Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My 1st Week

So after being at site for 1 week, what have I learned? That I spent more money on my lunch the other day, $2.50, than I pd the lady who does my laundry ($1). The harsh reality of it is that she probably won’t find any additional work for the day and she saves what she can to pay her daughter’s school fees. (one of her daughters is in the Compassion program and her fees are taken care of through that) I’ve watched 3 movies in 1 week and written zero letters and spent no time studying language (ok, so maybe an hour on language, but that’s like spending an hour a week training for a marathon!). Meaning…I’m starting early developing some bad habits and doing that ‘guy thing’ when i get home and trying to use only 5% of my brain while searching for an escape instead of working on some important stuff! My Peace Corps experience will be shared almost entirely with Jacob who has been assigned to work with an NGO in the same town. We’ve become fast friends and he’s already helped me with learning language (he’s got a mind for language like a steel trap!) and he’s a superb guitarist, so now that we both have guitars I’m going to use him like Payton Manning uses fake audibles. That is to say… a lot! Everyone knows Bruno! And there’s 2 that are around. The one that everyone knows, (seriously, people just come up to us and say, “Do you guys know Bruno?”) who is this super likeable French guy working nearby, and then there’s Bruno who is a near-midget who works at the Sky Blue Restaurant and Hotel. Bruno (#2) is awesome! He’s maybe in his early 20’s and he always greets us with a smile and he never asks for money (a rarity among the locals we’ve found). He has this “Chris Monroe” quality, and for those of you who don’t know Chris, he was this neighborhood kid who always came over to our house to play, was overly-super nice, even when we really didn’t give him the time of day because he was just always around and wouldn’t leave, but to be honest, was probably one of our better friends because he was always there if we didn’t have anyone else to play with. Through our interactions with Bruno, we’ve found out that he’s saving his money to take a trip to a local lake for a mini-vacation. Now get this, he works at this hotel/restaurant as a waiter from 7am till 10pm (now granted, they have very few guests that eat there), now he does get free room and board there, and by board I mean posho (corn meal) and beans, a common meal for peasants, and for his toils he makes $0.50 a day! That’s right, fifty cents! It’s not customary to tip in Uganda after a meal in case you’re wondering. So Jacob and I try to tip well on our volunteer salary (a clear oxy-moron). So we’re planning on taking Bruno (#2) to that lake and paying for his trip (which won’t be much $$). People love it when you greet them in their local language. Even if you don’t know much, to greet them makes them smile and laugh and seems to drop their guard and welcome you to their world. They go from staring (a common practice for Africans) to sharing in 7.2 seconds. I traveled 50km (32 miles) on probably the best road in Uganda to Rukungiri in a taxi to visit a PCV named Jenna and to get her bike from her, which she hadn’t ridden in the 2 years she’s been here. Riding a bike that hasn’t been ridden in 2 years is an adventure in itself. Problems are bound to occur. The bike is a small girls bike. I rode it the 50km back, in part because I’m cheap and in part for the adventure. Both tires were flat so I had to walk the bike a mile to a gas station. Along the way home the pedal worked its way lose and had to be tightened every km. I stopped 2x at bike mechanics. (there are several in every town because EVERYBODY rides a bike here, at least all the men do. Women don’t pedal them but they ride on the back) Only a few of the gears worked, which I didn’t know when I started. This area is called Little Switzerland because of the hills (think Sound of Music) and as I was biking faster than a speeding bullet down these hills I was PRAYING that this bike, which literally was covered with dust and cobwebs, would hold together. Biking through these towns as a white man would be like a clown on a circus ball going through your town. Everywhere I went I greeted people in the local language and they laughed and clapped. If I stopped a crowd would gather and they would ask where I’m from, why I’m here and where I’m going, shocked that I was riding so far. As I was passing through one town in which I didn’t stop I greeted people on the edge of town and before I reached the end of town I could hear them saying “He knows Runyankore!” It had reached the other end of town before I could even bike there! Amazing! Life in Uganda is difficult. People work very, very hard for very, very little. Some people do live ‘comfortably’, but very many struggle for work, food, and peace. