Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hi Mom(s)

Hi Mom(s)

I need to keep this relatively short this week, but I still want to keep up with my weekly updates. First off let me say hi to all of the Moms who are reading this. Got together with the gang from the SW part of Uganda and several of them upon seeing me said, “Hey! My mom is reading your blog and looking at the pictures.” Several meaning more than one. So I just wanted to say Hi to all of the Moms from all of us! We love you and miss you (and keep those care packages coming! It keeps us from that fine line of going insane here sometimes!)


It was great to see everyone in Mbarara. Genia was recently back from a wedding she attended back in the states. We all sat in a room and listened to Stoops for what seemed like hours quote lines from Saturday Night Live. I laughed so hard I cried! Getting together is therapeutic. Sharing problems, experiences and stories. We don’t even have to have anything big planned, just sitting around talking and eating ‘Muzungu food’.


We’re preparing to be audited at Compassion any day now. This is what keeps us doing what we’re supposed to be doing: the fear of being graded. I’ve found that they had been forging some of the home visits before I arrived only to pass the audits. The home visits, in my opinion, are one of the most important aspects of it. This gives us a chance to actually see what the kids’ homes are like. When they come to Compassion once a week, they look nice. They have clean uniforms and haircuts and shined shoes. They all look the same, but when you see their home… different story entirely. You find that they’re struggling every day, eating the small amounts of food they have, living off of poor land, renting poor accommodations, needing a kitchen, house for their goats, etc. It’s difficult and strenuous work to spend the entire day in the field, but it allows you to indentify who really is needy and can’t make it on their own.


I biked to Rwanda today. It was about 30 miles there. Didn’t really plan on it, it just happened. Usually I take my GPS when I bike but I’ve loaned it to another PCV to use at his site for a water project. The GPS would have told me how near I was to Rwanda. It was fun biking with my new iPod that Genia brought back with her from America. I couldn’t hear people whistling at me and calling me Muzungu, which I’m convinced is much, much worse here at my site than it is in other villages. When I reached I realized that I didn’t have my passport so I couldn’t cross the border (not that there’s fence around Rwanda but there was a gate at the border). I did eat lunch at the Sky Blue there at the border (we have a Sky Blue in Ntungamo that we eat at several times a week). I also took my new camera and took a lot of pictures. That was kind of my point of traveling in the first place. It’s really fun to travel around here now that I know much more Runyankore/Rukiga. I can actually have conversations with people and I understand what they’re saying. They’re simple conversations: where are you from, where are you going, where do you work, what’s your name. But I know it and just the fact that I know some makes a huge difference. I greet people as I pass and I tell the women who are digging “Webale kuhinga” (thanks for digging) and they just laugh and wave back. It’s fun.


We’re thinking of having Thanksgiving here in Ntungamo. At least for a few people in the southwest. We have good accommodations, power all the time, a nice restaurant, all of the things I’ve been talking about since I arrived, so we’ve been able to con a few of the people who live in the area to come for the feast. We’re going to try to have a turkey, mashed potatoes and whatever else we can come up with. We’re also hoping to throw the football around and maybe even watch some football if they tape delay it. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

That’s about it. Health is good. Money is holding out. Running is going well. Kampala marathon is in 3 weeks and biking 60 miles today (in six hours) obviously helped training. By the way Moms, all the kids seemed to be in good spirits and looked healthy…

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

About Jacob and Being Called Muzungu part II

Being called ‘Muzungu!’ part II

I think I may have finally found a compromise. After being here in Uganda for almost 8 months now I think I may have stumbled upon a ‘cure for what ails me’.

Several weeks ago I wrote exclusively about what it’s like to be a Muzungu (white person) living in Uganda. Believe me I could write another entire blog about the subject. My newest analogy is to being a lion in a zoo. We’ve all been to the zoo. Usually when you get to the lions cage the lion is there but he’s asleep, so what do you do? And don’t tell me that you don’t do this. You clap. You whistle. You make noises to try to stir the lion. You want action, you want a ‘show’. You would throw something near the lion except for the fact that there are signs posted prohibiting it as well as zoo workers standing nearby. All you want the lion to do is to look at you, to acknowledge that you’re there and that it’s a real lion, which you know because you see the twitching of it’s tail.

