Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Speaking Engagements Wanted

Speaking Engagements

I’ll be coming home in April, a much anticipated trip, believe me! I think the first thing I’m going to want to eat is Applebee’s Chicken Quesadillas! I’ve been craving those since I got here. Unfortunately, mom and dad can’t ship THAT to Africa, eh? I’ll be home from April 18th until May 5th and I’m looking for some opportunities to share my experiences of the Peace Corps, Compassion International and Africa in general. If you know of any schools, clubs, churches (though not on Sundays), or organizations, big or small, that would be interested, please feel free to contact me. I’m trying to book some speaking engagements before I leave.

African Well Fund

Some people came and put together a video in the district. The video is here and the website is here

The Colts are going to the Super Bowl!

I watched the AFC Championship game live and it was AWESOME! Nail biting, but awesome! Fortunately they’ve shown all of the Colts games here. It seems like they only picked some of the games to show. Jacob, a Saints fan, didn’t see any of their games, for example. They show the games live (this past one was at 2:30 am) and then they replay it the next day at 5pm. Good thing I am a die-hard fan and watched the live showing because in 2 of the 3 cases the power was out for the replayed game!! I watch the games at Sky Blue where they have a ‘conference hall’ with a 21” TV set up, mostly to show European Football (soccer) games. Because Jacob and I are there almost every day and we are good friends with all of them they let us watch games in the middle of the night. It works out well! So, good luck Colts in Miami for the Super Bowl! I’ll be with you in spirit!

The ‘Criminal Hour’

The past few Colts playoff games have ended around 3:30am. I live only 1km from Sky Blue where I watch the game but EVERYBODY has told me NOT to ride my bike home at that hour. I thought that the first person I asked was just being cautious but everyone I asked after that said the same thing, “That’s a time when criminals are out, from 3am-4am.” There’s such a thing as a real danger and perceived danger. I have a feeling that this is a perceived danger. Do criminals know that they’re only supposed to be out between 3-4am? One of the waitresses was robbed recently and she said it was around 11pm. Did the criminals not know that they were about 4 hours early?? Regardless, I have either stayed at Sky Blue for the night ($7.50), hired a taxi to take me home at 3:30am ($5.00), or slept at Bruno’s (free).


I had a scary moment as I was once again trying to be the nurse for Compasison. Japheth, the director was disciplining the children by lightly caning them for various reasons including showing up hours late to not demonstrating proper hygene. (I’ll talk about the caning thing in a moment). One of the older girls became upset at the caning and started to hyperventilate, like someone would do if they were crying hard. They had to assist her into the nurses quarters and I got out my Where There Is No Doctor book and read up on Hyperventilation. It said to just keep the person calm and have them breathe into a paper bag. Remind them that they aren’t in any danger and that the hyperventilating will stop in 2-3 minutes. But it didn’t stop in 2-3 minutes. 10 minutes went by and she was still doing it. 15 minutes. I was a little paniced. I know the book said she wasn’t in danger but she wasn’t stopping. Maybe this was something else, something different. Maybe it involved her heart or who knows what. I called for a taxi to come and he showed up maybe 4 minutes later. We got her into the car and were going to take her to the doctor in town. When we arrived the receptionist told me that the doctor wasn’t in. I told her that I had a girl in the car who was in trouble and she just looked at me. Even though we all speak English, they still don’t get my Midwest English sometimes and I wondered if she had even understood me at all. “I have an emergency,” I tried to explain. “There is a girl from Compasison in the car who is breathing heavy. Hy-per-ven-ti-lating,” I slowly spoke so she could hopefully understand. Still she just looked at me like I was a big, dumb white guy who was speaking a language native to chimpanzees. Finally I shouted, “there’s a girl in the car who needs help.” “Where?” she finally said. “OUT IN THE CAR!” and I threw my hat out the door in frustration! Finally we got her inside, the doctor looked at her and began to calm her down. She wasn’t in danger and it seems like it was mostly stubbornness about being an older girl and being disciplined that got her upset, but still, it really freaked me out and made me remember that I’m not a nurse and I don’t know what I’m doing…

They eventually took her home where she continued to hyperventilate and then they brought her back to the doctor. She finally did settle down later that evening.


