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


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Monday, January 16, 2012

The Power of "Glee"

Since being back at site I haven't really had much work to do. The term doesn't begin for another few weeks and most of the tutors are away at a workshop. I've been spending a lot of time with Fina, the college secretary. I nominated her for a counselor position at camp GLOW and since then her and I have gotten really close. She's educated, progressive, and has a sense of humor. I really enjoy spending time with her.

The past week we started watching Glee together. Some of you know homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and has even been punished by death. It's a very sensitive topic and one I try to avoid discussing with Ugandans. I'm pretty close to Fina and gave her a disclaimer before we started watching it. She assured me it was fine and that she'd have no problem.

I have to be honest, I wish I would have watched it with her a long time ago. I never would have thought watching an American TV program, much less Glee, with a Ugandan would be such a cross-cultural educational tool. I wouldn't recommend doing it with someone you don't trust or don't know very well but it's really opened doors to a plethora of topics we've never discussed.

Since watching Glee we've talked about homosexuality, body image and crash diets, parents talking to kids about dating, adoption, dating someone without having sex, marriage and fidelity, cheerleaders, divorce, learning disorders, down syndrome, wheelchairs, bullying, crying in public, and explaining artists like Lady Gaga and Kiss.

Fina's old perception of what it means to be gay was taken from the style channel. You should know that not many Ugandans, hardly any, have access to the style channel and this fact alone says a lot about Fina and her level of education. Even though I consider her to be a very educated Ugandan, she is also very ignorant. She thought that all gay men wear makeup and style hair. Can you blame her? If I lived in a country that refused to acknowledge the existence of homosexuality and the only exposure I got was the style channel, I might have similar beliefs. We had a really open and honest discussion about relationships and physical/emotional attraction. She asked if a man can be gay even though he doesn't have a boyfriend and she couldn't really grasp the concept. I asked her if she broke up with her boyfriend would she still be straight. She started to understand a bit more then.

I was surprised at the amount of genuine curiosity she had. She's 25 years old and is pursuing an advanced secretarial degree which requires her to spend a lot of time in the capital. I guess I've really taken for granted the importance of asking questions in America. We're taught from elementary school and before that if you don't understand something you ask questions.

Homosexuality wasn't the only topic we discussed. Another one I really enjoyed was explaining how Americans tend to be a bit more free with their emotions. I've had some pretty rough days over my past 2 years spent here and I've learned that Ugandans hate seeing me cry. It makes them so uncomfortable! I found out that they hide their emotions because they don't want their enemies to see them cry because then they will get joy out of it...or something to that degree. I explained that in America it's common for me to talk about how you feel, with friends and family especially.

Be it explaining why the men of Kiss wear makeup on their faces and have long hair, even though they're men, or how if you get pregnant in America you can still continue your studies, Glee has been an invaluable tool in opening the lines of communication on tricky and culturally sensitive topics. Who would have thought?

Holidays 2011

This Christmas/New Year's was one of the most unique and memorable holidays I've ever had. I traveled overland from Kampala to Dar es Salaam with 4 other PCVs, the "Fab 5" (Matt, Dave, Charlene, and Lisa). We eventually met up with a bigger group of PCVs on Zanzibar Island to celebrate New Year's together. As stunning as Zanzibar was, and it was absolutely breathtaking, I really enjoyed and appreciated my time in Dar.

After living in Uganda for close to 2 years, it doesn't take a lot to impress me. Don't get me wrong, I love it here...but it's not always easy. The capital is filthy, harassment is an every day occurrence, you have to bargain like mad just to buy a head of cabbage in the market, you always assume people are ripping you off. It can be wearing. I was so ready for a vacation (especially after being evacuated from my last 2...) but I also didn't have terribly high expectations. We were traveling by bus most of the way to get there, and it's still Africa, right? Wrong.

Yes the traveling wasn't ideal. It was even less than ideal when we found out the train wasn't working due to flooding in Dar and that we'd have to take an even longer bus to get there. Honestly, we were so excited to be on vacation that the traveling didn't really get to us...until the last day...when it took us 4 hours to travel less than 100km. By then we were more than ready to get off that damn bus! We endured hours of speed bumps that didn't even make a blip on our driver's radar. It was kind of fun at first, especially since we were at the back of the bus. But by about the 2nd or 3rd hour, when we were trying to nap a bit, it wasn't fun anymore, especially since we were at the back of the bus. The driver didn't even pretend to slow down over the bumps. In fact, I'm pretty sure he accelerated before going over them! It was so bad that other passengers were complaining to the patrol officer when he pulled us over...for going to fast. That was a first for me. Combine this with sitting behind a speaker (the only speaker on the bus) blaring Bollywood music for hours on end and you can maybe begin to get a glimpse of just how uncomfortable this bus ride was.

Fast forward to Dar, Christmas Eve. It was our first time being in a place for more than a night and we were more than ready to relax and really let our vacation begin. The streets were clean, the roads were marked and posted with street signs, boda bodas weren't allowed in the city center, the people were friendly, all the buildings and shops had signs. It was organized! And did I mention clean? I was in love. We checked into our hotel and explored the town a bit before finding ourselves on the rooftop bar/restaurant of the Holiday Inn. I don't think I'll ever be able to capture in words just how special this night was to me. It was my first time spending Christmas without family and here I was, in Africa, sitting on the rooftop smoking shisha, just enjoying the company of those around me and thankful to have finally showered. I was so happy! It got even better when Matt's dad called him and read "The Night Before Christmas" over the phone to us. Being able to glimpse into someone else's tradition was an amazing feeling. I almost started crying not because I was sad to be missing Christmas with my family but because I was so happy to be spending Christmas with my family, my Peace Corps family. It was such a surreal experience and one that I will always cherish.