So it goes as a white Peace Corps volunteer living in an all black village in Uganda. Jacob and I were walking down the street just outside of town about 1km from where we live when I suddenly stopped in the middle of the street and began counting the pair of eyes that were looking at us at that moment…I stopped counting around 50! At any given moment there are 50 people just staring at us. If we’re passing someone who is walking towards us they’ll stop in their tracks and stare and then turn around and keep staring as we pass…and we’ve lived here for 8 months now, greeted most people in their local language. Even if we were to live here for years and spoke perfect Runyankore we would still never shake the ‘Muzungu’ title and incessant name calling and yelling that we receive daily. It’s mostly by the men and children. When the children do it I have no problems. They’re just curious and when you wave they jump and laugh and turn around to continue to play, just happy that you acknowledged them, but when the group of men do it and you even look their way, they laugh and sneer and I hate knowing that I’ve been suckered into looking over there at them.

The catch 22 is that you can’t not wave back or acknowledge their greeting. That would be rude and the point is that we’re in Uganda to help. They also greet in the local language, in part, to test to see if you know the local language. So, after observing Jacob and how he responds, on one of my long runs on Saturday I began practicing a new method of greeting. When they greet (not when they yell Muzungu, but when they actually greet)…just wave. Don’t look, don’t say anything, just wave. Then the greeting has been acknowledged, you haven’t responded in Runyankore. It makes them just mad enough to give me a small joy from the experience. They were trying to get me to look at them and to respond back in Runyankore, having done neither their goal has been squandered but I am justified because I acknowledged and waved… It seems to be just what the doctor ordered.

Home Visits

Saturday night, Japheth, my supervisor and the director of Compassion here, asked me to go with him to do a special home visit. (Japheth is the Biblical name of one of Noah’s sons) One of our girls who is in P5 (5th grade) didn’t attend the Center Day (on Saturday the kids all gather for programs and activities and it’s called Center Day) and had skipped school all week. We began inquiring as to her absence and some of the kids told us that she had left home and was living with her boyfriend who is also an Compassion child in P7 (7th grade) who lives with his brothers under the supervision of a neighbor living nearby. The boy was at Center Day. We kept quiet about the whole thing all day, hoping that we could catch the two of them together that evening. Sometimes when we do a ‘surprise’ home visit when a kid has been unruly then the kid sees us coming and runs! I haven’t been there to witness a runner, otherwise I’d give chase in what could only be viewed as a low budget version of Cops - African style.

We could have called the authorities and had them arrested and brought into the police station to have them both caned. Defilement (a male having sex with a young girl) is a big problem in this country. Japheth decided that the best thing was to go and find them there, have them admit to what they were doing (which we already knew), promise to not do it again and then take the girl home.

We arrived around dusk and despite about a thousand little kids yelling Muzungu when they saw me, the boy and girl were there at the house. We sat down for about an hour and a half and talked by the light of a small kerosene lamp in a small African house. Though it took a while, the boy finally admitted to sleeping together but the girl never did. We explained that we weren’t there to change feelings they may have but to show them that what they are doing is dangerous, reckless and has life long consequences. As workers for Compassion you begin to feel, in part, that these are your kids and your heart aches when they’ve made poor decisions in life. For the boy, he had lost both of his parents. The girl had lost her father. So we try and intervene and act as a parent. I’m amazed though, sometimes, at how many parents don’t act like parents, allowing their children to do whatever they want and act however they want. All we can really do is to talk to these kids and try to change their mind.


Jacob is the other PCV working in Ntungamo with an organization called Africare. As fate would have it we ended up in the same town and live about 50 yards from each other. My Peace Corps experience and Jacob’s will forever be intertwined. We see each other daily and are seen together daily. If you didn’t know any better you would think that the two of us riding our bikes through town were a couple of Mormons, here to preach the Good News plus John Smith.

