Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Wicked Bike Wreck and About Blogging

About Blogging

I spent the evening reading blogs of friends I’ve lost contact with over the years. ‘Years’ do that to you. Cause you to lose things. It was nice to catch up from thousands of miles away. One-sided conversations, all of them. Most as plain and ordinary as a slice of Wonder bread. Ordinary days in the lives of ordinary people. Blogs in many ways are today’s version of “Want to see a home video of my vacation?” And for whatever reason… we do want to see. Through blogs I caught up with a friend who is 35 weeks pregnant, a friend who ran a mini-marathon, a friend whose mother came to visit in London and a friend who was recently accepted to med school. It’s mostly only interesting if you know the person. I also think about my blog. Who reads? Who cares? Maybe a future Peace Corps Volunteer? Maybe someone interested in Compassion International? Mostly friends and family, I guess. I have nearly 15,000 hits on my blog since I started and that’s a lot. Overwhelming, really, when I stop to think about it. Especially when I’m reminded that I’m a former shop teacher and not a real writer. Some people randomly ‘hit’ and move on. Some linger. To be honest, mostly I write so that my mom doesn’t say, “Why don’t you ever write home?” It’s my weekly letter home, but one that everyone can read. It saves me from having to repeat myself. “Read my blog if you want to know how I’m doing,” I can say. Blogging brings us closer and that’s rewarding in itself.

PCT Visits

Jacob and I had 4 brand new Peace Corps Trainees visit this weekend. Brand new. Only been in Uganda for 2 weeks. As wide-eyed as freshmen on a big campus for the first time. When the Peace Corps called us and asked if we’d host, they also asked if we wanted boys or girls. Girls! we told them. When they called again and said they were sending 4 boys I said to them – Hey! That’s not what I ordered!

It’s great to have PCTs visit. For some volunteers the PCT visitors will be their only visitors to their sites for the entire 2 years they’re there. PCTs come and they want to know all about what it’s like to be a real Peace Corps Volunteer. They want to know how we shop for food, how we interact with our neighbors, how we get around, how we cook, bathe and how we take our anti-malarials. No stone is left unturned by a PCT in their quest to get as prepared as possible for their own start as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. PCT visits yield themselves to long talks late into the night about a vast number of life topics. As a PCV, I typically am out cold by 10pm, but when a PCT visits I’m still gabby at 1am.

Jacob and I take special pleasure in spoiling our guests and shocking them into what life as a PCV can be. Jacob, who has worked as a chef in an Italian, Mexican and Indian restaurant, concocts 5 star meals for them. This weekend it was a pasta dish with flavorful taco seasoning, Louisiana gumbo which included sausage, and as much French toast and maple syrup as they could eat. And 6 big, hungry guys can eat a lot! We also make sure that we watch movies on the laptop. Movies here are plentiful. I can even buy and rent them in my village. Each DVD has about 6 movies on it. For example, a Bruce Willis, Jack Black or Billy Bob Thornton collection. Not to mention entire seasons of Lost, 24, Friends or Simpson’s on their respective discs.

PCT visits also enable us PCVs to brag about what we’ve been doing for the past year and show off our contributions to our site (whether big or small) and our language skills. My guys ran in the mornings with my running group and we played an intense game of Ultimate Frisbee with the nearby Secondary School. We showed them where we watch 2 NFL games a week, Sports Center and Myth Busters. Then we took them to Mbarara to meet up with the rest of their training group and a bunch of other current PCVs. We share a good meal together (I’m talking lasagna and pizza) at a local restaurant and then go dancing late into the night. It’s almost like a brief glimpse into heaven for them. A carrot to dangle while they trudge through another 2 months of language and culture training sessions and choking down beans and rice.

Accidents Happen

“I haven’t wrecked like that in years!” The last time I did was the first time I ever saw stars… If you’ve seen any of my pictures of this area then you know it’s hilly. I live on one of those hills. It’s a nice bike ride into town. 1 km, all downhill. Coming back up is another story altogether. 2 weeks ago Jacob was forced off the road by a car, hit a rut and tumbled over his handlebars. He scratched up his arm and foot pretty badly and was limping around for about a week. It was my turn today.

I was on my way into town, down my path which leads to a main dirt road. The path/road I was on is small, but wide enough for a car. It’s dirt and well maintained, but when you’re a kamikaze biker like I am, you enjoy the speed down the hill. When biking fast down a dirt road your eyes are poised a few feet in front of you in order to choose the best path to take. The path changes week to week as rain carves new grooves into the road, but there’s a clear, smooth path which is packed down by bikers and mopeds that travel this route. It’s a route I take every single day.

I don’t know how I didn’t see it, really. It was in full view for at least 300 yards, plain as the nose on my face and as big as a small mud hut. The only thing I can think is that it was earth colored and that my eyes were fixed just a short distance in front of my bike as I was choosing my path.

