Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ugandan teenager meets his American sponsor

I came across this article written by a man who came to Uganda to visit his Compassion child. It's a neat article and he tells how Willy, his Ugandan child, was moved to tears when he saw him and that he said, "Next to God, you are the most important person in my life." Check it out. Ugandan teenager meets his American sponsor.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon

The weather prediction for the Boston Marathon was predicted to be the worst weather in the 111 year HISTORY of the race. Temps in the lower 40s, heavy rain, 30 mph headwinds and 3-5 inches of rain expected over the weekend. Bad, bad running weather to say the least!

I awoke way to early, a combination of nerves and jet-lag, the morning of the marathon at around 4am. It’s always a good idea to get a great nights sleep 2 nights before a marathon for that exact reason. The wind and rain was so noisy and irritating outside that I had to put on my iPod to drown out the impending weather.

I arrived at the pickup place at 6am, 4 hours before the start of the run. Rain still coming down. I boarded the bus and arrived soon there after at the athletes village. Tents were set up to shelter runners from the rain and cold, but only enough tents for about 7,000 runners, not the 22,500 runners scheduled to run the race. The weather was so bad that almost 2,500 runners didn’t even bother to pick up their racing bibs. The rains continued right up to the start of the race. The atmosphere was dampened as runners just waited and waited for the race to actually get underway.

Finally, they began moving runners to the start line. Minutes before the start, the rain picked up one last time, almost as a last hurrah. Then, the race was underway. The 111th Boston Marathon had begun and very soon into it… miraculously the rain stopped! All this forecasted rain and wind just seemed to suddenly stop. It was still chili but not cold.

The tempo was fast, downhill for the first bit. The pace was fast, but I held back. I settled into a fast pace, hoping it wasn’t too fast. I always like to buddy up with someone running my pace and I did that, locking on with a man who had a GPS watch which he was using to monitor his pace. The course eventually went by a couple of universities where university students were lining the course, screaming for the oncoming runners. As I approached, it sounded like a football game was going on, they were so loud. The crowd, obviously thinned by the weather, was so enthusiastic and helpful. Pound for pound they were one of the best marathon crowds I’ve ever witnessed. At about the 15 mile mark, as is usually the case, I could tell that I had started at a pace that was faster than I could handle. I began to back off my pace in order to just hold on and finish in a decent time. Then came the infamous ‘heartbreak hill’, nearly a ½ mile hill at the 20 mile mark. Many runners began walking ½ way up. After running so far and so hard, it’s so difficult to push up and over that spot. I always begin to question my sanity at about the 20 mile point. “Why am I doing this? Is this pure insanity? Who in their right mind runs this far!” Usually there is an onslaught of runners walking at this point, but This Was Boston and the most dedicated runners in the world were running here. The walkers were few and far between.

As the race wore on, I began to feel coldness in my hands. My extremities begin to loose mobility towards the end of the race. My fingers try to open to grab a cup of water or gel, but they don’t respond as usual. Finally, downtown Boston was in sight and I knew the end was near. Then it was onto Boylston Street and the finish line was in full sight. I crossed the finish line with a time of 3:34. A respectable time.

Running the Boston marathon was a dream come true to say the least. Especially coming in the middle of my Peace Corps experience, coming home to the United States and staying with my friends Al and Kate. It was an experience I’ll never forget and will count as one of my greatest life achievements.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Momma I'm Coming Home

Momma, I’m coming home!

I’m coming home for a vacation THIS WEEK! Needless to say it’s about the only thing I’ve been able to think about lately! I can’t wait to indulge myself in some food other than rice and beans, watch SportsCenter, have the freedom to drive myself around again… the list goes on.

Easter Weekend

Easter weekend is like Thanksgiving back home in some ways. It’s a four day weekend that includes Easter Monday in which many businesses are closed. Many people travel and spend time with their families. It’s a time of eating and visiting. Some volunteers went into Kampala for the COS (close of service) party for the volunteers who are about to wrap up their service, but I stayed around, partly, because I don’t particularly enjoy 6 hour bus rides into the city, especially when I’ll be making that journey later this week.

The president and his wife were in town to attend church services here. They’re both from around this area. On Sunday morning, when I went for my morning jog I was met by several soldiers around my house (which is near the church they were to attend) with AK-47s and a metal detector for people to pass through who were to attend the church. That’s the common practice for the general public to be attending anything with the First Family.

Back to School

Bruno’s going back to school. We decided to help Bruno go back to school to study tourism. It’s a 2 year degree and he eventually wants to work in Bwindi, where the gorillas are. Everyone seems to know and like Bruno. I’ve never met a Ugandan, and maybe never will, who is as hospitable as he is. He really treats customers with respect and prompt service, which is SEVERLY lacking here, in part because they generally make less than $1 per day and don’t make any tips. So we decided to go in together with the other ‘Muzungus’ around and pool our resources together to put him through school. He’ll be in Kabale which is about an hour away. It’s his home area. We’ll be really sad to see him go, but it’s definitely for the best!