Jacob, 25, grew up in Indonesia but is from Louisiana where he went to LSU for a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Jacob’s father travels around quite a bit with his work, often spending a month abroad and then a month home. Jacob himself has visited over 30 countries. Everyone likes Jacob. He’s best known in Peace Corps circles as being a vivid story teller. You’ll often find him seated in the middle of a group spinning some tale of what happened to him the previous week, with everyone sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the exciting conclusion. He reminds me most of my friend Bobo from home. I don’t know what his religious convictions are but he’s a very moral guy whom I often go to if I need advice on an iffy problem I have. We share some things in common, for example, we both love fantasy football, the NFL, Ultimate Frisbee and music. He’s one of the most amazing guitar players I’ve ever known. Neither one of us drink for various reasons though mostly the same. He has a mind like a steel trap. In our language lessons he grasped the language quickly and I’m amazed at some of the things he knows about random things, like where nearly every Peace Corps volunteer is living. He also loves to cook and to experiment with trying new cooking recipies. (Not that I’m complaining. I usually am the tester of the food he prepares). We eat together around 4-5 times a week and we watch 2 NFL games on the DSTV at the local restaurant. We’ve also spent our evenings teaching Ultimate Frisbee to 6 local secondary schools. Jacob is a social person who prefers to be in the company of others. I, on the other hand, am more of a loner who recharges by spending time alone. Most evenings Jacob meanders over here to chat, share stories, play video games on my computer or to play guitar. One of the trainees asked us how we like living so close to each other to which Jacob responded, “I think I appreciate it more than he does.” Jacob lives simply. He doesn’t spend money unless he has to. He recently was reading a book about Gandhi and I think he really took from him his simplistic lifestyle coupled with his ability to abstain from the unnecessary. In the first few weeks we were here, I would wake up in the morning, start to fry up some eggs or something and realize that my ‘pancake turner’ was missing. Along with 2 of my plates, my salt and my butter. Jacob had a key to my place and would come over and help himself out to whatever he wanted without returning it. It really got under my skin there for a while until I realized that he’s just being Jacob and not spending any of his money. I had to finally tell him that the Peace Corps gave us the same amount of money and that he needs to spend that money on his own utensils.

All in all Jacob is a super guy and I can’t imagine how isolated and alone I’d feel without him here. Some PCVs go home because they just feel too lonely. Don’t have that here. He’s always got a story to share and a great meal he’s ready to prepare.

Lost in Translation

One of the common things to say if you haven’t seen someone in a while here is “You’ve been lost.” Of course when an American hears that, it implies that you’ve been somewhere where you didn’t know where you were, when in fact you’ve always known exactly where you were. To them it means, “You’ve been lost/missing from this place.” It’s just one of the many strange sayings here in Uganda.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


PCT Visit

On Thursday Jacob and I received 2 Peace Corps Trainees who came to visit us to see what it’s like to be a ‘real PCV’. The fact remains that every PCV’s experience is so different that it’s difficult to get any real idea of what it’s ‘supposed’ to be, but still, it’s a welcome change to training for them to get out and see another part of the country and to experience the Peace Corps. Plus it’s important to keep in mind that “training isn’t the Peace Corps,” and this helps serve as a reminder to that fact. Jacob and I had been extensively planning the past 2 weeks what all we were going to do with them for the 2 days they would be here, what we would eat and what movies we would watch (and wouldn’t watch. If I have to watch Gorillas In the Mist one more time… We hid that movie, needless to say :-P )

There are 12 people in the new training group…all female. Carrie and Nora arrived on Thursday after a 5 hour bus ride. It’s important to remember that those bus rides don’t get any easier, you just get used to them. Carrie and I had actually been exchanging emails a few months before she arrived. She had been on the internet looking for information about Uganda once she found out she would be coming here, so she’s spent a lot of time reading through my blog and looking through pictures. So when she arrived, you could imagine what it must have been like for her. We were walking them up to where we stay and she was pointing out buildings and things. “Oh Man, there’s the church! And that’s One Tree Hill!! Wow!” When she waked into my room she said it was like “déja vu” after seeing pictures of it. It was almost like having a groupie around, but not in a bad way. I had to start most of my sentences with, “Now maybe you read this in the blog before, but I …” Before I joined the Peace Corps I searched blogs and found Clare Overt’s blog and read through it every day for months. It was so thorough and detailed. Fact is, I couldn’t read it enough. It was a real volunteer, in Africa, living in a hut, working in a village, writing a lot and taking tons of pictures. It was a very good blog and I learned a bunch from it, so Carrie had done something similar, but for her to actually be assigned to come here and see this place… it must have been a strange and surreal experience.