By the time I saw it, it was too late. A branch. Laying completely across the road. A big branch completely covering the road like a road block that had been put there to divert traffic from entering. In Uganda, they don’t use orange cones or barrels to mark road construction or accidents. They break off branches and put them in the road. It looked positioned to me, like someone put it there and that I was supposed to stop… and I never saw it for some reason.

Things always seem to happen in slow motion in accidents, and mine was no different. In a matter of moments that must have been less than one full second these thoughts raced through my mind: What??!! There’s a branch! Brakes! Going too fast stop. (I heard a pop as my front brakes failed from being applied too hard) Can I go around? No. Where should I hit it? Center looks best. Too bushy on one end and too thick a branch on the other. Can’t go around. I might make it through. Hang on! BANG!! (a frozen moment, waiting for whatever just happened to finish happening…finally) Lost control. Going to crash. Ground approaching. Embrace for impact… BANG!! Over the handle bars. Rolling slightly. Stopped. It’s over. Ouch! Wow! Did anyone see me? Hope not.

I immediately knew that I was alright afterwards and this next sentence will make no sense to you whatsoever. It felt good. I was hurting. I had road burns and blood on my elbow and hip from skidding the ground. My knee was in pain from hitting the bike I think. My head was spinning from the rush of adrenaline. I had to walk it off afterwards and I was concerned that my laptop which was in my backpack may have snapped in half! But I had crashed and crashed well. I won’t incriminate myself by saying whether or not I was wearing a helmet as is required by the Peace Corps. I know how to fall well for some reason in a way that neutralizes the fall. For some strange reason, still unknown to me it felt really good to crash. I played football in high school and for a moment I felt like I had just been hit by a 230 lb. linebacker. There’s a line from a Goo Goo Dolls song that came to mind immediately afterwards, “Yeah, you bleed just to know you’re alive.” I limped back to my bike and coasted very carefully the rest of the way into town, like a wounded soldier returning from a battle…which I had in some strange way, won.

The tank which I call my bike itself was undamaged aside from the front break which had popped before the collision.

Unsponsored Children

Each month we receive a list from the head office of Compassion International regarding which children are currently unsponsored. Each Compassion child has a sponsor whom they write letters with back and forth. The sponsor pays around $30 a month in order for the child to receive proper education, health services, personal hygiene supplies like soap, and a variety of additional services. An unsponsored child still receives everything that the sponsored children receive. They aren’t kicked out of the program or anything. They just don’t have anyone to write to or receive letters from. The following kids are our unsponsored children within our organization. A few people have asked me about sponsoring kids. At the risk of sounding like one of those “Feed the Children” commercials which air at 2am on Christian Television, if you are genuinely interested in sponsoring a Compassion child from here specifically, you’ll have to call the Compassion headquarters in the US (800) 336-7676 and tell them you want to sponsor a child from program UG-221 Kyamate. In the year I’ve spent here, I’ve seen precisely just how ‘life saving’ organizations like Compassion really provide a hope for a better future. These kids come from families that are the poorest of the poor in this area. If you are waiting for the US Government to step in and save 3rd world countries… this is how you, personally, can significantly and make a difference in one child’s life.

Edina, Martin, Barbarah, Evas, Brighton


Take just a moment and read this link to a friend’s blog (the one whose mother visited her in London) about ‘World AIDS Day’, Bono and RED.

Random Factoid

Cigarettes here are sold in packs and individually. You can go into a store and buy a single cigarette for about $.05. It makes sense for a 3rd world country if you think about it. Of course there aren’t many smokers here and I’ve never seen a woman smoking, it’s culturally inappropriate.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Income Generating Activities

The following is an accountability report that was submitted recently for income generating activities to the Compassion head office. It gives an idea of some of the poverty and struggles of our Compassion kids and their families. The currency rate for converting Ugandan shillings to USD at the time was around 1750= per $1.

Christian greetings from the above project. We are all fine and God is still in control.

As mentioned above, we received funds worth 3,404,000= ($1,950.00) meant for the IGAs and shelter renovations for the families that are in bad situations (HIV/AIDS). These funds were meant to help in lifting the living standards of these families especially by improving on their daily incomes so that they are in position to meet their basic needs and also improve on the shelter especially those that are living in rented houses or with shelter that is in bad shape.

As people on the ground, we did groundwork to ensure that every beneficiary is educated on how best to use these IGAs that are being given to them. In fact, those who took goats were requested to bring a grown up “kid” after one year so that other families can also benefit. Therefore, this condition is going to give them the heart to work hard to ensure that the IGA brings in profits to help them meet the conditions given. After careful assessment, we had (twenty) families to benefit from this money. The amount of money given ranged from 100,000= to 300,000= depending on the need of the family.

