Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Latest Update

Sorry that it’s taken me a while to update. A few reasons for that. #1 is that the NGO I was going to for Internet… doesn’t have it anymore. At least for now. Apparently the bill wasn’t paid so it was disconnected. They say it’ll be back soon, so that typically means between 1-6 months. #2 reason is that my computer has broken down now 3x in the past 2 months! First the mechanism that holds the screen up broke, next Microsoft XP froze up and refused to load. That required a re-loading of XP which of course means that my entire hard drive was erased. Fortunately I had a significant amount of my files backed up on the computers at Compassion, but I still lost a few things including my address book. But pictures, music, blog info, that was all saved either on the internet or elsewhere. As it stands now I’ll only be able to update my blog every other week as the $5 to get too and from Mbarara is a little steep on a Peace Corps Volunteer’s salary.

Muzungu Central

It seems like my village has become a Mecca for white people lately. There was an Australian who cane to visit a Compassion child (more on that later) another Australian who is looking for agriculture projects to sponsor, 2 girls from Sweeden who were here promoting reading to village schools and a group of 6 missionaries from America (1 was from Poland) who were scouting the place out to place a missionary couple here. It was crazy and it was all happening at once. Of course when Jacob and I see white people we are compelled to investigate who has intruded onto our territory and we’re more than happy to share stories and a meal with them.

Sponsor Visit

A sponsor for one of the children came for a visit this past week. It was really cool. I haven’t been here when a sponsor visits a child. This person (we’ll call him Jay) wasn’t the child’s sponsor, but a friend of the family who sponsored the child. When Jay arrived Moses, the sponsored child, was there waiting for him. Moses was quiet and looked a little nervous. Imagine what it must feel like for your sponsor to visit you. The one who pays for your school fees, uniform, mosquito net, health care, etc. The one who you write letters to and receive marvelous post cards and pictures and stickers from. The one you pray for each night before going to bed. It must be somewhat overwhelming as it seemed to be for Moses. Immediately, Jay pulled out a shiny new soccer ball for him and his eyes lit up! I asked Moses jokingly if he even played soccer and he assured me that he did. We then loaded up the vehicle and went to Moses’ house. He lived with his father and mother and his grandmother lived across the path. The grandmother’s house was one of the nicest houses I’ve seen in my time here, but the father’s house was a simple mud structure. We spent the afternoon enjoying African tea (milk tea) and peanuts and watching as Moses opened gift after gift that Jay had brought. It was an awesome thing. Just like Christmas. The gifts were perfect too. Stickers, markers, a ball to throw around, a model house to build, a cool neon pencil pouch. Each gift was so appropriate for an African child. We eventually went outside and kicked the soccer ball around for a while. It was really nice to visit with Jay. He told me that he works with World Vision in Australia, a Christian development organization that tries to develop entire communities.

Running Club

Jacob and I have started a running club with the nearby secondary school. We figured that as long as we’re running in the mornings anyway, we might as well have company. The first day was Monday and there were around 25 kids that turned up. Mostly boys but about 7 girls. They don’t have shoes to run in so they mostly go bare footed (which I’ve done before and it kills my arches). The girls don’t have athletic attire to run in so they ran in skirts or slacks and their nice shirts. I’m working on a program where I can get some second hand shoes collected in some high schools in the US and I’ll bring them back here for them. There’s a program called Shoes for Africa that does a similar program and that’s where I got the idea. We had a good first run. I arrived at 6:15am, the sun hadn’t even begun to come up yet. I heard people running around in a group, like an army or something. They were blowing a whistle. As they ran by me I thought that maybe they had already had a running club. They stopped when they saw the white guy (I’m even white if it’s pitch black out… trust me). I asked if they had been running before this week and they said this was their first time. So we began with some talks about the benefits of running and exercise (mostly just me flapping my gums) and then did some stretches. We went up to run around Compassion where there’s a nice ¼ mile track (sort of). The girls were to do 8 laps and the boys 12. I ran with them, encouraging them along the way and getting passed by the really fast guys. It was funny because I came up behind what I thought was a boy and a girl running. They were running close together and the boy had his shirt off. When I got closer what I thought was the boy put his shirt back on and I quickly discovered that it wasn’t a boy, it was one of the girls. As frequently and often as women breast feed in this country it’s not unusually for girls to not be as discreet about nakedness here, but it still took me off guard a little. Yikes! Keep your cloths on ladies! Otherwise it was a good first run. We’ll see how the turnout is tomorrow.