Invited Guest

I’ve talked before about a missionary couple that’s just moved here. They’re working with a couple of local churches in this area. They are also teaching music and English during the week. They invited me to their home on Sunday for a GREAT meal of Pizza (yes, Pizza!) and AWESOME brownies! I didn’t think one could make brownies like that in this country! We chatted, played cards and watched a movie! It was a really peaceful, quaint time and a nice way to spend Easter. They’ve begun a small farm. They now have 2 puppies, a kitten and some chickens. I told them they now need a goat to mow the lawn! It’s nice having other ex-pats around. It’s nice to relate together about experiences that we’re having here and to share good food, good company and movies. For many reasons, it’s sometimes difficult to have those same relationships with Ugandans. I have it with a few, but it’s really tough. It’s just 2 different worlds clashing. Different language, different interests, different tastes, different styles.

Bike Stolen

My bike was stolen and recovered this week. I accidentally left it locked up outside where Jacob works. When I went there in the morning the lock had been removed. The night watchmen told me that at about 5am someone came and broke the lock and started to ride off on the bike when they chased him down and caught him. They have warned me about leaving my bike out there before, I partly just thought they were being overly cautious, but I guess not. So now it’s recovered and I need to pay them something for catching the thief.

Newspaper Article

The following is the recent article I’m submitting to my local paper

Not Your Father’s Peace Corps

This isn’t your father’s Peace Corps! My idea of the Peace Corps before I came was that I would be living in a mud hut in a very rural African village a thousand miles from nowhere. One of my biggest concerns was what would happen to me if I became deathly ill and couldn’t contact anyone for help and would inevitably die from some strange African disease and my body not be found for months! Although each Peace Corps Volunteer’s experience is exponentially different from one another, my perception and my reality also differed greatly. For one, I have a cell phone which I use several times a day to send text messages to friends both here and in the US. I use my laptop on a daily basis for everything from email, internet, blogging ( databases and to watch DVDs which I rent from my village. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that getting here –leaving friends and family, selling my home and truck- was much more difficult than actually being here (although being here has its own daily quirks, believe me), and that I have a rich network of support and friendship from the 70 or so other PCVs who currently serve in Uganda with me, as well as a top notch PC staff, including 2 nurses on call 24/7. The reality also is that, as one of the only Caucasians in my village, if I do get sick or something does happen to me, the villagers couldn’t help but take notice.

A part of the work that I do with Compassion International, the organization I work with via the Peace Corps, is Home Visits. The Compassion staff is required to visit all 285 kids’ homes once or twice a year to check on their living conditions and to see if they are using the items that Compassion has given them (mattresses, mosquito nets, etc). Sometimes kids manage to sell the items they’ve received before they ever reach home! I both love and hate these visits. I love them because I get to see and do things that others don’t. No tourist gets this deep into villages and into homes. I hate it because I see what real poverty and desperation looks like. Entire families living in extreme poverty, which is defined as earning less than a dollar a day. Recently I went on one such visit.

We found a Compassion family whose house was located way up on a hilltop. When we reached there, we found the father and mother along with 5 of their 9 children (Ugandan women average 7 children). The home in which they lived was a small mud home, approximately 12ft x 6ft, consisting of 2 rooms. The leaky roof of their home was made from banana fibers that they had gathered near their home, unable to afford $60 to properly roof using metal sheets. Upon entering the home, they had only 1 twin mattress, which Compassion had provided them, and no furniture whatsoever. Whoever didn’t fit on that mattress slept on various portions of mats on the cold, dirt floor. Clothes were lying out on the grass to dry, which were washed, I’m sure, without soap. Clothes which had so many holes they resembled Swiss cheese. They wouldn’t have made suitable rags, I assure you. The mother of this family, a hard working and likable woman, was so weak and sickly that they said that birth control methods (pills or injections) would endanger her life and were too risky. Condoms, though prevalent and accessible, are either too expensive for the poor or are considered “un-manly”. Without intervention, it’s quite possible that this family will grow to 14 children! When we identify a family in such need we discuss what should be done. We take pictures and write a proposal to the Compassion head office requesting assistance which can range from land, new housing or income generating projects. Whatever the staff, along with the family, agrees upon that they need to achieve a better standard of living.

Compassion works. I’ll personally vouch for it. I’ve seen lives literally saved because of the Compassion program. I’ve also seen those same Save the Children commercials on local Christian TV at 2am that you’ve seen. The ones where you wonder if they really do help the kids they portray. Their job, it seems, is to find the poorest of poor children, the ones covered in flies, and then emotionally move people to help. That’s my take at least. But those conditions are real, they do exist. I’ve seen some of them. I’ve been in their homes. Fortunately, I don’t see them every day. Fortunate, because not everyone here lives like that. But some do. And I see the need for aid, development organizations and people to help people out of the recurring poverty trap. A trap that they can’t get out of through hard work alone. Not without assistance.