In the accountability report we have endeavored to briefly show you what the family looks like and how much it was given. We have also included the breakdown for the money as reflected together with the photographs of what was given.

1. Sarah

Both parents passed away 4 years ago from HIV/AIDS. Sarah and her other siblings are now living with their grandmother who is 80 years old and unable to work for these children. Sarah is in P6 and the elder sister is in Senior two (2) and Sarah with the rest are in primary level.

This family has a small semi-permanent house without a pit-latrine, kitchen or bathing shelter. The family has a small banana plantation which they depend on for food, paraffin, and fees for the primary school children. Due to old age of this woman, the banana plantation is also not yielding much because there is no one to work in it.

Support of 250,000=

This family received 250,000= to help in renovating the house they are living in. We bought 10 iron sheets to replace one side of the house which had old iron sheets and also we had to put up a small temporary kitchen to avoid cooking from the house in which they live.

Due to the great need this family is in, we organized one of the Center Days and went there with project children to go and work in the banana plantation, put up a bathing shelter, and to put up a drying rack as you may see in the photographs attached.


Item Unit Cost Total Cost

Iron Sheets 12,000= 120,000=

Poles (20) 2,000= 40,000=

Transport 20,000=

Roofing Labor 60,000=

Nails 10,000=

Total 250,000=

Project Director Japheth, Director of Finance Mugisha Barbrah, Project Volunteer Brian Dunn, the project children along with Sarah, her caregiver and siblings in front of their renovated house.

Sarah’s new kitchen under construction.

Working alongside Sarah’s grandmother

2. Suleiman

This boy is in Primary Five in Kahunga Primary School. Both his parents passed away leaving him with 2 elder brothers and also 2 elder sisters with a young brother who is in Primary 2. Both parents died of HIV/AIDS with the father passing away 2 months ago. This family is now under the elder brother who is married but depends on casual labor to help the family survive.

This family was left with a small piece of land on the hillside and a small house in which Suleiman with the sisters and brothers still live. The family income is through working for people in order to earn what to eat.

Support of 300,000=

This family was supported with 300,000= to buy goats that could be of great help to the family in the near future. They bought 4 old goats with seven young ones and altogether being 11 goats with the above mentioned amount. We believe that in the nearby future, these goats will be able to support this family and especially Suleiman in their daily needs.

Suleiman with his brother and 11 goats.

3. Emily and Apophia

Emily and Apophia lost their father to HIV/AIDS and are living with their mother. Their family lives by doing casual work for people in their gardens. The mother to Orishaba is HIV/AIDS infected and at the moment she is not strong enough to work for the children due to poor health. We, together with the family, decided that we buy goats which can multiply very fast so that at the end of one year, they will be able to sell some and meet their basic needs.

Support of 300,000=

This family received 300,000=. It was used for buying 4 old goats and 6 young ones with the above amount.

Apophia with 10 goats for an IGA

4. Benjamin

Benjamin lives with his mother, 2 sisters and 1 brother. The mother is infected and is on ARVs. She raises money from casual labor but nowadays her strength is reduced as she falls sick more often.

Support of 162,000=

They received 162,000= and were able to buy 4 goats with 2 kids. We believe that the goats will multiply and the family income will rise and this will help the family when the caregiver no longer lives.

Benjamin with his mother and 6 goats

5. Anna

Anna lives with her mother. The mother is infected with HIV/AIDS. She earns from sale of harvest and casual labor. She has 3 children and has been sickly now and cannot do hard labor anymore.

Support of 150,000=

This family received one-hundred fifty thousand shillings. They were able to buy 4 goats with (150,000=). We believe that by the end of next year, these goats will have multiplied so that the family’s income will have increased.

Anna with her mother and with 3 goats for an IGA

6. Betsy

Betsy lives with both parents and there are 11 children. Both parents are infected and are on ARVs. The family depends on the sale of mud fish and casual work.

Support of 120,000=

The parents have been sickly. The project came in to assist them with IGA of goats after realizing that there is church land near their home which they could use for grazing. We believe that the goats will produce and multiply so that they may keep selling and buying to meet the family needs as well as a sustainable income.


Received 120,000= (one-hundred and twenty thousand only)


1 goat 40,000=

1 goat 35,000=

1 goat 25,000=

1 kid 20,000=

Total 120,000=

Betsy with her family and their goats for an IGA.

7. Sankara

This is another HIV stricken home. Sankara lives with his parents and all three are infected plus he has 1 brother. The child is on ARVs.

The family has been earning from casual work and the sale of harvest, however, the parents have been sickly for some time and the mother’s poor health has greatly affected the family income. The funds went towards an IGA after knowing that they have land near their home where they can care for the goats and as they multiply they can sell some and buy others to get income to meet their needs.


