contribution is in-kind, transport to purchase and deliver supplies, providing lunch for all volunteers on the PC painting day, etc., but important none the less. At least they are committed to taking ownership of this project, which to me is the most important thing.

A small update on other projects I'm working on:
-making a model classroom/resource room/my office/library (I FINALLY got my books from Darien Book Aid, I requested them last April...)
-instituting a monthly game night with the tutors at the college
-working with the girls' demonstration school to start a nursery school (the DP was so excited when he found out about my ECE background and he insisted I be involved in getting the nursery school up and running)
-PC/Afripads liaison (I give presentations on reusable menstrual pads at other volunteers' sites and keep the PC office stocked. For more info )
-my girls' club
-camp GLOW
-teaching PES/ECE at the college
-starting a read aloud club at the vocational school

I'm excited about the prospects of this term. Year 2 is looking even better than year 1! Hope y'all have an amazing spring break, someone better hit up SxSW and tell me how amazing it is this year, I haven't been to a concert since Radio and Weasel last not the same as Austin concerts. Thanks so much for the package, Grandma! Happy early birthday Mom, Kenz, and Preston!

Missing you guys,

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Uganda is very much a culture of "What's mine is yours," or maybe more accurately, "What's yours that I don't have is also mine." This can be ideal in some cases, if you grow a surplus of maize and I grow a surplus of beans, then we can both have maize and beans. When it doesn't work out so well is when you take what I have and then there isn't enough of it for either of us.

I ramble. My village is currently out of water, as is much of Uganda. I've had issues with water since the day I moved in. To me, a surplus of water is a luxury. After spending the better part of the last year conserving water to the point of having to choose between drinking water and bathing, I was ecstatic to return from holiday and find my rain tank FULL. You really have no idea how happy I was! I hassled people to no end in order to get my gutters fixed so the empty rain tank could collect water. The gutters were finally fixed and the rain tank was filling, but I was sharing its contents with my neighbor, another PCV. She recently moved back to America and the tank is now all mine, which means I'll have more than enough water to last me through to the next rainy season...which means I can bathe AND drink AND do laundry! I'm the happiest PCV around!

Until this morning...

Martha, by favorite neighbor in the world, delivered my milk (which I pay for) this morning, like she does every morning. This time, however, as she was pouring the milk into my bowl, she stops and says, "Ashley, you give me water from your tank." I'm immediately torn. I love Martha to death, as much as I love her 5 daughters. But that's the thing, Martha has 5 daughters...and is not nearly as conscious about conserving water as I am. If this is a one time thing, sure, no problem, fill your jerry cans. What's mine is yours, right? So I drudgingly unlocked my rain tank and watched as she filled her 20L jerry can not once, not twice, but THREE addition to the buckets Jackie and Joy kept filling. I make a 20L jerry can last about a week, not counting drinking water, and I was almost in tears when she took 3 jerry cans worth of water from my precious supply.

I feel selfish beyond belief, but come on...I haven't had water for a year! Fingers crossed this was a one time, emergency type thing. But something gives me the feeling it's going to continue to happen, in which case I'll be forced to have the awkward "PC forbids such and such" conversation, my go to to avoid tricky situations with people in the village. For example, Ugandan: "Let me borrow your computer." Me: "I'd love to, but PC says it's only for work purposes. I'm so sorry."

Moral of the story kids, CONSERVE YOUR WATER! At the very least, appreciate it because you have no idea how much it sucks to know the amount of CLEAN DRINKING water that is wasted every day in America when people flush the toilet while the rest of us in Uganda have to choose between washing our clothes or taking a bath.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

A holiday for the books: 4 countries in 4 days and 5 currency about extreme!

Hey Guys!

I'm safe! Got back into Uganda late Wednesday night and am back at my site. I have a LOT to share about the last 10 or so days, so...sorry in advance for how long this post is going to be. I've had a crazy week and a half but let's start from the beginning...

Egypt is absolutely gorgeous and is up on my list of my top vacations. The people are wonderful and are willing to help you out with just about anything. We were able to see everything we wanted to see before things got crazy and didn't run into any trouble until the end of the trip when we had to get back to Cairo/the airport. I ended up missing my entire India trip and seeing Dad, so bummed about that, but we were able to see an additional 2 countries after being evacuated!

