Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Birds, The Bees, and The Aunt

Nicholas is Back!

To describe it in a word: overwhelming. Breathtaking. Miraculous. Joyful. Nicholas paid us a visit this week at the Compassion Center with his grandfather. And to see him walking around and smiling from ear to ear was… overwhelming! It brought a tear to my eye even. Nicholas was one of the children we believed had HIV. He has a really special place in my heart too. He had been tested positive for HIV before I arrived. Shortly after my arrival I was sent to Kampala to the Mulago Hospital there to visit him. I would always try to stock up on some sweets or stickers before I would go to visit. A hospital visit in a 3rd world country is an experience in and of itself. Blood on the walls. People tending to their sick family members and sleeping under the patients’ bed or on the lawn. Few doctors. Nurses who just stand around or spend more time cleaning than tending to patience. Anyway, Nicolas was in the hospital because he had lost his balance. It was the strangest thing. He couldn’t walk, stand, or even sit up without completely losing his balance and crashing to the ground. It was like this strange, drunken state he was in. The doctors had done a variety of tests and thought of a number of possibilities ranging from a neurological disorder to an ear infection. In conclusion they really didn’t know what was the problem other than the HIV or the ARVs had somehow caused this. Both of Nicholas’ parents died from AIDS. After some time they decided to re-test Nicholas only to find that he DIDN’T have HIV, that the original test was faulty and that he may improve completely if he were taken off the ARV drugs. These faulty tests have reeked havoc on all of us here as we are now trying to sort out who does and who does not have HIV. Right now we are down to only 8 kids testing positive, down from what was 49. So here we are, around 6 weeks after Nicholas has been off the medicine and he is once again a healthy, happy boy and it’s truly a joy and blessing to see. One of those moments where you can’t help but say a ‘Thank You’ prayer to Jesus.

The Birds, The Bees, and The Aunt

For those of you contemplating getting married, consider this: in Uganda it’s not uncommon for the Aunt of the Bride to spend the first night of marriage with the couple to ensure they are ‘doing things right.’ Yup, you read that correctly. It’s a cultural thing for the Aunt to give the ‘sex talk’ to the teenaged girls here and for the Uncle to give the talk to the boys. And on the wedding night the Aunt might sleep under the bed or somewhere in the room to observe. Now this might be practiced more deep in the village, but it definitely goes on. Also, if a couple is having problems or experiencing pain then the Aunt is again called to intervene… Can…you…imagine.

The Peace Corps Dating Scene

A few of you have asked what it’s like in the ‘interpersonal relationship’ world of the Peace Corps. How do you cope with being single for 2 years, etc. The fact of the matter is that the Peace Corps dating scene is alive and kicking. First of all there are around 60 PCVs serving in Uganda. We’re all roughly in our mid 20s and we all, to a great extent, have similar passion for serving people. We’ve all given up something to be here, we’ve gone through such a similar experience that only a PCV can fully understand so we, on several levels, have a deep connection to one another and it’s easy to see that a spark of romance can easily flare up. Throw in the fact that most of us are somewhat lonely at our sites, longing for someone to talk to who understands what it’s like to be missing Pizza, Cheeseburgers and Lost episodes. So we frequently travel and visit each other or get together for group hangout sessions.

It also, so happens, that people will date a local, a Ugandan. I remember one of our trainers at staging telling us, “You say you aren’t attracted to Ugandans… give it 6 months.” And he was right. You become attracted people and the barriers that you had previously had up sort of melt away. I’ve talked to returned PCVs who had boyfriends/girlfriends who were locals and I know current PCVs in Uganda who are dating locals. The PC makes it a point to show a very intense video of 5 former volunteers who contracted HIV from their local boyfriends/girlfriends. The PC also provides you with enough condoms to ‘build a raft’ and encourages you to have yourself and your partner tested for HIV before becoming sexually active. The fact is that 2 years is a long time to go without a relationship. I can really only speak for myself, but I believe that most of us prepared for being here by preparing to be without a relationship for 2 years but we’re finding that those relationships somehow found us. As for me… sorry, I don’t kiss and tell J

The Money Experiment

OK…so that lasted about a day. I was more worried about having anything to feed the cat than anything (yes, that is the best excuse I can come up with… I’m an animal lover for crying out loud!). I just figured, why suffer when I can borrow money and go into debt. That is, after all, the American Dream, isn’t it? So I started running a tab a the local restaurant and I borrowed some money from a friend. So, I lost. I quit. I am a quitter and a loser. And this is the worst part… do you know what I bought with this borrowed money? Chocolate. And not even real, American chocolate. No, it’s this watered down African chocolate which shouldn’t even be permitted to be called chocolate. So there… So much for living a life of self depravity while living in the peace corps. Just give me back my VISA card, OK? Sheesh!

Hope

Lastly, I was talking to Jennifer Wetter who gave me my kitten, Akamogo, and we were talking about what some of the differences were between Uganda and America (and believe me that could have been a week long conversation). She proceeded to get into the matter that one of the big differences between life here in Africa and back home boils down to one major topic: hope. There’s a line in one of my favorite movies that says, “Dreams are what make life tolerable” (Rudy). And from Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and a good thing never dies.” I quit teaching after 2 years. I was burnt out completely. I didn’t want to teach again…ever. I had this 4 year degree which I wasn’t going to ever use again, but because I live in America, ‘The Land of Opportunity’ it wasn’t a problem. Within a short time I had a decent job, good hours, benefits, etc. The transition was smooth. 9 months later I again changed jobs, making quite a bit more than I was making by teaching. It was easy to change jobs. I was doing more than changing jobs, I was changing careers at that. But here, there’s no hope. There’s no future, no ‘Land of Opportunity’. If it’s in the cards for you to load your bicycle with green bananas and push that bike into town 3 times a day and sell those bananas, then that’s what you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life to support your family of 10 kids. There’s no bank that’s going to give you a loan. They don’t have any sitcoms to talk about over the water cooler at work tomorrow. They spent the day digging in the garden they use for sustenance for mere survival, eating the food they grow off the land. Their hope is a day to day hope. Maybe that’s why they seem to have such a deep faith in God, believing that He is truly the giver of everything they have. They are truly thankful to have been given another day of life, another plate of food.

That’s all for this week. Thank you for the emails and cards! Birthday wishes to Mark N, Mila and to Henry! My 2 fantasy football teams split this week, winning 1, losing 1. Not bad considering both my #1s were on a bye week (if you understood that last sentence, then congrats, you’re in the loop). And the Colts improved to 3-0!! Rock On!! Go Horse!

2 Comments:

At 28 September, 2006, Anonymous Jennifer Noble said...

Wow. I have 12 aunts. I'm so glad I don't live there.

 
At 08 October, 2006, Blogger NanettePC said...

Brian -
Your description of the difference between Africa and America being hope is so good. I asked my host brother the other morning if he would go to America one day and he looked at me as if I were crazy and shook his head no. Then I asked him if he wanted to and he looked at me as if I were crazy and shook his head yes. People do what they have to do here and rely very much on God to provide. I often wonder who should be envious of whom... Thank you for sharing.

Nanette

 

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