Received 150,000=

Item unit cost total

2 goats and 2 kids 50,000= 100,000=

1 female goat 50,000= 50,000=

Total 150,000=

Sankara with his mother and 5 goats.

8. Nicholas

This is an affected family. Nicholas lost both parents and lives with only the grandmother who is aging and the child has completed Primary 7.

The family earns from casual work (emizizi). They have a small plot of land where the house is built.

Support of 100,000=

This caregiver is aging and weak. She can no longer earn enough to meet their needs. The funds were given for the IGA to support them after realizing they could graze in the church land. As the goats produce and multiply, they will be selling them and buying others for a sustainable income to meet the family needs and for the child when he joins secondary school.


Received 120,000=

Item unit cost total

2 goats 50,000= 100,000=

1 male goat 20,000= 20,000=

Total 120,000=

Nicholas with grandmother and goats.

9. Dorcus

This is an HIV stricken home. Dorcus is on ARVs. She stays with a grandmother and 1 cousin. The family has been affected so much.

The family has a plantation and they have been selling matooke but the old woman is very sickly now and can no longer take good care of the plantation to get what to sell. After realizing their problem and finding out that they have a grazing area below the plantation, the funds were used to support them with and IGA. We believe that the goats will multiply so that they may sell and meet their needs.


Received 100,000= (one-hundred thousand only)

Item unit cost total

2 goats 40,000= 80,000=

1 kid 20,000= 20,000=

Dorcus with her caregiver and goats

Total 100,000=

10. John

This is a very needy HIV affected family. It’s a family of 4, the caregiver, two girls and a boy. The elder girl dropped out of school due to lack of school fees and helps the mother. The other child is 2 ½ years old. The family has been renting for about 3 years since the house that the man left collapsed.

The family entirely depends on casual work since they have no plantation. They are currently constructing a small house. The goats were given as a side income in the mean time.

Support of 100,000=

Since the caregiver is infected and has been sickly and weak, she has been unable to do casual work. The funds were used to support the family with an IGA since there is a grazing area in front of the rented house. We hope that the goats will produce and multiply so that they may sell them and buy others to meet the family needs.


Received 100,000= (one-hundred thousand only)

Item unit cost total

2 goats 40,000= 80,000=

1 kid 20,000= 20,000=

Total 100,000=

John with his mother and 3 goats.

11. Caroline

Caroline is one of our project children whose mother, Justine Kabenye, is one of the CGLH/A. Justine has 5 children, 2 girls and 3 boys. Caroline’s father died 8 years ago.

Caroline’s mother is a casual laborer. However, while her husband was still alive she says she used to sell second hand clothes in local markets.

Support of 150,000=

It is with this background and through survey that the funds were given to support this family with an IGA of selling second hand clothes in town. This project incurs a cost of purchasing one bundle/package (Endiboota) of second hand clothes worth 150,000=.


Received 150,000=

Purchased 1 package (Endiboota) 150,000=

Total 150,000=

12. Roden and Diana

Roden and Diana are sisters. They live with their father, Mafumbiro George (a single parent). Their mother died three years ago while giving birth. This is a family of 8 children.

This family depends on the garden of bananas (matooke). However, with this being quite a large family and having an elderly man as a single parent who has to do all the domestic work for his school-going children, they need support.

This family has been supported with a bee-keeping project (bee hives in photo) and goat rearing. Being a hard working caregiver, this is going to improve the family’s welfare.


Received 150,000=

Item unit cost total

2 Bee Hives 30,000= 60,000=

2 goats 45,000= 90,000=

Total 150,000=

Roden with 2 goats and 2 bee hives.

13. Rachel

Rachel lives with her mother, Nalongo, a CGLH/A. She has 2 brothers and one sister.

This family has been depending on yellow banana business (selling bogoya to the highway vehicles). The funds were used, after a thorough survey, to support this family with more capital to have more sales and improve on the family’s poor living conditions.


Received 100,000=

Item unit cost total

20 bunches of bananas (bogoya) 6,000= 120,000=

Total 120,000=

14. Novet and Nicholas

This is one of the HIV stricken families. Novet and Nicholas are brother and sister. Grace Mugisha is one of the CGLH/A and is the mother to these project children.

The mother is a hardworking casual laborer. With this background, the money was used to support this family with an IGA to improve on the children’s welfare and the family’s income.

Support of 150,000=

This was supported with 150,000= for rearing goats. This family is one of the needy but hardworking HIV-stricken families. Attached is the photograph of the IGA project with family members.


Received 150,000=

Item unit cost total

3 goats 50,000= 150,000=

Novet with her 3 goats for an IGA

15. Abaine and Abenawe

Praise the Lord! Tumwebaze Abaine and Tumwebaze Abenawe are brother and sister, Abaine is CLH/A and is on ARV medication. Their mother is called Monica Tumwebaze and their father died of HIV/AIDS five years ago. Monica is also one of the CGLH/A in this project and is an active member of the Post Test group.

