Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thanksgiving Feast

Marcel’s Orphanage

I visited Marcel’s Orphanage last week as I was in Kampala preparing for the marathon. The orphanage is located outside of our training site at Luweero in a village called Wobulenzi. I hadn’t been since they had purchased new beds with the money that we were able to raise from several people back home. I was so excited by what I had found. They had brand new triple-decker beds in place where before only single beds were. Each bed was neatly made with a mosquito net draped over all 3 bunks. With the money we raised (around $2,000) they were able to purchase 9 beds to sleep 27 kids as well as to increase the side of their outside sitting area and re-roof it. Along with the beds they purchased mattresses, bed sheets, pillows and mosquito nets. Many of the kids rushed up to greet me as I arrived and Marcel was very pleased to show me around. It seems that another group had donated some money and they were also building a new dining room/study hall. They also had 2 new computers and they were using a lawn mower, or at least trying to, to cut the front lawn. It seems like they’ve found some funds from somewhere and are doing quite a bit better than when we first arrived 9 months ago, so praise God for that!

Thanksgiving in Uganda

Several of us got together for Thanksgiving this past weekend and WOW!!! I was impressed!!! Those girls (and some of the guys) put together quite a feast that would shame some American Thanksgiving feasts!! Chicken, meatloaf, stuffing, green bean casserole, corn, mashed potatoes out the wazoo, fruit salad and pumpkin soup! Someone even brought a meat grinder and a portable oven!! And for dessert there was the most amazing apple crisp and some Chips Ahoy cookies that Aunt Rita sent recently. To be away from home and miss my first Thanksgiving was difficult, though the day (Thursday) seemed to pass quickly and with little fanfare due to the fact that it’s not a holiday here, but spending it with these friends was a fantastic experience. We’ve all been through so much together and have shared such similar experiences, beginning from before we even met for the first time, that ‘preparing for’ the Peace Corps, selling what we had, storing what didn’t sell, saying goodbye to friends, waiting and waiting and waiting for that invitation to arrive and then waiting some more before we get to leave, not to mention 10 weeks of intensive training where everything was new and afresh. I think it was Lonnie who said it best when he said, “It’s tough being away from family over Thanksgiving, there’s no denying that, but I honestly can’t think of a group of people I admire more that I’d rather spend it with!” We really did have a nice time topped off with a game of 4 on 4 touch football on the nearby secondary school’s soccer pitch as the students and villagers gawked to investigate this new game being played by more Muzungus than they had ever seen together in their lives called ‘football’ which is played primarily with hands instead of with the feet.

Grasshoppers invade

Over the past few weeks, THOUSANDS of grasshoppers have ‘sprung to life’ in the area! They’re everywhere! Some days worse than others. They seem to come alive at night and flock to bright lights, where the people catch them and cook them and sell them and eat them! I’ve tried them and they’re not tooooo bad. Don’t know if I’d seek them out or anything but I did have seconds if that tells you anything. It’s funny because you see kids and adults both out, wherever there is a light with a cup or a bag and they’re catching these long green grasshoppers. Akamogo (my cat) is an avid hunter of these grasshoppers. They won’t be around long, I figure. There are 2 Dutch VSOs that live in Ntungamo and they told us that they were UNBEARABLE up at their place. Like the Plague of Grasshoppers, they described it. They had to put paper over every opening of their house and STILL they said they had about 100 of them inside it was so bad…

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Marathon

The Marathon

It was an early start to the marathon. 7am. Reporting time was at 6. The sun doesn’t come up until 6:15 or so here. My morning began at 5am with a Cliff Bar breakfast that Jacob gave me this week for the marathon plus a banana and I made some Gatorade that was given to me by the PC Medical staff (commonly used to help treat dehydration among volunteers). I got everything ready for the run: running shorts, Ole Miss running shirt which Genia gave me recently, Nike headband also from Genia, running gels that Karen sent in a care package, ankle high running socks, the Nike shoes I recently bought in Mbarara (the only pair I found close to my size), my bib number, my iPod, my running watch which I would be holding because the strap broke a month or so ago and some just-in-case money for water, tp or any strange unforeseen expense I would need. Threw on a fleece I had purchased in the market for the sole purpose of throwing away early in the race. Put some petroleum jelly in some appropriate places and I was out the door, dressed for battle. I didn’t know if taxis would be running at this early hour so I began to walk in the direction of downtown. Fortunately, shortly into my walk a super nice guy named Fred gave me a lift. He was heading in to run the 10km race. We chatted for a while about running. He had run the 10k last year and the marathon the year before but decided that the 10k was more his thing. We found a place to park close by. A gated lot for security purposes. He gave the keys to a boy who was sweeping the lot. I’m still not sure if the kid was an actual attendant of the lot so I hope Fred got his car back afterwards!