When I first arrived here I found another family in a similar situation. A family of 5 living in a rented 6ft x 6ft mud room. One small, twin bed. Two twin mattresses. They even had chickens sleeping in that same room because they had nowhere else to keep them. The father had been killed as a soldier and the mother -another hard working woman- along with an elderly grandmother were left to work a small piece of land which they rented to grow food. Along with gardening, the mother earned around $10 a month doing casual labor at a nearby secondary school. $10 per month for the entire family of five.

We were able to secure funding ($500) to buy them a plot of land and construct them a modest house. Now they’re getting out of the poverty trap of just trying to survive and soon they’ll be able to make a living off their land. They’ve been given a chance. And that’s all anyone can ask for.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Recriuter

The Recruiter

My years of teaching has given me some useful tools for the Peace Corps. One lesson that I as a teacher learned was that you sometimes have to recruit kids to take your classes. It was a lesson that Mr Florence, my supervising teacher for student teaching and Lanny Parker, my principal at the school I taught at both reiterated. My running club was still going on in the mornings but it had been several weeks since any of the girls had run with me. I was afraid that the head teacher at the secondary school had in some way restricted them from joining running. Girls have different rights in this country. Girls, in some ways, are viewed as second class citizens. It’s changing, but that has been the culture here for years and years. Just this morning I heard on the BBC that there is a movement to change the law which states that it is not a crime if a married man commits adultery with a non-married woman, but if a married woman commits adultery with a non-married man then that is a punishable offense. When I went to the head teacher to talk to him about it he told me that he hadn’t restricted them from joining our running but that maybe they weren’t choosing to run because, as he explained it, girls prefer to do less physical activity and maybe they don’t enjoy running. He went on to explain that in Africa, when a fat man walks into a room, people applaud because of his large size. Size in this country equals prestige. People are often surprised, he told me, when they find out that he is the head teacher at that school because he is a small but older man. The same can be said of girls, they want to be bigger and not exercise, though this conflicts with what they see and hear from western influence of movies and music.

I decided to take the law into my own hands. That evening I went to the area where they play soccer and netball after school. I saw a group of girls that normally ran with me in the mornings playing netball, a game similar to basketball but without dribbling or backboards. I had never played netball and had always wanted to, being a Hoosier and a basketball player myself. So I asked if I could join and of course they were excited to have a white guy jump into the game. We played for a while. It’s a difficult game with a lot of running up and down the grass court. People say it’s closer to the original game that James Naismith invented than today’s modern game. We had a blast playing. Height plays a big factor in this game so I was instantly a prized possession on whichever team I was on. By the end of the game a small crowd had gathered to see the white guy playing.

Afterwards I asked the girls if they were still interested in running in the mornings. They said they were. I went on to tell them how running can benefit them in school as well as becoming better netball players. They agreed to meet the next morning for ‘jogging’. I still wasn’t sure if I would see them or not.

The next morning, at around 6:15am, I headed out the door to see who had come out for running. To my great surprise, the girls were already there, lined up, ready to begin. They asked me where I had been saying that they had been waiting there for 45 minutes! I reminded them that I had told them 6:15 sharp and that I was sorry that they had waited. In all there were 22 girls that ran with us that morning. Many of them for the first time. I was glad to have them join us.

I wish I could say that they continued to run on the other days but unfortunately they haven’t joined us since then. Maybe I need to recruit again, I don’t know. Sometimes I feel like the work is never over, even when you get a taste of success.

Queen Elizabeth National Park

A group of college students are coming for a 2 week period to work with Compassion. I’m taking them on a safari while they’re here. They need to be tourists for at least a little while during their stay. I visitied Queen Elizabeth National Park to make room reservations. I had been through there before but not quite like this. It was really cool. I saw buffalo, elephants, Ugandan kob (like deer) and warthogs. And I was just driving through the park, I wasn’t on an animal hunt. The man that drove me into the park was telling me about something I had read in the paper. Apparently a lion had attacked a man who lived on the outskirts of the park. The villagers were able to get the lion off the man and after some discussion they decided to go after the lion. This guy had driven this man to the hospital, only to have him die there later. The villagers killed the lion with sticks and stones, believing that the lion could attack another man if it’s already attacked this one.

There aren’t any lions where I live. Not many wild animals at all, really. But it’s interesting to me that this happened a few hours from where I live.

And Finally…

I ate rabbit this weekend. Someone had given Jacob a rabbit and he made a stew of it. It wasn’t bad. Jacob said, “Tastes like chicken, but more gamey.” Not sure what that means exactly. I used to raise rabbits as pets, and I couldn’t help but think about ol’ Thumper and Bumper as I was dining on my cuisine. Don’t know that I’ll ever eat it again.