Here's a (somewhat long) breakdown of the trip:

January 23 Sunday- Flew out of Uganda, arrived in Cairo around 2am and stayed at the wonderful Australian Hostel, where they even had free airport pick up

January 24 Monday- Woke up early to tour the pyramids and sphinx...on the back of a camel. I can't believe I saw the pyramids! They are even more spectacular than anything you see in textbooks. And yes, we probably spent a good 30 minutes doing various photo shoots and manipulating the pictures to look like we were holding the pyramids and to be uploaded soon. We had a fantastic driver arranged through the hostel who took us to the pyramids, on a papyrus tour, to eat local food called koshery (which is basically several different kinds of noodles all mixed up with a tomato based sauce, fried onion things, and this hot chile/lime dressing that you add on...DELICIOUS). Later that night we wandered the streets of Cairo for a bit and found a McDonald's. Not gonna lie, after a year+ without it, I indulged in a McFlurry and fries...totally worth it

January 25 Tuesday- woke up in the morning and hopped on bus to Mt. Sinai, we were the only women on bus and most of the passengers were Egyptian soldiers. It was definitely different. Driving through the Sinai peninsula I was able to see the Saharan desert, something I never thought I'd do. Again, pictures to be uploaded soon. When we finally got there (around 7pm), I was feeling a little sick (big surprise) so I turned in early.

January 26 Wednesday- We woke up at 2am and began our hike to see the surise on Mt. Sinai. I was feeling awful most of the way and had to keep stopping. Thank God there was an almost full moon, otherwise it would have been next to impossible to see where we were going. It was freezing cold and there was even snow along the way! When we got to the top, finally around 6am, it was more than worth it. I almost started crying because it was so beautiful. I was standing on top of Mt.Sinai in Egypt watching the sunrise! Not many people can say they've done that. After we hiked down we saw St. Catherine's monastery, home of the Burning Bush. Early that afternoon we took a car to Dehab, a city on the coast of the Red Sea. I just about ate my body weight in seafood, after going so long without it. It was fantastic! And so fresh, too!

January 27 Thursday- We went snorkeling in the Red Sea at Blue Hole, which was caused by a falling star. I'd never been snorkeling before, and it was a little intimidating at first, I didn't know what to do with my arms! After I got used the the breathing and started looking at the reef, it was so much fun! The fish were beautiful and it was awesome to be able to see them in their environment like that. We also got to watch some of the divers training and doing their free dives, that was pretty cool, too. We had seafood again for dinner (I honestly could have had it for breakfast and lunch as was that good!) and we could see th coast of Saudi Arabia from the beach. Later that night we played BINGO at the hotel bar and ended up winning more than 100 Egyptian pounds worth of free drinks. A few rounds of tequila later (that's right, tequila...something Uganda is lacking) and we went dancing. We heard American music which actually made me miss home, I'm so used to hearing Ugandan music when we go out here.

January 28 Friday- We started hearing news of the riots and the internet connection went down all over the country. We decided to stay another day in Dehab instead of heading back to Cairo early. We got in touch with Peace Corps and they advisedus to try and book a flight to get us to Cairo. This was the plan until we realized we couldn't book tickets without the internet. We decided to take a bus the next day and enjoy our time in Dehab. So we went to the beach! It was so gorgeous, the water was incredibly clear and we snorkeled a bit. We had one last night of seafood on the coast before packing our things up and getting ready to head back to Cairo the next morning

January 29 Saturday-We weren't able to get in touch with PC and the US embassy in Cairo is a joke...they never answered their phone. We took bus to Cairo and got in around 8pm, when it was already dark. At this point, the internet had been down a few days and Al Jazeer was turned off (the only English news station) so we really didn't have an idea of what the situation was. As we're driving through Cairo, there are civilians lining the streets with anything they can find as weapons...I mean anything: whips, chains, knives, meat cleavers, canes, 2x4s, machetes, a blow torch, gold club, anything they could get their hands on. They had the streets barricaded and we drove through this for about 2 hours before the bus was finally able to stop. Not gonna lie, it was pretty intimidating, especially since we hadn't heard any news updates. It turns out they were protecting the street from looters. Which, even though it was scary, I think is pretty cool. Egyptians are some of the nicest and more accommodating people I have ever met and I wish the best for them. SO we finally get to the bus station and by now there is a group of Egyptian men who have kind of taken us under their wings. They escort us off the bus, tell us to keep our bags close by, not to talk to people, sit down away from the gates, etc. They were fantastic and they were working so hard to find a way to get us out of the bus station (about 11 or so by now and our flight leaves at 2:30am). They said we might have to stay at the bus station and catch a flight out in the morning. Not an option for us. We finally get a taxi and the group of men insist on taking down the driver's number and license plate. Then they called us every 5 minutes on the way to the airport to make sure we were ok! The whole time we were driving the inside light was on so the people outside could see we were Americans. Even though they meant us no harm and we were waved through each barricade, I still held my breath for most of the car ride. We finally made it to the airport to see hundreds of people inside. All flights were cancelled, nothing was going out. We found our terminal and Ethiopian airlines was closed so we camped out on the floor that night, amidst everyone else stranded in Cairo.