The 2 PCTs first traveled into the village with Jacob to visit some of the fruit drying projects that Africare is doing for income generation. They also saw some singing and dramas that Africare’s COPE clubs performed, along with some wells that Africare had dug, plus some horrible, stagnant wells that the villagers had dug. The water in these wells usually resembles chocolate milk more than water.

Jacob has the unique experience of traveling deep into the villages. He’s quite literally been all over the district. So he had the girls for the morning and then in the afternoon they went with Japheth and I to do some home visits, which is something unique that I get to do that Jacob doesn’t. The girls kind of went from one extreme to another, seeing projects and performances, to seeing poverty and starvation in the homes.

We really tried to both show them what we’re doing here as well as to roll out the red carpet for them. Jacob cooked some amazing spaghetti, sweet and sour stir fry and pancakes and we ended up watching Rudy (hey! It was their choice, honest!) and a couple of episodes of Friends on my laptop. There were several times when they were heard saying, “This is the Peace Corps?”

Work has been keeping me busy but I’ve reached a point where I don’t exactly know what I’m supposed to be doing here. Am I just working in Africa or am I doing something that is going to last? Am I “changing the world” (and who really does that anyway?) or just getting by. I’m trying to refocus my efforts on creating something that will last after I’m gone, but in another culture and with another language there are so many obstacles to overcome. So many of the homes I visit are the poorest of the poor. Making close to $20 a month to feed a family on, living in small homes, even by African standards, on bad, hilly plots of land. I keep being told that it’s difficult to get funding for these families through Compassion unless they have HIV/AIDS which takes first priority. I understand that but I also feel like a grave injustice is being done by neglecting the rest of the poor and needy. AIDS is real. I see it every day. But it’s not the same disease it was 20 years ago. People live long, healthy, productive lives with AIDS now. The government provides free ARVs which boost their immune systems. It’s still a horrible, horrible disease, but more people die each year of starvation and poor nutrition than of Malaria and AIDS combined. So with that in mind, and my recent disdain for doing ‘office work’ I’m going to try to refocus my efforts on providing more for the families of these kids. The 3 basic needs of any person: food, clothing, shelter. Sometimes kids get gifts from their sponsors through Compassion. The great thing about ‘gifts’ is that they go directly to the kid! They get ALL of that money and then the care giver helps decide how that money is spent. If it’s enough then it goes to buying a house or a plot of land. Usually it goes for buying a goat for an income generating activity (IGA). We have several families who receive gifts but because they are renting or live in a bad location we can’t buy goats or chickens for them. What they need is a new house, which may cost as little as $200. Alleviating poverty is, many times, a methodical, stair-step approach with each step building on the previous step. So that’s the problem as I see it.

Upcoming Marathon

The Kampala Marathon is in one month. I’ve been increasing my training a little each week. I’m up to 40+ miles per week. I’m not going to run this marathon super hard like my last one. Too many strange variables here to deal with. I have no problem eating enough carbs here though! Ha! In fact my weight seems to be keeping steady even as I increase miles. This weekend, Jacob rode his bike along side of me as I ran to Itojo, a village about 8 miles away. We of course get some strange looks but I’ve been running that rout for about a month now so they’re basically used to seeing the strange white man running shirtless through their village. I’ve realized lately that I don’t like running. I never really have liked it. I finished almost last every race in high school when I ran cross country. I hated running then. I quit running for a long time after that and then picked it back up after college, running my first mini marathon at 23. Since then I’ve run 4 marathons and 4 mini-marathons even qualifying for the Boston this past November. What I’ve realized is that I like the product of running: being in shape, endorphins, solitude, ideas popping into my head, enjoying the outdoors, being competitive, the simplicity of being able to run anywhere, anytime (I keep a pr of running shoes and shorts in my truck at home), the mere ability for my body to run. I read a book last year called “This Running Life” by Dr Sheehan. Reading that book put into words the way long distance running feels to someone who does it. It doesn’t make sense to everyone but to a runner it’s poetry in motion.