I hate to see kids get beaten, but they do it here. It’s done with a stick between ¼ and ½ inches thick and they’re usually hit in the buttocks or the back of the legs. Some PCVs have really problems with kids getting beaten. I’ve come to grips with the fact that it’s part of their culture and it’s one of those difficult things that I watch and tolerate only because it’s their way. The kids aren’t beaten in inappropriate places (like the head) and it isn’t done out of anger. I rationalize to myself that beatings have been a part of human history since the dawn of time for discipline reasons. The Bible is full of proverbs directing parents to use the rod on their children. I was ‘beaten’ as a child but always in appropriate places and always when I diserved it. There are instances where children have been beaten and suffer major casualties including disfiguration and paralysis in Uganda, and of course those stories circulate widely when they happen. But again, I just have to turn my head a little and accept it as part of the culture, knowing that it has it’s place, it’s not ‘harming’ the child and that it’s just their way.


There has been reported that there is a Cholera breakout in the district. A few people have died because of it. I was reading up on it and if someone gets Cholera then you are to treat the symptoms like dehydration. The local authorities have closed down the street vendors who grill and sell meat and they have also closed down some restaurants. The safest thing is to eat in well established restaurants and to always make sure the food is hot. There haven’t been any cases reported in town yet, so everything is just precautionary right now.

Random Factoid – Eating with Hands

Ugandans prefer to eat with their hands rather than use knives, forks and spoons. They eat soupy, saucy things this way too. They dip posho or matooke in the sauce. They say it tastes better this way. They end up getting food and grease all over their hands and faces while doing this. For me, this is extremely uncomfortable. I like to be clean when I eat (for the most part). Then afterwards they wash up but they rarely use a towel. They just air dry. I think that part of all of this has to do with the general cost of silverware and having a towel around (do you really need a towel?), but I think it’s also mostly a cultural thing. That’s just the way they’ve always done it.

GO COLTS!! Win Super Bowl XLI!!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007



Jacob and I rode our bikes to our favorite restaurant and hotel, Sky Blue, on Thursday for supper. Upon arriving we saw a not so unusual sight of 2 white people having their supper. They saw us arrive on our bikes and asked us in thick French accents if we had been traveling by bike today. “No, we live here.” I explained. We got to talking to them and discovered that they were biking from Dakar in Western Africa to Zanzibar in Eastern Africa! All by bike! Bicycle that is, not motorbike. They are flying over the DR Congo which I think is incredibly wise, but otherwise they are biking. They say they vary from 15 km to 100 km per day. They have a website you can check out but it’s in French. They said they had seen several Peace Corps volunteers in the west (where I have a cousin serving in Ghana It’s not unusual to see white people in Ntungamo. We see them at Sky Blue about once a week, tourists on the way to Bwindi to see the Gorillas or what have you. It’s not unusual to see bikers either. There was a Latin American man who stayed in Ntungamo for a week or so while passing through on a bike. What was strange that coming from the other direction on a bike was another pair of bikers… one biking from Germany and biking to S. Africa and the other coming from Japan biking to S. Africa. Let me state that again. One was biking from Germany and the other was biking from Japan. The German guy and Japanese guy had bumped into each other along the way and decided to just pair up. We talked to the German guy, named Sabastian, and he had been traveling for 16 months on a bike!! Through countries like Sudan and said he was on his way to going through DR Congo! We asked him things like, what have you learned from your travels? To which he replied, mostly about myself. He also has a blog that’s in German but you can see some pictures – The fact that these 2 pairs of bikers had stopped for the night, coming from opposite directions and had met in our village… I thought the world was going to tilt off it’s axis for sure or that I should rush out and buy a ticket for the Uganda Lottery (grand prize is up to $43 dollars this week!). I’ve biked across Ireland and after about 4 days I was ready to come home. I can’t imagine doing it for 16+ months. Kudos to you my German friend. Keep on keeping on!

January Birthday

Jacob invited a small handful of friends over for a surprise birthday party for me this weekend. He even cooked a pineapple upside down cake in his Dutch oven. It was such a nice surprise and nice to hang out with people. We were planning to watch the Colts vs Ravens game played on tape delay but the power was out and it didn’t come back on until late in the evening. The power is normally on here but it seems like whenever we want to do something important it goes out for that 1 thing. That’s why I’ve been staying up LATE to watch the Colts Playoff games. The last 2 have been at 12:30am here and I’ve caught them at Sky Blue Restaurant. The locals tell me that I can’t ride my bike back to my house that late because the hour of 3am is the Criminal Hour where most of the crime takes place. EVERYONE has told me this but sometimes there’s perceived danger vs real danger and I’m somewhat convinced this is a mindset more than a reality. The first time back I hired a taxi to come and get me and take me back at 3:30am but it was relatively expensive. Staying in a hotel would be slightly more expensive, so this last time my friend Bruno who works as a waiter at Sky Blue and is one of the funniest, randomist people here, invited me to stay with him and Felix who share a room that is about 7ft by 8ft. They shared a bed and let me have one to my own. This weekend the game is on at 2:30am and Bruno says he’s going to watch it with me though Ugandans have NO interest in the American Sport.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Spending the night in a Ugandan Prison