January 30 Sunday- Renee and I woke up and decided to explore the airport to get more info, there was no food or water and as far as we could tell all flights were still cancelled. Now more and more people were stuck at the airport and there were looters out in the parking lots, and a few creepers hanging around. We managed to find some couches and staked those out all day, sleeping on the floor sucked and it was freezing! The airport was pure chaos by now. There were way more people than it could handle and it was difficult to navigate through all the suitcases and human traffic. At one point someone on the other side of the gate started screaming at the top of their lungs and all these people just mobbed toward them. It was kind of scary. By now we'd been in touch with PC and Washington trying to figure things out. Our flight was rescheduled for Tuesday at 2:30am...after already being rescheduled 3 times. We had no idea when we were going to get a flight out so we tried to get on any flight we could, the embassy in Washington just wanted us out. Then we heard there would be an 11pm flight on a different airline so we packed up and went to check it out. Nope, flight was cancelled and now we lost out sleeping spot. The British embassy workers were all over the airport but the US embassy was nowhere to be seen. The British embassy was incredibly helpful and let us use their phones to call Washington, who insisted the embassy was there. They also told us they were evacuating all Americans the next morning at 11am from terminal 4...except there was no terminal 4! It was night by now and we were all exhausted, we just wanted to get home. We spent another night at the airport after having candy from the duty free shop for dinner and giving in to drinking from the tap since bottled water had been sold out all day.

January 31 Monday- Arwen and Elizabeth found gate 4, which turned out to be what the embassy was referring to. We show up and there a USAID.embassy workers already there to be evacuated. They were so nice (many of them RPCVS) and gave us food and water, it was the first real meal we had in 2 days! We were told 3 planes were being sent to evacuate everyone to either Cyprus, Istanbul, or Athens. The USAID people even let us call our families and PC from their phones, so we were finally able to relax a little. We found out all of PC Washington, Africa, and Uganda had been trying to get in touch with us. We were kind of a big deal! We played speed scrabble with them and just hung out until our plane showed up. 6 hours later, after some overbooking confusion, we finally find out we're going to Athens and begin to go through security. By now there had to be thousands of people at hall 4. The embassy arranged for 3 planes, nowhere near enough to evacuate the people that continued to show up by the bus load! What was even better was that, we each had only one bag because we were backpacking around, people would ask if we could check their bags because everyone was only allowed one checked bag. Some people showed up with 3 large suitcases and their dogs! Thank God PC has taught me how to pack light! We finally get on our flight and get a meal on the plane, I don't think I've ever appreciated airplane food that much! We got to Athens about 8 and were greeted by the embassy there, who was absolutely fantastic. They insisted we were government workers and therefore would be put up in the 5 star Sofitel across the street from the airport...all on government's dime! Thank you, PC! Now, you can imagine 5 PC volunteer girls being put up in a 5 star hotel after conserving water for a year, bucket bathing, and using a pit latrine. We were in Heaven! There were feather top beds, the shower was the kind that rains from the ceiling, we each had a white fluffy robe and slippers, and there was a light blocker you could put over the window to keep the sunlight out in the morning...