Next week I’m going to try to write more about Jacob. It’s a unique experience to do the Peace Corps with another PCV living and working so closely together so I’m going to try to elaborate more on his thoughts, views and observations from the 3rd world.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hellooooooo Nurse

Hellooooooo Nurse

As I wrote about last week, our nurse has found another job. I remember her telling me when she began working that she had never even heard of Compassion and didn’t have a clue what the job was about when she interviewed, yet they still hired her. To her credit, she was very good. She was very knowledgeable about nursing, she was stern yet loving to the kids. But now she’s gone, so guess who’s the next qualified person to handle nursing duties… me. Your friendly neighborhood Peace Corps health volunteer.

Let me tell you a little bit about my background and how exactly I got here. I have a degree in Industrial Technology Education from Purdue University. That’s a fancy title for a Shop Teacher, which is what I did for 2 years. Afterwards I quit and managed a store for 9 months and followed that up by being an ironworker for another 9 months. Upon deciding to do the Peace Corps, I filled out an application and submitted my resume. I qualified for 2 fields: education and health. The education part is fairly obvious, but the reason I qualified for health was because I took a 1 day First Aid class when I was applying for a job as a Fireman. That’s my entire health background… and now I’m Mr Nurse.

As soon as Alice the nurse left we talked about hiring a nurse temporarily until Compassion supplied us with one of our own (which took 6 months last time), but that of course is on African time, meaning that they’ve talked about it now but it now but it might be 3 months before they actually hire a temp. Fortunately I picked up a book in Kampala called “Where There Is No Doctor” which is a great, great resource for any PCV. I guess they used to give each volunteer this book, even as recent as a few years ago. We never got one, so I bought one. (actually I bought 2, thanks to Jacob, but that’s another story for another day). This particular edition is specific for Africa and it has page after page of everything from dressing a wound, delivering babies, medication and dosages, skin problems, serious illnesses, and there’s even a chapter on village beliefs and witchcraft. This book can’t be relied on entirely. And I am super concerned about ‘mis-diagnosing’ something. Treating people’s health field is a major responsibility. If it’s anything remotely serious then we send the child to the health clinic where there is a doctor (pun intended). But for simple cuts, sprains, headaches and the like…I’m the man. And we do have latex gloves which I wear when working with blood. At least 8 of our kids are confirmed HIV cases.


I’m not doing weekly home visits anymore. They figured we were spending too much on transportation by going into the field 2x a week, so now they have all 4 of the staff go out once at the end of the month. We’re a little understaffed now with no nurse and our director on a month vacation so it’s been 3 weeks and we’ve only been in the field 1 ½ days.