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be. This is going to be a tough, tough thing and this week I’ve felt ‘down’ at times (see above for how many movies I’ve watched. One of my classic escapes…) but I’d rather be feeling ‘down’ here than working some dead end job back home! This peace corps thing is supposed to be this big adventure, but at times I forget I’m so far away because life is still life, the scenery and the people change, but it still turns into ‘your world’ if that even makes sense. My first attempt at cooking was a near catastrophe! I attempted to make chapattis (like tortillas) and it turned out more like burnt cauliflower. Thanks goes out to Nanette for her timely care package, which included ketchup that I doused over the concoction to make it somewhat edible. Men hold hands. All the time! They’re not homosexual, they’re just friends, and it’s the funniest, most awkward thing to see. They’ll even be 3 or 4 of them walking and holding hands. Purely friendly affection, but freaky strange to me! There are ‘white’ Africans!??!!! Not Americans or Europeans who live here, but Africans who don’t have any pigment in their skin or hair. They look like white people but they have African features, born of Africans! White skin, blonde hair (unless they’ve dyed it). It’s the freakiest thing and nearly impossible not to stare! You can tell in a moment if you see them. I’ve seen 2 so far but none in town. They typically have shorter life spans and they are called ‘Muzungu’ just like us other white folk! Google it and see what you come up with… I’m curious! That’s about it! Well, there’s a ton more but I’m sure this is enough for now. I just did finish my ‘Work Plan/Job Description” so I’ll include it at the bottom. Just a Thanks if you are actually reading this stuff! Please, please, please feel free to post a reply or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear thoughts, questions, stories, whatever. Email me if you’d prefer! Trust me, I’m not too busy here to read and reply to email! (and snail mail is even better!) Mom, Dad, Fam and Friends: Love you all, think of you often and miss you like crazy! Work Plan The following is a general work plan/job description for Brian Dunn, a Peace Corps Volunteer working with Ankole Diocese in Ntungamo town for the next 2 years (May ‘06 – May ‘08). The following plan includes generalized projects and goals but is not an exhaustive list. Inevitably, there may be additional work-project opportunities not yet foreseen. The first goal is to work directly with Compassion International (Child Development Center) and their staff at Kyamate. Areas of work will include teaching the OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) about HIV/AIDS information and prevention techniques, general health and nutrition, physical fitness and personal hygiene. Home visits will be conducted on a quarterly basis to perform a needs assessment of the OVC’s caregivers and general living conditions as well as to address any specific needs they may have. Extra time is to be spent with those children who have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in order to build positive relationships and to try to build higher self-esteem. The second goal is to work with Kyamate Secondary School in order to further develop their Drama/Music program. More specifically, to create programs to present to the community that deal with current health issues such as HIV/AIDS, sugar daddies/sugar mommies, malaria, etc. In conjunction with the dramas, videos will be shown when possible and discussion opportunities will be facilitated. In addition, assistance will be given towards education in subjects such as English, mathematics and science in after school tutoring programs. Also, the game Ultimate Frisbee will be introduced to Kyamate Secondary School and surrounding secondary schools to promote physical fitness, teamwork, and leadership with a tournament established and prizes awarded to the best team. Each meeting with the teams/schools will present education opportunities about HIV/AIDS. The ultimate goal of each of these programs is relevance and sustainability. Programs are kept relevant through feedback from community leaders, religious leaders, students, and community members. Sustainability is achieved through the involvement of community members to develop and organize events and programs. Future projects might include: Organizing a 10k running race or a 20k duathlon (run/bike) Developing lessons/drama programs for Kyamate Primary School on HIV/AIDS, health, nutrition, etc. Developing discussions/drama programs for the general community on HIV/AIDS, health, nutrition, etc. Grant writing for project funding