February 1 Tuesday- ...we didn't wake up until 10! We ended up getting a free day in Athens, since out flight didn't leave until the next day. There was the most amazing breakfast at the hotel: buffet with fruit, cereals, breads, yogurt, veggies, eggs, SMOOTHIES, etc. Describing it doesn't give it justice, but after eating candy for 2 days at the airport it was one of the best meals I've ever had! We explored the city a bit and were able to see the Acropolis, the temple of Zeus, and the Dionysius theater. Then we stumbled onto this wine tasting and ended up buying 2 bottles of wine. We had a fantastic Greek dinner before heading back to the hotel to have our wine by the pool. Being evacuated isn't all that bad!

February 2 Wednesday- Amazing breakfast round 2 (this time I brought my purse...). We had a morning flight to Istanbul that arrived in the early afternoon, so we were able to get visas and head into Istanbul before our flight out. In 6 hours time we were able to see mosques, bazaars, and the Turkish culture. It was so much fun! We got back to the airport and got on our flight to Uganda.

February 3 Thursday- We got in around 3am and PC was waiting with a vehicle to take us to a hotel in Kampala. They also came to pick us up in the morning to bring us into the office. Everyone was so happy to see us, my Education Program Manager even started crying! Our Country Director, Ted, had us in his office for about 2 hours retelling the story. I realized how amazing my PC staff here is, they worked so hard to make sure we got back safely and they couldn't wait to see us when we did get back. They even dubbed us the "Cairo 5" and sent out mass text messages to all volunteers in country updating them on our status. Don't worry guys, I am very well taken care of over here.

And that's it! I made it back to site and everyone here was so relieved to see me. PC had been in contact with them as well, so they knew I was safe. My students haven't returned yet, so my term is going to be a bit delayed. I have lots of ideas for projects that I'm ready to jump into, and I'll be writing about those soon. Elections are in 2 weeks, so keep us in your prayers that everything will go on without unrest.

Thanks for all your messages and concern, it truly meant a lot to me. Sorry to make you guys worry but I had the vacation of a lifetime and even got to witness the beginnings of a revolution in Egpyt. Definitely a trip for the books.

Love you all,

Saturday, January 22, 2011


This is a few weeks overdue, but I really wanted to tell you guys about camp GLOW. GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World and this was a week long girls' empowerment camp for girls ages 13-15 from all over Uganda. It was held December 5-11, 2010 and 150 girls attended. This was the first time for Uganda to have camp GLOW and I am excited to continue it this upcoming year. I was fortunate enough to not only participate in the camp, but to be a camp counselor to a wonderful group of 7 girls. Here's the website so you guys can check it out (my picture is on the main page!)

Like I said, the camp was about a week long and each day had a different message:
Monday:"We GLOW with self esteem," was all about ways to build up and improve self esteem
Tuesday: "We GLOW when we work together," was about team building and the importance of team work
Wednesday: "We GLOW with good health," was about healthy living and habits
Thursday: "We GLOW with goals," was about how to plan for the future and make positive and reachable goals
Friday: "We GLOW as leaders of Uganda," was about how to spread and teach the lessons and messages of camp GLOW to other girls throughout Uganda

Each counselor had a Ugandan co-counselor so the girls could benefit from both the American and Ugandan perspective on the different topics. My co-counselor was Namusisi, the math tutor from my college. She was absolutely wonderful with the girls and was able to present information to them in a way that was easily relate-able. At our college, she works with me on my girls' club and does such a great job of answering difficult, and sometimes tricky questions, about sensitive topics like HIV/AIDS and sexual health. I was impressed at how excited and energetic she was throughout the week. There were a few hiccups along the way, but overall I was glad that I brought her with me.

Since there were so many girls, they were broken up into animal groups. My group was the chimpanzees. Each day 3 or 4 groups would move together to attend the different sessions. There would be a healthy living, GLOWing, arts and crafts, teamwork, and lifeskills session every day that would all go along with that day's message. Every counselor was responsible for teaching a topic. I taught about puberty and our changing bodies under healthy living on Tuesday. I started with an activity asking the girls to identify the different changes men and women go through during puberty, as well as the similar changes. For the most part, the girls understood these changes. Another Ugandan counselor taught about how to take care of your body during puberty. At first the girls were incredibly shy, which isn't that surprising coming from a culture that doesn't generally encourage women to voice their opinions. As the sessions went on, the girls began to open up and write down questions they wanted answered. I was asked everything from "Do I have safe days," to "If I bathe in cola, can I rid my body of HIV," to "What is masturbation." The girls were so thirsty for information!