Last Thursday we visited John’s house. He lives right next to the school he attends called Mutanoga Primary School. Upon arriving I saw a teenaged girl who was sitting in the doorway, her legs were green and covered in what looked like hundreds of small pimples from the knees down. The green was an herb that she had applied to her legs, which she said itched badly. I read through the Where There Is No Doctor book but couldn’t find anything about her condition. This family was so poor, too, that they couldn’t send her to the health clinic. They were living in a small, concrete house with a leaky roof which they were renting. They had been given some goats by Compassion as an income generating project. They had also been given $50 by John’s sponsor for a birthday gift. We had gone there to discus what they wished to buy with the money. $50 isn’t enough to construct a simple house, which is what they need. They only have enough money for a few months rent and then they will be without shelter. Sereniah, one of the other ladies on staff, tells me that $150 would construct them a very simple house for this family. I know that I’m not here to hand out money, but when I see a family in need… I just want to help. I set aside 1/10 of my PC salary each month for a tithe. I saw Rachael giving her tithe one Sunday and was really impressed. A part of me just figures that being here is tithe enough, but she continued to give. So I’ve decided to add on the extra amount needed for a basic shelter. Other PCVs pay school fees for kids and give to their communities. Like I said, it’s hard not to sometimes. I earn less than anyone else that works with Compassion, though just barely, so it’s not like I’m living like a rich American who has money to just hand out. (though people ask you for money here sometimes like that’s what you do have) I could write a proposal and send it to Compassion HQ but Barbra tells me that they are mainly focusing on helping HIV cases anymore. I understand the need, but there are others suffering as well. I guess I also see money being spent in areas that don’t seem as important. For example, we now have a strange barbed wire fence that runs through the middle our compound and we’re also building a short brick wall around our playground equipment and filling that area with sand and re-doing the playground equipment. Does that rank higher than providing shelter for a family who has none? I plan on talking to the director about this when he returns.

Survey Says

The following is a result of a survey that was taken by Africare, whom Jacob works with. I find the information very interesting and also very telling of the conditions here. Africare surveyed a few thousand families in the Ntungamo area.

Divorced 2.5%

Widowed 33%

Separated 1.3%

Single 8.3 %

Married 49%

Average age of a Caregiver 45.9 years

Average size family – 5 children

Children per family – 2.6 orphans 2.5 non-orphans

Services Received:

70.5% None

17% Education

4.1% Food

>2% Health Care

>2% Clothes

>2% Other

Services Requested:

62.3% Education

18.7% None

6.5% Food

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The PCVs are coming! The PCVs are coming!!!

PCT Visit

Jacob and I received some fun news last week. We were DEEP in the village visiting a school with Africare when my cell phone rang. It was Shirley from the PC informing us that we will be receiving 2 Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs. If you haven’t figured out by now the Peace Corps LOVES acronyms) They will be visiting in a little over a week and will be staying for 3 days. Jacob and I haven’t been here long, but we are well integrated into the community and both of us are busy with our organizations. One of the best part about the PCTs coming to visit is that they will be sincerely interested in what all we are doing. They will have only been in Uganda for about 3 weeks, so it will all be new to them. It’s nice to have people visit who have ‘been there, done that’ in the sense of getting into the Peace Corps, plus it’s fun to have some new people to show around our town. We’ve been planning and preparing since receiving the news of their future arrival. I remember Ed telling us in training that for some volunteers it’s the only ‘outside visitors’ they receive in their 2 year service. Plus you do bond with who you visit. I constantly was texting Jenna, whom I visited, with random questions about stuff like ‘what soap to use to wash dishes’. We have a lot to offer here, too. Electricity almost 24/7, DSTV at the Sky Blue Restaurant, a good restaurant that has more than 3 options on the menu (one guy recently referred to the 2 page menu at Sky Blue as an encyclopedia…no joke!), FREE High Speed Internet Access at Africare, movies on my laptop, Jacob is a 5 star chef, plus 2 Peace Corps Volunteers who are actually doing work with their organizations.

Goodbye Alice the Nurse

Alice has left for greener pastures. She’s taken a job at a hospital near Mbarara she told us. I thought she was doing a super job with the kids, but she said her interest was working with expectant mothers. She has her specialty in nursing as a midwife. She had a tendency to take extra days off work, though. When you are taking time off in Africa and it becomes a problem with your organization… you’re really pushing it. Here you are maybe supposed to be at work at 8am… you can show up at 10, no problem. And you can leave an hour or 2 early as well. No explanation needed, just walk out the door. It’s funny. Jacob works with a guy whom he has given the nickname Figment because he doesn’t think he really exists, that he’s merely a figment of the imagination…

Random factoid of the week

The divorce rate in this country is exceptionally low. Something like 3%. However, it’s legal to divorce your wife if she is not producing children. This reeks of King Henry VIII, don’t you think?

That’s it for this week. Birthday wishes to Henry Y and Morgan B!