Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Things that make me happy

So here are some pictures that make me happy. Enjoy!

Kids from the "Baby Class" at the orphan school that i work with. I was showing some new Peace Corps trainees that place and one of them took this picture. I especially like the little girl with the huge smile and her hands by her face. Children are so excited by the littlest things:

This is a good picture of me and Diana. Yeah, we're cute, i know :)

Picture of Baby Marci, the little girl my supervisor's wife Susan had in late January. I'm honored that they named their child after my sister. The kid is totally passed out here and is wearing a dress that my mom sent for her. Both my mom and sister sent a bunch of really nice baby clothes for her. Susan and Kateu were super grateful:

Here is the widow's group attached to the orphan school i work with. They are posing with their new sewing machine the first day it was put together. They are now receiving training and will start making school uniforms in the next few months:

This is a closeup of the sewing machine. Looks very old school, but it is brand new. They opted for this smaller one that can't do hemming or other complicated sewing techniques. They had enough money for one, but wanted to spend it on getting a trainer, renting out this shop and buying cloth and other materials to start a business:

As I wind my way down here, I thought you'd enjoy a few pictures that make me happy. Nice day!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Good times now, good times to come

Since the last time I've been doing a little of this and that. Nothing important, just determining my future and going on the best trip of my life :)

First of all, i determined when my Peace Corps service is over. May 14th everyone! Will be back in Seattle on May 31st. I'll be meeting my sister and mom in South Africa and travel around there, Victoria Falls in Zambia/Zimbabwe, and then to Namibia before we head back to the States. Following that will be a month of "HEY, WELCOME BACK, HOW WAS AFRICA??" Fortunately there will also be "WELCOME BACK, HAVE SOME FREE FOOD AND BOOZE!" I'm looking forward to it all :) After catching up with peeps in Seattle in June, I'll be spending all of July going on a whirlwind US tour that will take me to San Fransisco, Sacremento, St. George South Carolina, Somewhere Rural Virginia, DC, Suburbs of Boston, Chicago, Omaha, Boise, and then back home. Pretty excited to see friends, family, returned Peace Corps people, and anyone else who wants to see me. This is a great opportunity for me to get re-aquianted with America and also serve as a scouting mission for my future, ie, jobs, school, couches to crash on, etc. That's my immediate future plans...for now. Focus will be on international development and/or government. ID for school and both of those for jobs. PC gives us preferencial status in government jobs, so i'll be looking there. If anyone wants to hook me up with the contact or website of a possible opportunity, that would be amazingly awesonme.

Early February, my g/f Diana and I went on an awesome trip to Lamu Island, Kenya. Lamu is an Island with a very old, rich Swahili and Arab trader history. It is a tourist destination but the people there have their own culture and traditions that doesn't just revolve around tourism. They are well known for hand-carved ornate doors as well as being a donkey sanctuary! There are only 2 vehicles on the island and the rest of transport is either boat or donkey. I wanted to ride one, but it never materialized. The beaches were deserted besides Masai warriors who were there to protect it and/or sell you jewelry. They were white sand beaches and the water was warm and clear. Not a bad way to spend a few days!

As far as work goes, I had a couple of set backs but one big success. I organized for an NGO to sell mosquito nets in my area for $1.50, a cheap price, to people who didn't receive any in the big distribution i did. Unfortunately, my mobilization skills failed and no one bought any nets. I was pretty upset, but at least 30 people got trained in malaria prevention, so that was a plus. Hopefully this means that no one really needs them anymore because they have them. Hopefully... My second failure was waiting too late to apply for a grant through Peace Corps to help me test my entire sub-county for HIV/AIDS. I just missed the deadline towards the end of my service. They understandibly don't allow you to receive grants for projects going to happen your last 3 months of service. This is because if it's not finished when you leave, then the accountability of funds is in question. I'm now in the works with the involved local organizations to look to test at a smaller scale over a longer period of time using their own money and resources.

The big success was being able to give money to 2 women's groups for the sale of some of the hand woven baskets they made. My sister and mother have been working hard to sell these baskets and the sales so far has made many women in my area super happy! It's an amazing thing to see a woman, who under most circumstances in the village are almost powerless over their lives, to now have economic power to create their own income and do their part to take care of their families. The widows group that is attached to the orphan school organization that I work with are going to buy a sewing machine so that they can earn some money as well as make their own clothes. The rest of the money they receive through sales (they have approx. 7 baskets left) will go towards fabric and sewing supplies. They couldn't believe that this was real and thanked me perfusely though I only served as a middleman in this operation. It was my family and they people who bought the baskets as well as the women themselves that did all the work.