Otherwise, thanks so much to Karen and to St Paul’s UMC for the care packages!! They arrived just in time for Valentine’s Day or as Karen put it in her card “Singles Awareness Day”!


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

How Sweet It Is!!!

Super Bowl Champions!! I know that I'm supposed to be talking about my Peace Corps experience in Uganda and all but if I don't talk about the Colts then I just wouldn't be being myself. The Colts defeated the Bears in Super Bowl XLI 29-17! And they did it without a superstar quarterback carrying the load, instead they did it with a superstar team which included a superstar quarterback! It was Awesome and sepcial to watch, especially being here. We had some friend over to watch the game. It started at 2am local time but the 'pre-game' began at 9pm, so you can bet that I was sitting there on the front row at exactly 9pm while the other guys filtered in hours later. The power had been out all morning, just as it had the previous morning but around 6pm it came back. I was nervously awaiting power all day. Normally we have power all the time here but it does go out occasionally. The game began with 7 of us in attendence. Not quite the 1 billion that they said was watching the game, but it was enough. 6 Americans and 1 confused Ugandan (Bruno). There was some extra-curricular excitement. As the game neared the end of the 1st quarter the power flickered and then went out!! I was afraid that it wouldn't turn back on. You never know. Sometimes it's out for 2-3 minutes, sometimes it's out for days. I rushed to turn on my shortwave radio and we hurridly scrolled through the stations looking for the broadcast. One volunteer called his parents to have them look up a station. With 1 billion people watching you would think SOMEONE would be broadcasting it on shortwave, right? We desperately searched, even if it was in Spanish, we would have listened to it... noting. So we waited. Several guys fell asleep as we waited. Finally, about 30 minutes later, it came back, only to have the satellite reception freeze up on us minutes later. It was raining here which gave the feeling of being in the game because it was raining in Miami too. The rain and cloudcover scrambled the reception for most of the 3rd quarter and again we waited for the rain to die down. Finally it did and we could see that the Colts were up 22-14. With around 3 minutes left the other guys started high fiving me and congratulating me on the game (as if I had something to do with it). It was a special game indeed. Worth staying up to see and worth many Colts losing seasons to wait for!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Branching Out

Branching Out

At times you just have to get away. My skin was crawling, as they say, to just leave for the weekend. Fortunately this was a 3 day weekend as Friday was a holiday for the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party of which the current president belongs. I decided to ride my bike some 35 miles down a dirt road to visit several other PCVs living around a nearby village. My journey would take me by the Kitagata hot springs which are said to have healing powers over various diseases.

I set out early on Friday morning, not really dreading the 4-5 hour bike ride but not really looking forward to it either. Marcus had made the same trip a few months ago. It took him 8 hours to get here and 5 to get back. I think he decided to walk less on the way back. The biking is through the mountains. It’s beautiful but it’s tough. The air was cool in the morning but not cold and I was all set with my back pack stuffed with clothes and my iPod and my padded biking gloves which are a necessity when taking long biking trips and I’m glad I brought them. The road was paved for the first7 miles or so then I took a shortcut (which was on the map) through the bush. It was really beautiful riding through the mountains. Of course people stop and stare as I biked past. The kids come running, calling behind them for their siblings to come and see. I can’t imagine too many white people pass through these parts. I stopped along to way to buy airtime for my phone in case I would need to reach someone. I hopped off the bike speaking the local language to the shop keeper who was truly surprised at my grasp of the vernacular. By the time I had made my purchase and answered the usual questions of ‘Where are you going? Where are you from? Where did you learn to speak vernacular?’ I stepped outside to find no less than 30 people who had gathered around my bike and at the shop entrance to watch the white man who was passing through their town. “Don’t touch the bike” I snapped at the men around my bike, in part to shock them at my language skills and in part because they always shift the gears in their meddling curiosity. I waved goodbye and I was off again, this time only to meet a cattle herder whose cattle were blocking my passage. So I tried to speak with him with little success as I waited for an opportunity to pass. Eventually I got around and managed to reach the hot springs.