Spending the night in a Ugandan prison… It didn’t sound so bad until I heard more about what it entailed. We have a young girl at the project who is in Primary 6 (6th grade) who will be doing exactly that tonight. And I can’t feel more empathy for her. As if the general conditions weren’t bad enough for most people living in the third world, a night in prison must be horrific. First, I’m told, they are all in one room. The women, if you can call a 13 year old that, have their separate room from the men. They don’t have individual cells, just one room like they did in America in the colonial era. They also aren’t given beds. Just a cold, concrete floor to sleep on (which I can’t imagine there’ll be much of that). Often they are instructed to remove their shirt to prevent them from sleeping on it as a mat or a pillow. There’s a bucket in the corner to use as a chamber pot if necessary. Sometimes the ‘newbies’ are required to empty and clean it the next morning. There may only be around 10 other women in there but I’m told they’ll rough her up, slap her around a bit (especially if she starts to fall asleep), interrogate her to find out exactly why she’s there and then to also show her who’s in charge. There’s usually an inmate they call a ‘prime minister’ who is chief inmate and she’s in charge once the guards have left. If she’s given a meal tonight it’ll consist of posho and beans, which is a common meal, favored by many including myself, so that’s not so bad I guess.

Let me back up and tell you how this all began. This morning started out like any other morning. I slept in because I was exhausted from a 15 mile run yesterday. When I got to work Japheth, my supervisor, asked me if I wanted to go along in search of Sarah (name changed), one of the Compassion girls who had run away from home 3 months ago but her whereabouts had been discovered recently. We left, with the girl’s mother and 4 month old baby sister in a special hire vehicle and headed DEEP into the village. We traveled down dirt roads for around 3 hours towards the Tanzania/Rwanda border where I’m sure no white people had been for quite some time, if ever. Fortunately for me I was in the back seat and the windows had a heavy tint to them so people couldn’t stare right at me but I could see them rather plainly. We were in a Toyota Corolla but should have been in a 4x4 Land Rover. We were crossing every kind of terrain imaginable. Roads here often have deep, deep ruts in them caused by water washing over them. We got stuck in a swampy area that we shouldn’t have even attempted to cross in the first place. Japheth winded up covered in mud from the tire spinning and splashing mud all over his shirt as we attempted to push it through a rough spot. A Good Samaritan helped us here by fetching a machete and using it as a shovel to dislodge the dirt piled under the car and then to fill in some muddy areas in which to cross. We somehow climbed some beautiful mountains (we literally were pushing the car up these steep roads at some points) and drove along a picturesque mountain ridge with beautiful, lush valleys hundreds of feet below us. The vegetation here was so green and beautiful with the rich Ugandan soils. We passed banana plantations, corn, sunflower, potato and sorghum fields. The ‘Mukiga’ (pronounced moo-CHEE-gah) people here love to dig, Japheth explains to me.

After a very long drive and asking several people for directions (these roads aren’t exactly marked or have names, you just ask people along the way where so-and-so lives and somehow they always seem to know) we pulled up in front of this small concrete house with beautiful yellow and red flowers growing in the front yard. It was in the middle of a banana plantation and several kids had run from a nearby village, following the car. I was instructed to keep my window up for the past several miles because people could see my whiteness from a distance (no joke) otherwise and spoil our attempt to catch this girl. If she knows we’re coming she’s likely to take off running through the banana plantation from which we’d never find her. Japheth got out first and went directly to the back of the house to catch her if she tried to run out that way. Meanwhile I moseyed up to the front door to wait. The family was out back. There were several children and 2 older women and a younger woman, but no sign of Sarah. They told us that she had in fact stayed there for a short time but wasn’t there any longer. I advised Japheth to search the 3 room house anyway, just to make sure. We did find an outfit that they said was hers but nothing more. The young woman who was there was apparently responsible for her being there in the first place. This woman, I was told, was known to be very promiscuous. “She wasn’t a ‘prostitute’ but she practiced prostitution” was how it was put to me and she had persuaded Sarah to quit school and stay with her in this house. This whole story up to this point we knew already, it wasn’t news to us. Sarah’s mother was visibly upset that she wasn’t there and it appeared (because I couldn’t understand what they were saying) that she was disgusted with what these people were telling her about Sarah’s whereabouts.