The second group of women, an actual women's group organization that I work with, made over $700 total amongst themselves and organized to put %30 of the profits into 3 different programs with each getting %10: a savings account for all the women, more materials for crafts, and towards a women center building that they want to create. The %70 remainder went to whatever the women wanted. They are extremely practical and not one said they'd spend it on an extravagance. The money's all going to help their family. As with the widows, these women didn't believe it was real. One woman was in tears and others kept picking up the money and looking at it to make sure it was real. All this was in one day and that day was one of the best I've had here. So thank you to everyone reading this who has contributed to the cause and a preliminary thanks to those who will buy some in the future. This isn't charity, it's paying for a good product that was handmade. I love that though selling the baskets in America isn't sustainable, the big profits they'll make now will be reinvested into their lives and their futures. Many of the ladies will buy animals, land, and other income generating things with their profits. I'm now working on getting them hooked up with dealers in Kampala who sell to tourists. They won't make as much money, but it'll be more consistent.

In other news, my first political posted, as chairman of the PC volunteer organization in Uganda is now over. My reign as chairman has been fruitful and I'm now certain that I'll be remembered for ages for all the reforms that I oversaw. Ok, it wasn't that dramatic, but it was a great experience and I think the committee got a lot done to improve the services provided for volunteers in country and ultimately make them more productive at the jobs that they were sent here to do.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Holiday, Celebrate

Well a few days ago ended a whirlwind holiday season that leaves me with a lot to say...if I could only remember what I did then i could say it... :) Anyways, first I'll make a bold, unexplained statement then give non-indepth Cliff's notes version of what happened and finally I'll add 2 stories. Hope you like the format.


December started really well. We had a Peace Corps Olympics that included major competitions between the Western and Eastern located volunteers in the sports like Ultimate Frisbee, Soccer, Basketball, jerrycan relay races, pop culture trivia, and the controversial condom water balloon toss! Needless to say, the East is Beast and won handily. Ok, so it was really closer than "handily", but we still won. The big news was the arrival of my sister, Marci and my Brother-in-Law Sean. I was super happy to have them here for Christmas and New Years. I really think they got the full experience of Uganda, Africa in General, and most of all, Wes in Africa. They saw me at my finest in the village and my worst in the bus park (in all fairness, the bus park guys are jerks). They experienced things when they worked right and were properly arranged for and they also were around when no one knew what to do. Highlights of the trip included tour of Queen Elizabeth National park and all the cool lions and such there, a few days in awkward but rewarding village situations, Christmas at the extremely beautiful Sipi Falls and then 5 days in Rwanda having a good time but not doing what we planned. Marci and Sean so graciously brought a bunch of gifts for me, my girlfriend, and people in the village. She brought a small DVD player and medical DVD's for my supervisor Kateu to use at the school. He was super excited and made us watch them for way to long at his house. Don't get me wrong, i like to see some guy poke the muscles of a dissected human as much as the next guy, but not during lunch! :) To thank them for their efforts, we sent them back with 65 handmade baskets and 200 bead necklaces with the arduous task of selling them all. Thanks guys!

Now for my 2 stories.

Story 1: Saving Lives

When Marci, Sean and I went to Queen Elizabeth National Park, we were given a private driver from the tour company to take us there and show us around. Our driver, Sam, was pretty much the greatest person ever. Ok, maybe not, but he was pretty cool. Not only did he know everything about everything, he actually saved a child's life! Let me explain.

On the way home, we stopped at a wildlife visitor's center so that we could all relieve ourselves. This place was pretty quite with the staff and their families just hanging around and relaxing. Kids were running around and people were chatting it up. As we get in the van to leave, Sam freezes and stares off in the distance. All of a sudden, he's screaming and running full speed across the yard towards a small building and 2 children. When he reaches the children, he grabs one who was about 1 year old and holds it tight. "What happened?" we asked, panicked. Apparently, the kids, a 5 year old and the 1-year old were play fighting and the 5 year old didn't like that the small guy hit her. So to punish him, she started to put him down the hole of the pit latrine! By the time Sam reached him, the little one was still holding on to the older girl but was about halfway in the hole. Keep in mind that this hole was about 30 feet deep. If that boy fell he most likely would have died or been extremely injured.