The hot springs were hot, much to my surprise. I was expecting luke-warm springs but they were really hot. So hot infact that I couldn’t keep my hand in the water. There were naked men bathing 10 feet away, did I mention that? They asked me the same questions as the shop keeper had and then they asked me to get in and bathe with them. “It’s too hot!” I explained but they told me it was cooler downstream where they were. I said I didn’t have my bathing clothes which seemed to work for an answer despite that they were bathing naked.

I finally reached my destination. At that point I was begging to be back in the flatlands of Indiana rather than climbing one hill after another. I had my GPS with me and I had averaged 9.7 mph on my journey. I clock along at 15mph on flat ground. I visited with the other PCVs there and eventually stayed with fellow Hoosier volunteer, Marcus. Marcus is really in a village, about 30 minutes from the nearest decent sized city. His house is a duplex that is right on the grounds of a primary school, which I think would be maddening when school is in session with hundreds of kids running around all the time. He says he can’t keep the doors closed because that would be considered rude to his neighbors but if he leaves them open then kids stare in at him. If he shifts to another room then he feels like he leaves his stuff unattended and someone might slip in and take something, so it’s a no-win. His bathing area is a concrete structure that’s outside and he has another concrete structure which he cooks in. Marcus is working as an education volunteer so he has several schools in the area which he tries to assist and train other teachers in order to improve their teaching techniques. We diceded to be adventures for the weekend and bike to a nearby mountain and climb. He knew ‘roughly’ where we were supposed to go so on Saturday morning we headed out.

Never before had either of us used our language skills so much. We got lost along the way and had to ask several people how to get where we were trying to go. Marcus has a pretty good grasp on the language. He’s a real student of it and it proved to be very useful. At a copule of points we were biking on footpaths that we were just hoping wouldn’t dead-end at someones house, but eventually we reached a town at the base of the mountain. We then paid a guy who was working at a bicycle repair shop in this village to keep an eye on our bikes. Of course we were the center of attention once we reached this little town. People came out of the shops and houses to just stare at us. I’m sure we looked something like a couple of Mormons who were here to preach Jesus as we rode up on our bikes. Marcus takes this much better than I do. He waves and greets people whereas I just try to ignore and keep going.

We started up the mountain through a banana plantation and it wasn’t long before a handful of kids was with us. One of which was an older boy, around 13, who knew English pretty well and even was attending school in Kampala though he was here on holidays from school living with his grandfather. We stopped halfway up the steep slope of the hill to catch our breath and get some water when we heard people calling us over to them. There was a group of women on the side of this steep hill, in the middle of grass and weeds who had a garden of millet that they were harvesting. One of the women greeted Marcus calling him Master Marcus, meaning that she knew him from working with the schools. Come to find out that she was a sister of a girl who was a student at a secondary school in the village he worked in but he had never met the sister to his knowledge. PCVs are known if only because they are Muzungus (white people). We talked with them for a while and took some pictures.

Arriving at the top of the mountain ridge we were surprised to find that there were over 50 people who were harvesting millet in various fields! They had climbed up in groups and were working. It was nice to know that they were using that land for growing crops but astonishing at the same time the trouble they had to go through to grow and harvest crops on this mountain (elevation around 6,200ft). Supposedly there was a lake on the top of this mountain but we only found a small puddle about 10x10 where some cattle drink from we were told. Supposedly there are also spirits that live up on that mountain at night or so we are told. We greeted the farmers, mostly women but some men and children. One woman asked if we wanted to share their meal with them. We politely declined saying that we had already eaten. It was a very kind gesture.

