Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hello hello! Greetings from Uganda! I hope everyone reading or listening to this is doing well, looking forward to springtime, gardens, chickens, surfing, riding horses, climbing trees, and playing kickball. Things are fine here, but my oh my, how time is flying by! It seems I just wrote you all yesterday. Maybe it’s the realization that six and one half months have passed since I came to Africa. Now my group are the sophomores, as there have come forty five new volunteers this month, all of whom will work in the education sector of Peace Corps Uganda. So the experience is well under way. I am getting into the meat of the term of service, finally beginning to develop projects in my community. I even have some prospects of a few secondary projects well outside of my village. I am making more and more friends here, and I now have a puppy, Oliver, to keep me company. He is an African mutt, he is a handful, and he is constantly testing my patience (as if this whole experience didn’t test my patience enough). On another note, the Ugandan presidential elections have come and gone, with very few problems. This was a worry for all of the volunteers here, as the potential for problems was high, and none of us wanted to have to leave our service preemptively. President YK Museveni has been elected to another term, extending his position to 30 years in office. It’s hard for me to imagine America being led by the same person for that long!
Okay, a little bit about work here lately. I have a list of projects that have either started or are in the process of getting started. We have had several meetings for the Post-Test Club, and are starting our club garden on the 26th of February. We’ve developed an outline for our project development strategies, complete with a mission statement, goals, objectives, and some ways to monitor and evaluate our success. We’re also trying to develop some income generating activities within the club, possibly looking into an apiary project (beekeeping). This could be a great way to make money by selling a health-promoting product that also will help in the success of local crop growing also, through the bees pollinating the crops and eating some garden pests. Speaking of gardens, we have started our PTC demonstration garden on the compound of my health centre. We are ‘demonstrating’ better ways to manage rainwater in your garden, mulching techniques, contour planning, companion planting, organic practices, and seed saving strategies, among others. It’s a lot of fun to get involved, hands on, with the people I’m working with. They also really enjoy seeing a white person actually working next to them, sweating, and getting blisters. Another project that I am trying to put together is that of forming a small group of villagers who will be trained in constructing rainwater tanks. People here desperately need better access to water throughout the year, and the government will pay 60% of the cost for those who qualify. I have also started doing Life Skills workshops with the primary school next door to my organization. These are kids aged twelve and above, and we’re talking about things such as decision making skills, relationship skills, information on HIV/AIDS, communication skills, etc. There are so many negative influences these children here are facing day to day, so equipping them with some tools to handle tough situations is critical to them growing up to be happy, healthy, and productive members of their communities. These Life Skills activities are fun too! In other news, I’m also having the local carpenter build me a wooden sign so that I can keep the village informed about different talks that I will be giving. I’ve given one presentation to a nearby village about soil health and techniques for improving it in gardens. There was a good response, so I’ll continue with other topics too. Community outreach programs are still in the works also. The major setback for us has been transportation. We don’t have a vehicle at LICHI, and I’m not allowed to ride the motorcycles here, so that leaves us with the intention of bicycling to different villages around my sub-county. I have a bicycle, but we need another one so that two of us can go together. Hopefully that will come soon.
So that’s a bit of work talk, now a bit of personal talk, eh? My spirits have lifted as of the past few days, but for a little while I was struggling with some of the common frustrations of life here. I have always been a spectacle in my village, something for everyone to stare at and talk about. Now, with Oliver, the attention has seemingly doubled. They don’t treat animals very well here, so for them to see a white man carrying a dog down the street is like nothing they could have ever imagined. Being this person in a rural African village can be fun, but also very tiring. Never have I been so self conscious, and never did I think I’d have to answer a million times, “Eh! Embwa yange nomanya Orujungu?” (“Eh! Your dog knows English?”) Then I explain to them that dogs are treated with respect in America, and they are our friends. Here, they are used only for security purposes, and they often are not fed and sometimes they are beaten or have rocks thrown at them. So, the people don’t really understand why I have Oliver. Also, my organization has been understaffed for about two months now. This puts more responsibility on the people who are here, meaning that there is less time available for someone to work with me. This can be quite frustrating, as I am eager to develop projects but find myself unable to do them alone, mostly due to the language barrier. One thing that has kept me sane through some of these frustrations has been the guitar. I’m not all that good, but playing for an hour after a long day is a great way to relax, and it puts a smile on everyone’s face. Then I’ll turn to Oliver and say, “It’s doggie time!”, and play with him for a bit. Then I’ll sit and watch the sunset through the acacia trees from my porch and think to myself, “I am deep in the African bush. This isn’t so bad at all.” As much as I can’t believe it’s already been seven months here, and as much as I can’t believe I have twenty months left, life is good. As always, I hope everyone in Rhode Island is doing well. I heard there has been more snow, but I’m sure the flowers will be coming up pretty soon. Happy trails!

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