It was 6:30 by the time I arrived at the starting line. It looked about like any regular marathon. A long chute arranged for the start and finish, people running warm-ups, stretching and chatting beforehand, streets closed off. Nothing out of the ordinary yet. There would only be 800 marathon runners and then around 2,500 10k runners. The marathon would go first, followed by the wheel chairs and then the 10k.

One of the first things I noticed was that they had given me the wrong bib. All of the marathoners had red numbers on their bibs from 1-999. I was number 4901 and it wasn’t red, it was black. They did, to my great surprise, have the Championship Chip to strap on my shoe for my official time to be monitored. The minutes before the race was chaos. All of the marathoners and 10k-ers were all crowded at the line together. Ugandans crowd. If there’s a line to be formed they attack it with reckless abandon. They’re not in a hurry to get anywhere or do anything but if you leave even a whispered breath’s space between you and the person in front of you or the counter they’ll attack that space and cut in front of you, often times even knocking you out of the way. So people were crowding the starting line like a bunch of starving refugees trying to get food handouts. The race officials couldn’t sort out the marathoners from the 10k-ers. Eventually they got it semi-ready so they started the race. There were several foreign athletes there from Kenya and Tanzania. When the race began people were sprinting out of the starting gate. You can’t win a race in the first mile but you can certainly lose one there. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the run. Months of training have gone in, around 800 miles run and countless hours of training.

I tried to find a gentle pace and let people pass me at the beginning. Less than a mile in a young white guy passed me on my left running slightly faster than I so I buddied up beside him and began to chat. It’s good for the first 10 miles to just run comfortable and chit-chat. His name was Charlie and he was from Maine. He’d been here for 9 months as well and was working in northern Uganda near a city called Arua working with Sudanese refugees. He was doing similar work to an education PCV teaching teachers there. Some of the refugees had been living there for 12 years! I was asking about housing and he told me that they had simple, permanent housing and that it was more than tents, which was my first inclination. We ran and talked and the miles just flew by.

At the 20km point, just under half way through, I was feeling good. I knew my pace was quick but it felt ok. We’d been slowly passing several dozen Ugandans and the course had been a little hilly but not bad. A marathon usually has each mile marked so you can see how your pace is. This course had markings at 5k, 10k, 20k, 35k and 42k (the race is 42.195k, and I’m so glad they marked that 42k. It’s not like the finish was in sight by then or anything…) At the 20k mark I glanced at my watch, which should have read 1:45 if I was on my pace but instead, to my astonishment, read 1:26! I was 20 minutes FAST which is SUICIDE to a runner! I had never run a marathon at that pace, even my fastest ½ marathon I’d never completed in that time! That means one thing…trouble! Abandon ship!! I tried to lock on and just keep running but it caught up with me a few miles down the road. Charlie eventually started to pull away from me and I had no choice but to just let him go.

The course was well marked with cones and volunteers pointing out the way and police stopping traffic with only the occasional boda-boda (moped) driver passing close by. At one point one of the runners got right behind a slow moving truck and grabbed on to help him up a steep hill, but otherwise I didn’t see any violations. It was more humorous than anything.

I eventually finished in a time of 3:44. A full 15 minutes slower than my goal time. It was a lackluster finish. People weren’t cheering at the finish, they were just staring…at everyone. People were going about their business for the most part rather than watching or helping those people finish. I arrived and felt like shouting…HERE I AM! I MADE IT! CAN YOU AT LEAST ACKNOWLEDGE MY EFFORT???!!! I’VE BEEN RUNNING FOR ALMOST 4 HOURS!! HELLO?? …ANYONE?? Now there were some PCV friends along the course that were cheering me on, especially at the end... and that was beyond fantastic! And along the course the Ugandans cheered on the ‘muzungu’ more than they did their own people, which I thought was weird. But finishing a marathon in almost dead silence was just a weird way to finish a marathon. Another PCV named Kristin who is also from Indiana ran. I don’t know what her time was but she did finish ahead of a US Marine who ran! It was her first marathon and I saw her coming around the last corner with ¼ a mile to go and with 4 Ugandans on her heels looking like she was going to attack and tackle someone at the finish line! She CHARGED that last stretch, refusing to allow herself to be passed, which, if you know Kristin at all, she wouldn’t do it any other way! Kristin finished her PC service on Friday, ran the marathon on Sunday and on Monday was on a flight to Spain for a vacation before heading back to the states! I’ll bet that was a looooong flight to Spain!