The mother is a Sunday School teacher and is a messenger in Primary School. The most immediate need of this family was shelter. Monica, being a hardworking widow, put up a small house which she failed to shutter/close. The money was used to complete the structure by installing windows and doors, plus plastering (since the muddy walls seemed weak). This cost three-hundred thousand shillings.

The house is currently still under construction. By the time we took this photograph many things were not in place.


Received 300,000=

Item unit cost total

3 bags cement 19,500= 58,500=

1 trip sand 60,000= 60,000=

Poles 20,000= 20,000=

4 windows 30,000= 120,000=

1 door 41,500= 41,500=

Total 300,000=

Monica standing before her new house with the project staff

16. Gastone

This is one of the very needy HIV stricken houses. Gastone has a younger brother LWH/A. His mother is called Kyomuhendo Evelyn, a CGLH/A.

This family only depends on casual work for a living. It is a very poor home with food insecurity problem.

The project has encouraged more emphasis on gardening (renting land for growing food crops). In addition to these gardens, this family has now been supplied with a baking project as an IGA. Kyomuhendo now makes local buns (mandazis) for the neighboring school and the trading center.


Received 150,000=

Item unit cost total

6 small jerricans cooking oil 7,500= 45,000=

20 packets of wheat flour 2,870= 57,400=

3 kg sugar 3,200= 9,600=

1 baking pan 10,000= 10,000=

Associated Transport 10,000= 10,000=

12 pk/s baking powder 1,500= 18,000=

Total 150,000=

Gastone and his mother preparing mandazi

17. Sheilla and Charity

This is yet another HIV stricken family. Nyakato and Nyangoma are twin sisters who live with their mother Lydia, a CGLH/A. This is therefore a family of three.

Lydia, the caregiver to the children and operates a small tea room (single room) in the market. This tea room is at the same time accommodation for this family. Sheilla’s father died only leaving them with a small plot of land but with no house at all. With this kind of situation these children have been exposed to a lot of town challenges of waiting to have all the customers gone so as to lay down their mattresses for sleep. With the assurance of completing the house up to wall-plate by the caregiver, the project did roofing for the financial year of 2004/2005. However, this caregiver fell sick for a long time, admitted in the hospital, and could not shutter/close the house.

With the HIV support, this family has been supported with 300,000= for windows and doors. This family is now anxiously waiting to shift to their house (the first house ever owned). This house is a near to town. Since these are now adolescent children, we hope this will reduce on the exposure for these young girls to the ruthless men in town. One of these girls was raped and defiled in this tea room residence a few months ago. The man was later apprehended and put into prison.

The following photo shows Sheilla. At the time of the photo, Charity was still at school and the mother was in town (at the tea room). Sheilla is in Primary 7.


Received 300,000=

Item unit cost total

2 doors 85,000= 170,000=

4 windows 25,000= 100,000=

Transport and labor 30,000= 30,000=

Total 300,000=

Sheilla in front of her newly constructed house.

18. Sarah

Sarah lives with a grandmother and a cousin. Sarah lost both her parents to HIV/AIDS and she is on ARVs now. The grandmother is old and sickly hence unable to help meet the needs of Sarah. On many occasions, it’s the cousin who does the casual work to earn something for the home. Their family received 120,000= and bought three goats to help improve the income of the family.


Received 120,000=

Item unit cost total

1 goat with kid 60,000= 60,000=

2 goats 30,000= 60,000=

Total 120,000=

Sarah with her cousin and their goats

19. Hamson

This is yet another of the needy HIV stricken homes. It is a family of four: one girl, 2 boys and their mother, Jadress Kaijira, a CGLH/A.

This family has solely depended on the banana (matooke) garden they own. This caregiver, being a very sickly CGLH/A, the money was used to support them with an IGA of goats, after getting the assurance of pasture and security. As the goats multiply, the family can keep on selling and adding on more for income generation; to cater for the family’s basic needs


Received 120,000=

Item unit cost total

3 goats 40,000= 120,000=

Hamson with his mother and their 3 goats for an IGA.

20. Doreen

Doreen lost both parents to HIV/AIDS and now lives with a brother who is married and is a Lay Leader in the Anglican Church. Doreen is in Senior 1 (one) and is a CLH/A and is at the same time on ARVs.

Doreen is needy in one way or another because the brother has just finished studying and has no stable income to take good care of her and especially because she’s on ARVs which often requires special attention in terms of feeding and medical care. We believe that the IGA given will be of great help to this family especially in the near future. She received 120,000= and bought 4 goats.