Eventually we discovered where Sarah was staying and convinced the young woman to travel with us to show us her whereabouts. We again hopped into our Corolla and proceeded to climb more mountains and various terrain to get to this other house. When we arrived Japheth had me sweep around the back of the house to see if she’d run (secretly I was hoping she would run just to test my tracking abilities). We found her here, staying with a relative of her mothers (a cousin or something). The woman said she’d only been here for a few days. I sat there in the sitting room as they discussed in another language what was going on. I just sat there looking concerned and interested though I was really looking outside at how nice the weather was and wishing the 8 kids outside would quit staring at me through the doorway. I looked at Sarah and could see her taking shortened breaths and I noticed that her pulse was racing, clearly concerned for what would happen next to her. Occasionally Japheth would ask me what I thought we should do now. We then decided to head back to town (we’d been traveling through the village now for 5 hours) to decide what to do with these 2 girls. (and there are now 6 of us in a 5-seater Corolla which does not include a middle seat in the front) We arrive back in town and talk to some of the other Compassion staff and decide to at least take these girls up to the police station to file a report charging this older girl for abducting Sarah (though it was more ‘influencing’ than abducting).

We arrive at the police station and all head back to an office in the back of the building, Sarah, her mother, this older girl, Japheth, myself and some totally random girl who just happened to be in the hallway at the time, along with 2 police officers. By this time it’s getting dark outside. This office looked more like a storage room with bundles and bundles of papers piled up on top of each other. They did have one filing cabinet which I’m sure was stuffed full. There were 2 desks in this room, actually 1 desk and a table at which the police officers sat. There was the usual political poster of the president, cabinet and state officers. Surprisingly enough it was for the year 2007. The police officers began to file this report doing all of the work by hand, just writing out all the details and sides of the different stories using blank pieces of paper. I glanced at the bundles of papers beside me and they were the same handwritten pieces of paper for who knows how many different cases of reports they had examined. The officers decided that it would be best to keep both these girls overnight to teach them both a lesson. Japheth and I will go there tomorrow morning and drop the charges on the older girl and have Sarah released.

Sarah is a Compassion child. She believes that she’s old enough at 13 to be on her own. She wants to get married, we think, and start her life, which would be fantastic for her to do in a few years, but she’s doing this by running away from home and abandoning her mother in the process. What she’s experiencing isn’t so different from any teenage girl, really, I guess. The need for independence. But she only has a 6th grader’s education and there’s reason to believe that she could be heading towards, if she hasn’t already, prostitution. If she could just finish one more year of school and then enroll in some type of vocational school to develop a marketable skill… she’d be better able to support herself and her future family. It’s difficult explaining that to her though. She thinks she has it all figured out already at 13. I guess she’ll have tonight to think about some things…

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Clean-up Time

Christmas in Kampala

I wasn’t sure what to expect for Christmas here in Uganda. Needless to say there wasn’t much hype. It didn’t feel like Christmas without the 2 months worth of advertising and pressure to buy Christmas gifts that the media pounds into our brains. No, Christmas was quiet this year, but still a lot of fun. The PCVs were invited to 4 different ex-pats houses for Christmas. We had some great food and even a gift exchange. It really felt like a normal Christmas party amongst friends, minus having family around, which, let’s face it, that’s what makes Christmas Christmas. We really had a nice time and the ex-pats, who mostly worked at the US Embassy, were so accommodating. Stoops and I even topped it off by being invited to watch the Christmas Day Dal vs Phi NFL game at one of their homes. The game didn’t come on until 1 AM but we managed to stay up for the whole game and it was AWESOME!!

The ex-pats who live here seem to have a pretty sweet gig. They live in beautiful homes which, from my understanding, are provided to them fully furnished with some neat African masks, art, etc. I even heard of one having a cat that came with the house… I was talking with one couple and I was asking if their jobs came together or how that worked. They explained that the Embassy sometimes tries to create a job for the spouse but in the guy’s case they didn’t have anything that interested him so he found a job teaching at an international school.

Clean-up Time

This morning I decided I would start on one of my New Year’s Resolutions. After my morning run and devotions I grabbed a burlap sack that and headed for town. I’m so sick and tired of seeing people just throw trash on the ground here with no regards for what happens to it! I remember a buddy of mine telling me how envious that he was that I would be living in Africa, eating fresh fruits and vegetables and smelling the clean air. The fact is that the fruits and vegetables are often sprayed with DDT and chemical that is thought to cause cancer and the air is filled with the smell of burning trash…

Have you ever wanted to do something but felt strange and almost ashamed to do it. I call it the ‘jumping into cold water’ theory. Jumping into cold water is the easiest thing in the world to do. It takes no special skill or ability to do and once your feet have left the concrete it’s all over. Taking my burlap bag into town to start collecting rubbish was me jumping into cold water. I’ve been wanting to do it for months but have felt silly and ashamed to. My friend Stoops recently wrote me a Christmas letter. It was a super nice letter and just a super nice thing to do. In it he made a statement to the point that he thought that I best resembled a PCV because of my willingness to help people without expecting anything in return. I have my parents to thank for instilling that in me. If there’s anything that they have a great deal in common with each other about it’s that exact thing, which I think is an amazing charisteristic.