I saw some interesting things along the way. They didn’t have any Gatorade to pass out, but they did have plenty of water. They also passed out glucose, which was just little bags of sugar that runners would take. At one point, early in the run, I saw a ‘bag lady’ who was in the middle of the street slowly eating the sugar up off the ground. Licking her finger and then dipping it in the spilled sugar. It was really a difficult and moving scene. I also saw people at the end of the marathon who had run the entire thing in aqua shoes and loafers with no socks! I saw big heavy shoes that were WELL worn too. Charlie and I just kept going on as to how strong these Ugandan people were and how determined as well.

Kampala is a city built among the hills and the end of the marathon had several. Each mile at the end of a marathon always feels like 2 miles. Everything in your body is telling you to quit, that you’ve run enough. This time I listened to those voices and allowed myself to walk, which I deeply regret now, (“the pain of discipline is less than the pain of regret”) but at the time it felt like the right thing to do. The next day I treated myself to an hour long, full body massage, my first ever! (hey! For $12 I couldn’t pass it up!)

It was really nice to spend a few days in the big city. I saw a movie The Devil Wears Prada which was great and ate some really good food and hung out with several friends. I also snatched up some good books from the PC office to read.

I’m always torn when I come into Kampala. As in any big city there are beggars on the streets. I’m a helper. It’s who I am and one of my defining characteristics (at least I think it is). My Ugandan name even means ‘helper’ (Muhwezi). So when I see a beggar, one who has deformed legs, feet and hands…I want to help. I don’t want to just give money, that seems like it would just encourage begging, but I don’t know what else to do. I try hard to picture people I deeply respect and admire and to imagine what I would expect them to do in the situation. Mother Theressa, Rob Schrumpf, Roger Williams, Billy Grahm, Jesus… normal people I know and extraordinary people, but people whose actions I mimic. I see them giving. Something. So I give. I always try to have coins and I give those. It’s coins. It costs me almost nothing but I still feel like I give and they receive. It makes me feel better, which, let’s face it, is one reason that we all give, and it helps them out (and encourages more begging which is why we all don’t want to give). In a perfect world I would put together some organization that would employ them all to lick stamps or something and pay them equal wages, but I’m just a tourist in this city for a weekend. So I give coins. I did see something so beautiful that made me well up with tears. A kid was begging on the street near a traffic jam and a car pulled up and rolled down their window and handed him a juice box. As you could imagine, his face lit up with delight and he went to work right away opening the box to drink the contents dry from his new acquisition. That, I thought, was real giving.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A New Name and the Upcoming Marathon

A New Name

Nazil (called Naziru because of the inability to say the letter L in the southwest) is one of our special HIV cases. He lives with his mother because his father died of HIV/AIDS. He’s frequently visiting the local clinic for various reasons. When I first visited his home I noticed his skin condition. He has scabs all over his body, and I mean all over. Alice told me at the time that it’s a relatively common condition of the HIV and that it’s a skin infection. HIV/AIDS greatly limits the body’s ability to fight off infections, so as a result he can’t get rid of these. They’re somewhat similar to chicken pox and they leave scars all up and down his arms and legs. It’s really sad. And to make matters worse his mother is a gold digger, for lack of a better term, weaseling her way around the various systems to get what she wants.

Nazil is 11 but still in the 1st grade, in part due to his poor health, but it’s somewhat common for kids to start school late. His father was a Muslim but Nazil has decided that he wants to be baptized into the Christian faith. Along with that will come a new name. He can’t be called Nazil anymore because that’s not a ‘Christian’ name, so he’ll get to chose for himself a new name: Moses, John, Steven, Andrew. How refreshing is that? To receive and to be called by a new name after becoming a Christian? I just thought that was such a neat thing.