Throughout the week it was such a wonderful experience to see the girls come out of their shells and become more and more comfortable talking during sessions, asking questions, voicing concerns, and readily contributing their opinions. I think camp GLOW has the potential to do amazing things for Uganda and, again, I'm so blessed to have been a part of it.

I could go into so much more detail, but the website really does a much better job. Here it is again... Please check it out and let me know what you think. The camp GLOW team did a wonderful job bringing camp GLOW to Uganda and I'm sure they would love your support and encouraging words. Thanks for reading!


PS-off to Egypt this upcoming week then meeting Dad in posts to follow!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My Families, Christmas, and the Like

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

The holidays this year were, needless to say, much different than any I've ever experienced. Being away from home during this time of year has been challenging but many of you know I was incredibly blessed to have a BIG part of home come to me for the holidays. Mom, Mar, and Ang made the very long journey to my side of the globe to not only see, but also experience how I’ve been living the last 10+ months.

Before I say anything else, I need to express how proud of them I am. They were troopers! From the beginning they were adamant about doing things the way I do them, which means public transport, budget hostels, local food, hand washing clothes, pit latrines, cooking on a seguri when your gas tank runs out, and the like. Absolutely freakin troopers! I’ve had the better part of a year to get used to this lifestyle and to adapt to it and these 3 just snapped right into it. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely bumps and snags along the way, but in the end I wouldn’t change any part of the experience I was able to share with them. They not only had a look into the Peace Corps lifestyle, they also experienced the challenges and struggles we face here in Uganda on a daily basis…but they had the extreme scenarios of just about everything. From 3 hour bus delays to hotel reservation screw ups and lost bookings to getting sick from malaria prophylaxis to being harassed and singled out and having to deal with communication break downs, I need to once again commend the strength of these 3 incredibly marvelous women. Let’s just say that anything that could have possibly gone wrong did, and my family handled every single thing with EASE! You guys rock and I hope you took as much from these last few weeks as I have. I love you all!

I can’t even begin to explain what it meant to have my family with me for Christmas. After living here for a while I feel pretty confident in saying that I have 3 solid families. I have my family from America, my PC family, and my family here in my community. I was fortunate enough to celebrate Christmas with all 3 of my families this year. I opened my home up to other PCVs who made the trek across Uganda so we could all be together. My community family was beyond generous when welcoming not only my visitors from the states, but my PC visitors as well. People came to the house to greet my family, they brought jack fruit and bananas. We got cabbages and vegetables from one of the tutors at my college. I took my Mom and siters in town to meet my "vegetable lady." This little old lady is the cutest and sweetest Ugandan woman I've met. When she saw me walking towards her with my family she left from behind her stand and came to give not only me, but each member of my family the biggest hug I've seen a Ugandan give. To top it all off, she gave us "bonus," which means free vegetables, but in this case I'm pretty sure she gave us more free veggies than what we actually bought. Brother Lawrence organized an English mass for us on Christmas morning that was actually run on “American Time” and lasted an hour where we read the readings and picked the songs we wanted to hear. Brother also went out of his way to organize and arrange transport for the 13 of us making the trip down to Lake Bunyonyi for New Years. That man is such a blessing and is one of my best friends here. I think it meant more to me for everyone else to see how much I value my connections to my community and to see the relationships that I’ve made this past year. It’s one thing to explain how you integrate into your community to others, but when they are able to actually experience it, it’s absolutely priceless. Thanks to all who contributed to making a very memorable Christmas. You guys are fantastic and I wouldn’t be here without any of you.

On a side note having family come to see me really made me reflect on how I’ve changed. They went outside of their element into mine where I was forced to take the parental role. It was definitely difficult and probably one of the more challenging things that I’ve done here so far. There were some things I probably could have handled better but I feel like they got a genuine taste of the things I go through living here and the ways I cope with certain challenges. One of the more difficult things was hearing myself described as “hardened, intense, and frustrating.” That was a bit of a wakeup call, but looking back those descriptions are absolutely dead on. I have changed and the changes that I’ve made have been necessary to my survival here. Don’t worry guys, I’m still the same old Ashley, just a bit…modified.

If you get a chance, talk to my family and get their take on things to have both sides of the beautiful and memorable picture that was December 2010. Thanks for taking the time to come and spend it in a third world country. I miss you guys already!