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Compassion International

Sorry, it's been a while... a lot has happened. First off, for the next 2 years I'll be living and working in a village called Ntungamo (n-TOO-ngah-moe) and working for an well known organization called Compassion International. It's a Christian organization that works with OVCs (Orphans and Vulnerable Children - the latest 'buzz word' for organizations to claim to work with) One day a week (Saturday) nearly 300 orphans of various ages from 4-16 spend the day learning about AIDS, personal hygiene, nutrition, physical fitness, etc. They get a decent meal and they get some medical treatment. In addtion, they get tested for AIDS along with their care givers, they recieve mosquito nets (Malaria is a bigger problem in Africa than AIDS believe it or not...), shoes, clothing, medical treatment and transportation to hospitals if necessary, and ARVs (drugs provided by the government to help slow the AIDS virus and build up immunities). 49 of the children have HIV/AIDS and of those 14 are taking ARVs (the others are not to that 'critical' stage yet) There are 4 full time staff (including me) the director who is my age was a former Compassion Child himself. Compassion even paid for his University Education and now he feels like it's his to give back to compassion. All but 3 of the children currently have sponsors, most of which come from the US but a few come from Canada, Australia, etc. There are 136 Compassion 'projects' throughout Uganda and occasionally the sponsor will come and visit the child they are sponsoring. I think it costs about $15 a month to sponsor a child, but check the website for more info. OK, that's my NGO i'm working primarily with. My housing is pretty good. I have a room, much like a studio apartment. It has a bathing area inside (a luxury) which i call solitary confinement. I also have a 'sit-down' pit latrine!! Imagine a concrete bucket turned upside down with a tiolet seat on it... hey! It's better than squatting over a hole!! The 'apartment' is in an office for the church right next door, but it seems pretty quiet. there is a small office, a sitting room/multipurpose room and a spare bedroom and storage room also inside the building. Which is cool because the other housing they offered me was like a duplex where i'd be sharing a house w/ 2-3 other. I'd have my own private space, but to be able to listen to my music and not feel like i'm disturbing others is a necessity for me. Another plus, Ntungamo has power almost all the time!!! In Luweero it's on and off every other day, but I guess Uganda sells it's Hydro power to Rwanda THROUGH Ntungamo, so it has steady power!!! Bonus!!! Some fellow volunteers don't even have power in their villages!!! Ntungamo is in the West, which means it's HILLY!! My house sits on top of a hill and overlooks the town. I've already hiked up one hill which we (another PCV named Jacob is also stationed in Ntungamo) named 'Marcus' after a fellow PCV. We are planning on naming all of the mountains surrounding us, but only after people who come to visit us!! It's all part of our evil plan. And they'll come too because I brought the Laptop which means I have MOVIES!!! Apparently there are MANY pirated movies where people take video cameras into theaters and then sell the movies cheap... so movies are available here... The bad part is there is no Internet there. So i'll have to travel over an hour to make posts. I did inquire to getting internet through my laptop then my cell phone but it's about $200 for the modem and then they charge by the Kbps of data exchanged, so I don't think i'll go that route. First thing tomorrow morning we are leaving Luweero for Kampala. Then on Wednesday we will officially be sworn in as PCVs!! We are even having a pool party at the Ambassador's house!! well, i'd better wrap up. I get on the internet in this lady's house in a town about 15 minutes away in a crowded bus-taxi (by crowded I mean it seats 15 people and it's not uncommon to have 20+ in it... Nathan even had 26 in his, plus a matress and 3 bags of cabbage!!). She is a headmaster at a local secondary school (high school) and she lets people use the internet for about $1 per hour. There's a guy waiting here to use the internt. I'll try to post when I'm in Kampala, so stay tuned. If you have any quesitons at all, feel free to email them to me! I'd love to hear from you!!