Received 120,000=

Item unit cost total

1 goat with kid 60,000= 60,000=

2 goats 30,000= 60,000=

Total 120,000=

Doreen with her 4 goats for an IGA

We are very grateful to God and to your office for the support given to us! God bless you and we welcome your advice on how best this work can be a success.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The New Nurse and Disc Golf

New Nurse

Compassion FINALLY hired a new nurse this week. Just in time too. It’s been 7 months since the last one resigned. We received a letter from the head office notifying us that the nurse had been hired and would begin on March 1. The letter arrived on March 4th and the nurse was nowhere to be found. A few days later she arrived, however, there is a hitch. She doesn’t speak the local language. She speaks Luganda which is the language of the central region, but she applied to work in this region… I’m not sure how this all works out but at least we have a nurse on staff again. The funny thing of it all is that I speak better Runyankore than she does…

Arson Update

Last week I reported (am I really a reporter?? Cool!) on an arson fire for one of our project children. After some investigation it is believed that the fire wasn’t started in the manner in which it was believed. For starters, the man who resides at the house didn’t report the incident to the school even though it was believed to be a worker for the school who started the fire. Secondly, the boy who allegedly started the fire was in prison that night after being arrested for allowing the school’s cattle to graze in the family’s garden. So now everything is up in the air and nobody knows who is telling the truth and whose story to believe. This is turning into a true African soap opera.

Bruno’s new specs

I broke Bruno’s glasses this week. I was trying to fix them, I promise. The were sitting all crooked on his face so I took out my micro Leatherman and tried tightening a screw when the entire side of his glasses just snapped off in my hands. Being the responsible person that I am I took Bruno the next day to Mbarara to get new glasses. Along the way Bruno began to tell me how he’s always had help with his glasses from people along the way. Tourists whom he’s met and interacted with have taken him to get eye exams and glasses and repairs. I can’t imagine how a guy who makes around $1 a day could afford 2 months of salary to pay for a new pair of glasses. So I figured I’d take him on my Uncle Sam salary to get him some new ones. If I paid 2 months of salary for glasses in the states, that means I would have a pair of specs worth 6 K. That’d be a sweet pair of shades! So Bruno has new glasses which he’s very proud of and I’m out about ¼ of my monthly salary… but it’s for a good cause.

Rain, Rain Go Away

When it rains at Compassion we have no where for the kids to go. What we need is a large, multipurpose hall where the kids can gather, eat and have classrooms. As it is now they have their classrooms outside, under the few shade trees we have, but if it rains they cram into the offices and our entire day is wasted, waiting for the rain to stop. The hall would serve another purpose also. We share the top of the hill with a large church. The church, like all churches, hosts weddings. After the weddings we could rent out the hall for receptions, thus turning it into an income generating project.

Disc Golf Course

Jacob gets these wild hairs once in a while. Last weekend he decided to lay out a Frisbee golf course around our houses. The last 9 holes climb One Tree Hill where the target is the tree at the top. I thought it was a corny idea, but I went along with it. We played the first 9 holes this week and only lost the discs 3 times. (once we lost the disc laying against the marked tree. That’s like losing the golf ball in the hole!) It was frustrating and relaxing all at the same time, just like golf.


I submitted an article to my hometown paper a month ago and it was published. If you wish to read, click here.

Lost in translation

“Somehow”. This has become one of my favorite and most versatile words here. They use it usually to mean no, but I use it to mean anything. For example – Is it going to rain? –Somehow. Are you feeling better? –I’m Somehow. Is the food good? –Somehow. Is the power back? –Somehow.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Banana Milkshakes

House Fire

I was greeted this morning by Barbara at Compassion to find that she was going across the street to visit one of our project children who had had a house fire last night. House fires aren’t a common thing here, mainly because houses are built out of mud or concrete with ironsheets. They don’t have wall to wall carpet or any electrical gadgets to catch on fire. Half of this home, however, had a roof made of thatched papyrus reeds from the swamp which will burn. The damage didn’t appear too bad. Only half of the house had the papyrus reeds, the other half had the ironsheets which wasn’t effected by the fire.

The reeds had been pulled off the roof after the fire began and there wasn’t any structural damage to the house. This family is one of our poorest families. The father, despite finishing high school and even having some college, is mentally not all there. He’s a hard worker and he works as a cook at the secondary school across the street. The mother also works hard in the land they are renting to grow crops. I had visited this house before and immediately recognized the mother once I arrived. The day before I was heading into town to get my supper at Allen’s (where I eat for $.75 as opposed to sky blue which is usually around $2.50) when this woman was flagging me to stop. Every day when I’m out people are calling at me, clapping at me, whistling at me, so I wasn’t too surprised. Judging by her clothing she wasn’t someone from the village who didn’t know English, so I didn’t stop. As it so happened, it was the same woman, but the fire hadn’t occurred yet. The day before there was an incident which they had reported to the police. Apparently the man who shepherds the cattle for the secondary school had been allowing the cows to roam free and they were damaging this families crops. They corralled the cattle and went to the secondary school to report the man and to say that this wasn’t the first time that this had occurred. They then went to the police to report him. In the night they believe the man returned and set fire to their house, which isn’t even theirs but they live on land which is being given for them to use by the school. So, we are now in the process of writing a proposal to Compassion to get them land and a house of their own.