Jesus Video

I decided to show a video on my laptop this week to the secondary students. I bought a series of Jesus videos in Mbarara this past weekend and one of them was Passion of the Christ. If you haven’t seen it, it’s Mel Gibson’s creation of what the last few hours of Jesus life may have been like. It’s a very difficult movie to watch because they show a dramatic brutality of the beating and crucifixion of Jesus prior to his death and resurrection. I wanted the secondary kids to see it, to experience it, and to understand the great amount of suffering that Jesus endured for them… so we watched it. It’s not in English, it’s subtitled, but that didn’t seem to phase them. The watched intently. I asked if they could all understand it and they nodded their heads, not wishing to stop the film. Beforehand I explained that it was violent, that some of them would probably cry and that it’s difficult to watch. I explained to them the significance of Jesus being beaten 39 times, because it was believed that anything beyond that could kill a person. These kids know beatings. They’re beaten in school with a rod if they misbehave. Occasionally there will be reports in the paper of students (one girl recently) who have been paralyzed from harsh beatings. When they began beating Jesus you could just sense that they understood the pain he was enduring, whereas me, in my “go sit in timeout” era of punishment tried to wrap my mind around what that kind of beating must entail. They cried, I cried. Afterwards we talked about what it all meant and if it was really like that and how if Jesus had to do it all over again, to die for our (singularly, not plural) sins that he would, out of love. It was really good, but emotionally afterward I was certainly spent.

Triumphal Entry

I went to visit one of the nursery/primary schools this week in town where some of our kids go. The kids at this school are particularly young. Probably 3 and up. They see Jacob and I every day riding my bike by their school on the main road in town, but for some reason, when I parked my bike and started to approach the school they SWARMED me in this entourage of cheering and laughing and lavished on me greetings and small hand shakes. You would have thought that Barney the Dinosaur had just strolled onto their campus. It was nothing like I had known or seen before and in a way I felt like Jesus coming into the city of Jerusalem like I had seen recently in the Passion.

Kampala Marathon…this week

The marathon is this week. I’ll be in Kampala for a few days and will get to see my homestay family for the first time since training plus I’ll get some photos of the beds we purchased for Marcel and the orphanage. I’m really looking forward to the weekend, mostly to just get away for a while to eat some ice cream and to see a real movie in the air-conditioning. I don’t think you can ever truly look forward to punishing yourself for 26.2 miles, but it’ll be fun to compete again. 2 other volunteers are running Kristen from New Albany, Indiana will run the marathon and Dan (a one time Boilermaker) will be running the 10K. I believe there will be around 3,000 for the marathon. My goal is to finish in under 3:30. This’ll be my 5th marathon and only once have I finished longer than that time. I didn’t realize it until this week but I’ve actually been training harder and running a faster pace than that, but I was sick with a mild flu last week, so we’ll see what it all adds up to. Genia brought back some Ole Miss running clothes so I’ll be decked out in the red and black. Running a marathon isn’t about winning. It’s about finishing, running well, being thankful that you are able to run that distance with good knees, ankles, legs, etc. It’s a celebration of life and accomplishing goals more than anything. I’ve been thinking about running this week as I’ve been perusing through Runners World and I truly wish more people could experience the exhilaration of the moment when the finish line comes into sight for the last leg of the run after months and months of training.

Random Factoid

I put a picture of this up on my account so that you can see it for yourself. The electrical outlets they use here are different than from home. First, they use 250V. 2nd, most outlets have an on/off switch on the outlet itself. 3rd they are ‘child proof’. You can’t plug anything into the outlet unless it has the 3rd prong (for grounding). Probably ½ of all of the electrical devices don’t have a ground prong so you have to turn the switch off and then stick something into the 3rd prong hole which then will allow you to plug something into the socket. What it all boils down to is that the only thing that’s really handy to ‘open’ this Pandora’s box is a metal key! Now when I first arrived I was very careful to only use plastic devices to plug something in, but as time has gone on I have shifted to just using whatever is handy! (keep in mind that higher voltage doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more dangerous. It’s the amperage that is harmful in an electric current) So in my photographs you’ll see me demonstrating sticking my key into the 3rd hole and plugging in my laptop. Don’t try this at home kids!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Extreme Makeover

Extreme Makeover, African Home Edition

Far and away one of my favorite shows that I watched before I came was Extreme Makeover Home Edition. If you’ve never seen it, you need to! The gist of the show was this: a family who was really struggling was taken a way for a few days while a huge crew would demolish and rebuild their home, not in the way that Habitat for Humanity would rebuild a home, but they would build a masterpiece of a home that overwhelmed the family completely, not because of it’s size or worth, but because of the precision of which the house (and sometimes vehicles) matched what the family needed and wanted from a house. The show itself is amazing, but the end of each episode is the real reason you need to watch. Each time, the family was so overwhelmed by this gift that they can only utter the words “Thank You!” over and over through tears and screams. I admit that I also typically shed a tear along with the family. To be so overwhelmed by a such a gift that was given for free, that was unexpected and undeserved… to me, this show epitomizes God’s gift of grace to each of us and that overwhelms me more than anything.