Christmas day we took a ferry to Kigamboni and spent the day on Kipepeo beach. First Christmas ever where I drank out of a coconut and barely wore anything other than my swim suit the entire day. We took advantage of the absurdity of our celebrating and had a photo shoot. The Christmas tree is courtesy of Dave's grandma and it survived the transit from KLA to Dar. We took the ferry back to mainland and decided to check out the fish market for dinner. It was closed but some of the street vendors were cooking FRESH octopus, squid, and fish and there was a man making chapati which meant only one thing...FISH TACOS! We stuffed our faces. You may be sketched out at the idea of buying and eating fish cooked at the side of the road by a group of men that barely understand English, but we were ecstatic! You can't get decent seafood in Uganda! One of the best parts was when Lisa, Charlene and I sat with a group of men and greeted them with out limited Kiswahili. They men were so excited to share a meal with us they gave us half of their fish. I have no idea what kind of fish it was but it was fantastic. My Christmas dinner consisted of octopus tacos and fish that I ate with my bare hands. After dinner we cleaned up and found a club to go dancing. The cover was a bit steep (we were still used to being in Peace Corps mode at this point, which means being painfully cheap) but we decided to pay it anyway and enjoy ourselves. We danced until close to 3 in the morning. Another first for me: dancing to a Christmas carol at the club.

We spent Boxing day in Dar and then left for Stone Town on the 27th. On Boxing day we were able to go to the fish market. BEST LUNCH OF MY LIFE. We picked out fresh from the sea, just caught snapper, squid, crab, scallops, etc. At one point we didn't even want fish but the the men dropped the prices so low we couldn't turn them down. I've never had such fresh seafood before. I already miss it. Below are the before and after pictures.

We met a few different groups of Peace Corps volunteers from Zambia and Namibia. It was really refreshing to see how we automatically have this unspoken bond and friendship with each other. I've never experienced something like that in America and it makes me excited to meet returned PCVs when I come home. We did a spice tour in Stone Town and I learned all about cinnamon, vanilla, pepper, nutmeg, etc. It was actually really educational.

We left for the beach on the 29th and stayed in Bwejuu until the 4th, when we flew back to Uganda. Honestly most of the days blurred together. It was a whole lot of being lazy, lounging on the beach, taking naps, swimming, and hanging out. Matt introduced us to "Zanziball," the beach form of Bocce ball and everyone spent a lot of time playing that. The tide had really extreme highs and lows and we could only swim during the high tide. We went snorkeling and kayaking on the ocean. I got my first ever massage. It was truly what I needed...a relaxing vacation.

Here I am back in Uganda and starting to think about what comes next. For the longest time I didn't have to think about COS (close of service) until after GLOW, until after Zanzibar. Now it's after GLOW and Zanzibar.

I'm here finishing up projects until the end of March when I leave for 6 weeks in Thailand for one last adventure before coming home. Then I'll be back in May. Get ready for it!

Camp GLOW 2011

I've been terrible about giving consistent updates. So sorry. Yes I did have malaria. Yes it was awful and I got pretty sick and lost a bit of weight from it. Yes I do think it's kind of cool to be able to tell people that I had malaria while living in Africa but YES I AM TAKING MY MEDICINE and have no intention of getting it again before I leave.

Onto more exciting things...

Camp GLOW was a HUGE success! I feel even more proud of it's success this year than I did last year. I think it may have something to do with the fact that I was one of the co-directors. Bottom line: Alyssa and I killed it. We overcame every obstacle thrown our way (and there were a lot!) and managed to put together a week long camp that not only changed the girls' lives, but impacted the women and PCVs involved as well as my own life too. This camp has such a positive message and I can't help but get giddy when I talk about it. It's definitely one of the best things I have been involved in during my time here and it's been one of the most gratifying.

The set up was pretty much the same as last year, with a few minor scheduling changes to make it feel more like a summer camp and take some of the emphasis away from classroom learning. If you want a more detailed break down check out the website Fellow PCV Tony worked really hard getting everything together and a special thanks to our media crew (Dave, Tony, Stevie) for all the awesome pictures!

I want to give a few of my personal highlights from the week:

-checking in girls during the registration on the first day and having them remember me from an AFRIpads presentation I gave at their school

-not being called madame and just being and equal with all the girls and women involved

-the camp GLOW song. I rewrote the words to Shakira's "Waka Waka" and I can't even explain how amazing it felt hearing all the girls and counselors (and male staff!) sing in unison when we welcomed the boys from camp BUILD during our field day

-being told we set the bar high for next year's camp

-giving the AFRIpads presentation, passing out a donated kit to each girl, and watching them get excited for Judith, a tailor from AFRIpads, to give her motivational presentation

-hearing the group cheers

-a group of girls returning a 50 shilling piece (less than 10 cents) they found in their bags and realized didn't belong to them (we had a small issue with money missing during the week...)

-watching the counselors bond with their girls

-the sense of teamwork that developed as the week went on

-doing the Cupid Shuffle with all the staff and counselors during our talent show

-having girls come up to me to personally thank me for all the work we put into planning the camp

-getting a beer at 11am after all the girls left on the last day of camp. Tony bought our first round and then gave a toast saying how working at GLOW was something he'd been really looking forward to. Our staff was really phenomenal.