Time to go back down the mountain and check if our bikes were still there. They were and we ate lunch in the village. Meat, posho and matooke. Same meal you’d find in any village, but it was good to sit and rest for a while. We paid the man $1 for watching our bikes. I’m sure he was expecting more from us but it was much more than adequate. We biked 6 miles back to Marcus’ house, checking the GPS the entire way to make sure we were going back the right way. Oh, one funny thing did happen while we were visiting Lonnie & Kathy and Honey at the college. A woman that knew Marcus met us and greeted us and asked if I was Marcus’ father! Stupid receding hairline!

Sunday it was time to head back. I learned from my trip that mountain bikes aren’t really designed for distance travel. You’re looking ‘up’ all the time and there’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders from leaning forward over the handle bars the entire time. It’s more reliable than the local bikes though, that’s for sure. The trip back was as entertaining as the trip there with more people staring and curious.

Mama Collins

Some of my family had pooled some money together for one of the Compassion kids and his family. We took that money this week and were able to purchase a nice plot of land, complete with banana trees and some coffee plants. It was on a semi-main road that is close to the school and close to a trading center. The purchase was made with the Local Council I (local government official) and some witnesses who then wrote out in a notebook the purchase agreement and signed and stamped it and that was it. It was signed on the seat of a motorbike of all things. This ‘small’ purchase of $200 US dollars was over 2x what she would make in a year doing casual labor working at the school. Her husband had died in the army leaving no land to her, her mother and her 3 children who are living in a 6ft x 6ft mud room with 1 twin bed. She wanted land in order to cultivate and grow food and eventually build a house with the money that is remaining. The land was purchased from a caregiver of a Compassion child, which is doubly as good meaning that the money helped another family who is struggling. To be able to give someone a new start, especially someone who is hard working and is providing for a family… it moves me to tears, honestly. I’m so personally thankful to those who have made those small sacrifices to help this one individual who lives on the other side of the world and whom you (those who helped) will never meet.


We had another situation this week where one of our Compassion kids was about to be thrown out of his house. His father and mother had separated several years back. He lived with the father for a while but the father then remarried and had children with his new wife. The mother had also remarried and had children. Now in this culture, if there is a divorce which is very uncommon, or if a parent dies, the child can remain with the father or mother but if the mother cannot remarry if she has children. The new father wouldn’t accept her children, so if she does have children they must live with someone else, sometimes the father and sometimes another relative or neighbor if they’ll have them. In John’s case, he was taken in by an elder woman who was just being a good Samaritan. She took the boy in because he was sickly at the time and in all honesty probably would have died from sickness and neglect. This was several years ago and now the family of this woman, a grandchild in particular, are saying that John, who is now 14, is healthy, has been for a long time, and she shouldn’t look after him any more. What is truly sad is that John sought out his mother some time back after hearing where she had relocated and upon finding her, his mother told him to never refer to her as his mother again and to never seek her out…. Can you imagine?? So John has no family other than a step-mother and step brothers and sisters but he’s basically on his own. The father did leave him a nice piece of land when he died and he’s begun to construct a house for himself there. Though he’s young he is capable of taking care of himself. He’ll be in secondary school this year, which is commonly boarding school, so he’ll be away from home most of the year anyway, so we’re trying to write a proposal to Compassion to help him out with building the house.

Go Horse!!

The Colts are in the Super Bowl! The Colts are in the Super Bowl! Man, that’s unbelievable and it just won’t sink in. Every day I’ve been on the internet reading dozens of articles about it, I just can’t get enough. I’m so pumped for the game!!! I’m going to stay up late Saturday night and watch NFL Primetime on DSTV here at 2am for 2 hours and then the Super Bowl pre-game stuff starts Sunday night at 9pm and lasts 5 hours until the game comes on live at 2am Monday morning. A few other hard core PCVs who live around here are coming to watch it live w/ me. The game is then replayed on ESPN International at 1pm and 6pm the next day, so even if the power does decide to go out (and who knows) there is a place in town that has a generator we can watch it on that afternoon. The only thing we won’t have will be the commercials. ESPN International plays the exact same commercials over and over and over and none of them (believe me it’s true) are product advertisements, they’re all ads for other programming shows on ESPN International and it’s TORTUROUS!!! But who cares! As long as I get to see the game!!

Just one more, Colts! You can do it! Make it happen!