“People stop and stare, they don’t bother me…”

This line is from the musical My Fair Lady but the truth is, it does bother me. Just this morning I was riding my bike out to visit the house that’s being built for Mama Collins and a guy who had over 200 lbs of matooke (unripe bunches of bananas) on a bike was walking the bike down a very steep hill. Logic would say to just keep walking down and let gravity take it’s course, but no. If a white man is coming by on a mountain bike then we have to stop what we are doing and stare at him for the duration of while he’s within sight. For this reason I can’t wait to go home for a vacation where I’ll just blend in with all the other white folk.

“Agandi Muzungu”

This means “What news, white person”. I tried to ask the man who greeted me in this way if he would like it if I said “Agandi Munyankore” which is the equivalent of saying “What news person who speaks Runyankore” and he just shrugged and answered as if I were an old friend who had just greeted him. I just can’t win sometimes and I had to laugh.

Banana Milkshakes

Sky Blue Restaurant has some strange things on the menu. Things that they haven’t had in the nearly 1 year that Jacob and I have been here. Samosas which are actually quite good and consist of a fried tortilla wrapped around peas, rice or ground meat. Another item is a Banana Milkshake. As a joke, every day Jacob orders anywhere between 1-25 of these, knowing that they don’t have them. Well last night we had some. After asking and asking and asking, the owner bought a blender so they could make banana milkshakes. This isn’t like Steak & Shake where it’s made with ice cream, however. The ingredients: bananas, milk, sugar. It wasn’t cold and it wasn’t solid enough, but it was a milk shake, sort of, and it should get better as we try and tweak the recipe.

The Long Journey

I ran 10 miles this morning for my training. There’s a makeshift track around the Compassion building which I run on. Often I have to dodge cow pies and stones that are along the path. Again if anyone is around who can see me they usually stop what they are doing to stare at me. 10 miles on a 400m track is 40 laps. It’s straining but if you mentally divide it up into sections it’d bearable. I enjoy running on the track because there’s no traffic or people to shout at me while I run. I went to visit Mama Collins’s house being built this morning and I encountered a woman with a basket with about 50 lbs of something in it, maybe beans. She was no doubt walking into town with this basket balanced on her head, walking barefoot. I thought about my 10 miles and how it was nothing compared to this woman walking at least 5 miles into town, and she was doing it to sell the bag of beans for $2 or so for her survival, not for fun.

Dancing Singing and Acting Competitions

I went to the nearby primary school to see competitions this week. There were 16 visiting schools there. The kids dress up in costumes and participate in a variety of events. The dancing is superb and well choreographed. Each dance, drama and song is centered around a main theme: HIV/AIDS. Children start dancing, smiling and happy and then the HIV ‘monster’ dances with them to make them sick before medics take them away in pain. It reminds me of the dramas we used to do at camp centered around the line “Dance with the devil and the devil doesn’t change, the devil changes you.” I got some pictures and videos of it that I’ll put up.

Birthday wishes to Lisa who turns 29 again next week!! ;)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Living on a Peace Corps Salary

Ultimate Frisbee Tourney

Ultimate Frisbee isn’t a game that’s commonly played and unless you’ve been on a college campus in the last 20 years or had a gym teacher that had a decent bag of tricks you haven’t seen much of it either. There’s no national TV coverage or stadiums that hold 50,000 fans, but for those who play it’s a serious endeavor. So I’m finding out at least. Peace Corps Uganda put together a team to compete in the Kampala tourney recently. Jacob and I have been teaching Ultimate Frisbee to the local high schools here as a way to get into the schools and to teach a low cost new game. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this tourney but a part of me was expecting to play against kids who were at about the same level of my protégés… wrong!

There were 5 total teams in the tourney, one of which was students who were thrown together at the last minute from the international high school whose field we were playing on. The other 3 teams were composed of a mix of Ugandans and ex-pats who played weekly in an Ultimate league. We had some pretty good players on our team, players that had played very competitively in college, but we were still far-reaching from adequately competing with the big boys. Games are played to 13 or to 1hr 15min, whichever is first. The first game we lost 13-3. The rest of the games pretty much followed that pace, except for the high school team which we beat twice to muster a 2-4 record by the end of the two days. What was worse than the beatings was the pain of playing 2 days of Frisbee. After the first day I, along with many of my teammates were scarcely able to walk due to running 5 hours of sprints up and down the field. We still had at least 2 more games to play the following day. Trying to repeat that the second day was like asking a kid to pee on an electrical fence for a second time. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, WHAT WAS I THINKING! Not to mention the fact that none of us wear shorts during the day so we all suffered burns on the backs of our legs with Caty getting the worst of it. When it was all said and done we had met some neat people and had a great time. The highlight of my weekend was going deep and scoring on a guy who was a top notch player.