This past week, Japheth, the Project Director at Compassion here decided that we should go out into the field and help on of the families of our kids. Sarah has lost both of her parents to HIV/AIDS. She has 4 younger siblings and they all live with their 80 year old grandmother. The parents immigrated here years ago and have no other relatives around. So beyond this old woman, these children have no one else who can care for them. They live in an area that is very isolated. They cook outside because they lack a kitchen, they also lack a bathing area and a pit latrine. Japheth decided that we should take a group of 30 or so of the older kids there and do some work… so this Saturday we did just that. It was awesome! We worked for several hours doing a variety of things. The girls were weeding in the garden where they were growing beans, millet, corn and sweet potatoes. Some of the boys were in the banana plantation trimming the trees and cleaning up the grounds, others were building a veranda around the house to protect it from rain washing away the foundation of the house, others were building a drying rack for dishes and a bathing area. Jacob tagged along to watch and lend a helping hand. Sometimes when we work in the gardens at the project it’s tough to keep the kids working, but at this house these kids all worked so hard, I was so proud of them! They were helping a friend of theirs and one of my favorite parts was that this 80 year old grandmother was right out there weeding the fields with the kids. We also brought some sodas and donuts (not real donuts, mind you) to snack on and it was neat to see this old woman enjoying a soda for the first time in who knows how long. The kids created a community today by working together for the good of one of their own. They created memories too, that they will remember for along time to come. Sarah’s sponsor had given $50 to her as a birthday gift, not realizing, I’m sure, what that money would be for. That $50 bought iron sheets (corrugated steel sheets) which will be used to construct a kitchen, but it did so much more. It revitalized a broken family. When sponsors give extra money to these kids it goes directly to the kids and their families and can truly change their lives.

Many businesses ranging from banks to NGOs have night watchmen. Labor is so incredibly cheap here that it costs next to nothing to hire someone to do something. Just recently I hired a couple of guys to come up to Compassion to cut a metal wire and paid them $0.50 for an hours worth of work. We have a night watchman here at Compassion, his name is Lauben. He’s an elder gentleman I his 50s I’d say with a stoic, rigid face that could pass as one of those wooden Indians holding a bunch of cigars. He comes around dusk and stays until dawn of the next day. 7 days a week he does this. Typically people who guard someplace have shotguns and semi automatic rifles (which was quite unnerving to see when I first arrived in Uganda), but because this is a children’s ministry his weapons consist of a spear and a machete. He’s an older man who owns several cattle and is a chairman of a local primary school. He’s well off enough that he doesn’t need to be working here, but it’s an easy job and an additional source of income. Most assuredly he comes here each night and sleeps in the bed that’s in the nurse’s station, and for his efforts he is paid a mere $25 a month. (The world poverty line is defined as less than $1 a day.)

A touch of the flu

The Kampala marathon is in less than 2 weeks (Nov 19). I’ve finished my long runs and it’s a good thing because I’ve come down with a touch of the flu. Body ache, weakness, drainage and headache. It seems to be going around. I felt a little sick on Sunday but still ran 15 (Jacob went along on his bike). By the end of it I felt like I had run 2x that much so I knew something was wrong. Before coming to the Peace Corps, one major area of concern for my training group (as it usually is) was getting sick. I think it would be impossible to go 2 years without getting sick. It’s a legitimate concern too. Some volunteers are at sites without electricity or cell phone coverage (without climbing a hill, that is). For me it’s only the 2nd time I’ve been sick here and the 1st since March. Better now than next week! I saw that Lance Armstrong ran the NYC Marathon this past weekend and finished in just under 3 hours.

Random Factoid

Of the 286 kids we have at Compassion, 60% of them are Single Orphans (one of their parents has died), 30% are Double Orphans (both parents died) and 10% are identified as Vulnerable Children (both parents alive but are very, very poor).


Birthday wishes to Mom and Dad this week! Thanks for all of the unconditional love and support you have given me over the years! You have always encouraged me to pursue my own interests and have always been up there in the stands rooting for me along the way. Whether it was Boys Club basketball games and I didn’t really want you to come (because nobody else’s parents came) or Jekyll and Hyde and you came to every performance (and they finally let you into the last one for free)! The fact is that you’ve always been there for me. You have both been a wonderful support system for me and I don’t say ‘thank you’ or that I love you nearly enough!