So Sam walks back towards the main buildings a hero with the little boy in his arms. The mother came running up hysterical about what might of happened and very thankful that Sam was there. We were all shaken at the prospect about what almost happened. None of us saw what was going on and it took Sam's trained eye, which he's used to using for spotting game animals to save this kid. Good job Sam!

Story 2: Breaking Hearts

For New Years we traveled to Rwanda to live the high life and see what's happening there. Well, besides being an extremely clean and beautiful country that is amazingly developed so recently after being in complete chaos, it was a huge disappointment. Where did my disappointment lie you ask? FOOD!

On New Years Eve we wanted to have a really good meal in Kigali, the capital, and then go out and dance. So about 7 or 8 we get all excited to go to "La Fiesta," a Mexican restaurant that we'd read about in a travel magazine. We had all been craving Mexican our entire PC service and the non-PC folks were also hankering for it. We travel to the other side of town and show up to this big, 2 level place that's setting up for a big party. "COOL!" we think. We can just stay here and party after we eat good Mexican food. So we all march up the stairs and find the hostess and ask for a menu. "We don't have one", she says. "We have rice, goat's meat, cow's meat...". "WAIT! You don't have Mexican food???" "No, this restaurant was bought 4 days ago by a Congolese man from an American and he doesn't think that people want to eat Mexican Food in Rwanda." "BOOO!!!" we all say. Ok, so that's annoying, but we all chuckle at the ridiculousness that we missed Mexican food by 4 days. Not to be deterred, we look at the guide book and see that there's a well-touted French/Thai restaurant down the street. Inspired, we trek down the road for a while till we finally find the place. We see that there's an actual French lady running the place which seems promising. The staff is very friendly, but a bit snooty. Ok, it's French, I know that stereotype. The menu, all in French, was difficult to read for us non-speakers and the prices were pretty steep. "Ok, whatever, it's getting late and we're starving. Plus, it's New Years, let's celebrate!" I'm really excited because Diana and I have decided to split a cheese fondue. Always a fan of dipping stuff into stuff, especially when cheese is involved, I'm feeling pretty good about myself. Time starts wearing on and though conversation is really good, people start to realize that it's been a long time and their hunger is starting to set in. At the 2 and a half hour point, we start pressuring the waiter. He says that the food will be out in no time. We're used to slow service in Africa, but it was getting ridiculous.

Finally, around 11pm our food arrives. Everyone is immediately annoyed about how small the portions are based on our hunger factor as well as the hefty price of the meal. Then the waiter plops a plate on the table in front of Diana and I. As we're staring at the 2 deep-fried cheese sticks, I ask the waiter out of desperation "the fondue is coming, right??" "This is the fondue." "NO, fondue is melted cheese." "NO, that's the blah blah blah fondue blah blah. You got the blah blah fondue blah blah blah." "REALLY??? ....sigh..." It was at that moment that my heart was broken. To add to the insult, a few minutes later, my friend Kate decides to add to my pain by pointing to the next table over and says "Check it out Wes." To my horror, there was a group of Germans laughing and dipping stuff into a bowl of stuff. FONDUE!! Apparently the chocolate fondue came melted and the cheese one that we ordered was a stick. I was irate. The worst thing of all was that the owner, the French woman, never came around to apologize for the slow service or false advertising. Ever since, I've been asking if anyone has ever had something called Fondue that wasn't melted something that you dip other stuff in? Have you??

So, once again I can declare that I don't like the French language because it got my hopes up and then slammed them into the ground. Boo French!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

50th Post, Happy Turkey Day!

So nothing special or informative for my 50th post. I just wanted to say that I miss everyone back home on this holiday and especially miss the boats of gravy that mom makes. Mmmm, gravy! ;) I'll be at home alone tonight with some whiskey, a bag of rye crisps, my favorite lizards and my top 40 radio station. Sounds sad, but it's not. Luckily, like I said last year, it never feels like a winter holiday around here cause it's July-like weather year around. Plus, I'm about to do a cool project on Saturday testing people for HIV and have my sister coming for Christmas. Add in future vacation plans to go to Rwanda and Lamu Island, Kenya is giving me a lot to look forward too. So I hope everyone is getting stuffed on stuffing and enjoying themselves amongst friends and family. Take care and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!