Last King of Scotland

I saw The Last King of Scotland this weekend, the movie featuring Oscar Award winner Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin. It’s a fictional story but it’s based on actual events. It was filmed in Uganda and the scenery in the movie is exactly what Uganda looks like. Many times when I see a movie in the theaters here I want to be taken away from Africa for a few hours, but it was neat to see my new ‘home’ in a film. From what I know of Amin, he was known as being a cruel but sly dictator who could be joking with the media one minute while hundreds of people were being innocently slaughtered. He only finished his education up to 2nd grade and is alleged to have killed 300,000 people during his reign. Forest was truly amazing in the film. He had transformed himself into a Ugandan - including eating with his hands in one scene. He truly deserved Best Actor for his portrayal.

I was surprised to watch it though and see some extras whom I recognized. My doctor was in the film as a Times Reporter and Ruth from Peace Corps was the Health Minister’s replacement. There were many local actors that were used in the filming.

Daily Living Expenses

I earn about $200 a month as a PCV in Uganda. PCVs earn different amounts based on the cost of living in their respective countries. To put that into place, I earn less than the director of Compassion who earns the most and I earn more than Serinah who earns the least. It’s enough to get by, but not a lot more. I don’t live in a nice house, my organization pays for my housing which for me is provided free by the local religious leader of the Church of Uganda. Soon I’ll be moving into new housing being constructed by Compassion. Transportation into Kampala is around $7.50 for a 6 hour, 200 mile bus trip. It’s $2.50 into Mbarara which is the nearest decent sized town. My meals at Sky Blue are around $2.50, but I’ve been eating lately at a small place in town where it’s $0.75 for a full meal of posho, millet bread (not really bread, more like posho), rice, meat, greens, g-nut sauce, etc. A full meal to say the least. 500ml of water costs between $.25 and $.50, 300ml bottle of coke is the same. Jacob and I pay $2 per week to have our laundry done 2x a week which is a lot to pay for that but it’s what we decided to pay. Bread costs between $.35 and $.60 and it’s not that good. You couldn’t enjoy a sandwich (even if you had lunch meat, which we of course don’t) with this, it’s too dry. Eggs are around $.10 a piece, big pineapples are $.50 and big bunches of bananas (over a dozen) ar also around $.50.. I get 2nd hand shirts and trousers (not pants… ‘pants’ are underwear here) in the market for $2 each or so. One thing that ceases to amaze me is people selling things here. People walk around larger cities like Mbarara and Kampala and sell baskets of peanuts, bananas, and passion fruit for $.10 a piece. People also walk the streets (again in those bigger cities, not here) and sell shoes, suit coats, and socks. It’s hard to believe that people make a living this way but they must, otherwise they wouldn’t do it.

Fire Starter

We have a rubbish pit at Compassion where we burn our trash. I had some things to throw away and burn the other day so I set off looking for matches. I have some at my house but not at Compassion where I work. The cooks at Compassion arrive early and spend most of the day cooking breakfast and lunch. I don’t know how much they make but I’d be surprised if it was much more than $7 a week. Cheeza who knows a fair amount of English took me to get some fire. In the kitchen where they cook he took a stick and began to stir up the place where the coals were yesterday. Sure enough there were still some glowing embers. He had a stash of firewood which had been stripped into small kindling to get the fire going. He hand picked out some of the glowing embers and put them onto a piece of cardboard for me to take to start the fire. I’m sure this is something people do in camping or the army or something like that but it was really cool to me. This is how you do it if you don’t want to waste the money for matches.

What Dry Season?

December-March is supposed to be the 2nd dry season of the year. The first dry season was awful. It didn’t rain a drop for 6 weeks straight and what is usually a sea of rolling, green hills turned to an ugly brown and most things were covered in brown dust which never seemed to settle due to the lack of rain. This second dry season has come and gone and unless you would have told me it was the dry season I wouldn’t have believed it. It’s rained almost every day here without exception.

6 weeks remaining…

Only 6 weeks to go before I get to come home for a vacation. I’m so looking forward to being home. I think about it every single day. I know what I want to eat, what I want to watch on TV and where I want to go. I have bookended my trip with 2 runs. First is the elusive Boston Marathon and before I come back it’s my hometown Indy Mini Marathon. Who runs the Boston Marathon on their vacation anyway??

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