So I sucked it up this morning and went into town. Let me share with you what I experienced:

I began in a very poor area on a dirt road just outside of town that I pass every day. There are always a ton of people standing around here and no matter how many times I’ve passed before they always stop and stare at me. The kids there always call me ‘muzungu’ and it’s just an area I would rather avoid but it’s the only rout into town. This is the place I just stopped walking one day and counted 50 people who were watching me at that one moment. On one side of the street is a row of businesses ranging from a bicycle repair shop where there are usually at least a dozen of guys sitting around, only 2 of which are usually working. There are also a slew of “dukas” which are the shops which all carry the same exact things and they are located all over this town, often right next to each other. There is also a herbal medicine shop. Many of these shops are a store in the front and a house in the back. One store sells only bananas and a few fresh vegetables.

That’s what’s on one side of the road. On the other side of the road is a semi-steep embankment of grass and a lot of trash, which I don’t completely understand because there’s a dumpster relatively nearby. Behind the embankment is a small nursery which sells seedlings of eucalyptus trees, tomato plants, flowers, pine trees, etc.

There was a part of me that figured, “OK, if people are going to stare at me all the time then I’m going to try to do something to give them to stare about and maybe even set an example for them to follow.” So I started picking up trash. What I soon discovered was that there was quite a bit more trash than I first thought, and I thought there was a lot! When a society has been throwing away trash for years and years and years and not picking it up… it accumulates! There was trash under the trash, trash under the grass, trash under the dirt! It was everywhere and it was incredibly dirty, as you can imagine. It was mostly plastic bags containing who knows what, often more trash. There were plastic bottles, wash basins, cigarette cartons (though people don’t smoke much here because of the cost, and they sell cigarettes individually). I had my back to the shops as I was picking but occasionally I would glance back to see a slew of eyes watching me, people just standing there staring. I heard my name a couple of times and the word ‘muzungu’.

I hadn’t been there long, maybe 20 minutes or so when a small boy of maybe 5 came up to me with a plastic bag he had picked up from across the road… I almost cried, seriously! Maybe someone had prompted him to bring it to me, maybe not, doesn’t matter. About 5 minutes later he had another plastic bag. Then another. Then a boy of maybe 2 brought me a matchbox and then ran away almost afraid of me. Then a girl brought me a plastic bottle. Each time I thanked them sincerely and smiled with some amazement. At one point a man who looked something like a black Tim McGraw with his goatee brought me 2 plastic bags to use as gloves. (I had searched the town previously and couldn’t find any work gloves). He said to me, “Birungi Munonga” meaning ‘very good’ and smiled. A taxi driver even stopped and asked me what I was doing. “I’m picking up rubbish,” I said. “For what reason?” he wanted to know. “Because it needs to be done,” I replied, and he drove off.

As I was working the trash-men came to collect garbage from a concrete dumpster which was located about 60 meters from where I was working. By ‘trash-men’ I mean a tractor pulling a trailer with 4 guys crowded around the driver. I started hauling my collection to the dumpster.

Maybe I didn’t change the world today and maybe I didn’t teach anyone about the dangers of HIV/AIDS but I did feel like I accomplished something today, and sometimes as a PCV that’s a very needed thing. You know, there’s something about a person of authority and power who humbles themselves to do service work. Whereas I feel like most of the time I have neither authority or power, I know that because of my skin color I am looked upon that way, and in the same way I hope that people felt my need for cleaning up the area as sincerely as I felt it.

Blog Filter

After a great deal of thought, I’ve decided not to protect my blog. I was advised by my country director that password protecting it would better ensure my safety at my site as a ‘soft target’ for terrorist activity, protect the integrity of my organization, the Peace Corps and the United States against my personal opinions by limiting access to only people I had invited to read. There was an incident regarding a PCV posting some opinions about her organization who then read her blog and became upset. I believe that I sensor my topics to my day to day goings-on as a PCV and omit my personal opinions adequately.

Random Factoid

Ugandans say the following words and they all sound exactly the same: hut, hurt, heart, hot, hat, hard. The only way you can tell them apart is from the context of the sentence.