Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Africa is scary!

I have been have grumbling since I first got here that there weren't any animals around like you see on the Discovery Channel. No Lions, Tigers, or ... ok, i won't say bears, cause there aren't any...actually aren't tigers in Asia? Anyways, no cool stuff like Lions! There are your typical animals in the national parks, but in most of the land there are nothing but domestic animals and a few monkeys (which I've only seen once when i first got to Uganda). Then things livened up a little when I saw a cobra, that's right, a COBRA! at the pool. Fortunately it wasn't actually in the pool but was hiding behind a fridge in an outdoor kitchen. I got to see it (from a safe distance) come out from behind the fridge and strike at the nearest worker. Luckily it didn't get him and he rewarded the cobra by jamming a metal rod in it's back. Ok, scary snake sighting number 1... Luckily (knock on wood), no scary spiders yet... Me and spiders do NOT get along...

Ok, the cobra incident was a few weeks ago and I didn't have my second scary animal episode till yesterday. So i was laying around my house reading because I didn't have any work that day and my supervisor didn't contact me. Plus I was just tired. I had my back door open because it was a beautiful day (80ish, sunny, cool breeze...in november!). I absentmindedly walked out back to check on my solar charger. As i stepped through the open door, I was suprised by movement just to the right of me. I looked over and running away (cause it was scared of me naturally :) ), was what I swore was a crocodile! I silently screamed many curse words in my head as I jumped back with my eyes super wide and suprised. On second glance, I realized it was just a HUGE lizard. Had to be about 3-4 feet long. Scared the #$*@ out of me and put me on edge for the rest of the day. I had noticed a big hole in my yard earlier and just assumed that it belonged to some sort of hedgehog type animal I saw once. Now I'm going to stay FAR away from that hole! I wish I could have gotten a picture of this lizard cause it was seriously big. Now I'm convinced that that lizard is conspiring with the geckos in my house to take over in a coup! ... ok, it's easy for your imagination to run a little wild out in the village... I'll let you know when I wake up to a Cheetah in my bed! :)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Are YOU ready for CHOGM?

So as most of you do not know, there is a huge meeting going on in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, this week called CHOGM. What CHOGM is, is a meeting of 53 heads of state of all the British Commonwealth nations. These include coutries like India, Canada, Australia, Pakistan, Singapore, New Zealand, South Africa, Malaysia, Belize, and of course, England. The Queen is coming for the first time in 50 something years and it's a huge deal.


Since this meeting will have international exposure and possibly open up many business opportunities in Uganda, the stakes are pretty high. The government has been working like crazy to upgrade and modernize Kampala as much as possible before the main delegates arrive. So far, the city looks really nice and the improvements will have positive long term effects on the city. Everyone is talking about it and there is a huge amount of anticipation and excitement from all Ugandans, even people out in the village. One of the main slogans the government is using is "Are you ready for CHOGM?" This slogan is on billboards and posters all over the city and is now a running joke that you can say to anyone from the Boda Boda men to the bank tellers. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see what happens when all is said and done.

Speaking of CHOGM, the mosquito nets that everyone worked so hard for back in the states will be arriving in Kampala on Nov. 21st, right before the Heads of State come. Luckily for us, the Red Cross will be handling the customs and arrival details and will hold onto the nets in a wherehouse till we can get them. It would be impossible for us to get into the city, and have the government help us to get the nets out to the village during that time. They will be so busy during CHOGM that they would not be able to help us much. Once the nets get to storage at the local police station, we are set. We have to meetings set up with staff and community members to arrange details and do training. I am starting to get nervous because I really, really, really want things to go well! However, I am pretty confident because my supervisor is really organized, I'll have some camera help from some volunteer friends, and I'll be watching everything like a hawk. The true test of course will be months later when we can determine if the rates of malaria have gone down. That is where the training of the community and follow-up will come in so crucial. I've donated my bed and mattress to be used as a model and we'll have about 5 staff members of the nursing school, all of which are medical professionals, to help sensitize the community on proper usage of the nets and other ways to prevent malaria. This whole process is going to be an amazing, and hopefully positive experience. Being involved in projects like this is why I wanted to join the Peace Corps and come to Africa. That, and doing fun stuff like joining a clan! :)

In other news, I had a great weekend at site with my girlfriend who came out to stay for the first time. It super relaxing and enjoyable. Usually on the weekends, I'm traveling or busy doing something, but it was nice to just be able to hang out and relax with someone cool. We went hiking up to the local rocks near my house and were rewarded by a beautiful view from the top. Of course we had some children guide us up to the top which is standard practice with any hike in rural Uganda. There are no nature paths or signs, so you kinda just have to walk through people's compounds and ask them how to get to the rocks. We came across a group of girls by a water source on our way and I said "Ntake Kwabba Rocks. Njabe Yaina?" which is "I want to go to the Rocks, I go where?". Very basic language and all I had in my Lugwere arsenal. The oldest girl laughs and promptly says in perfect English "You go just there" pointing down an obvious path. Fun times :)

Ok, I need to go get ready for CHOGM, so I'll talk to you guys later :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Clan meeting version 2.0

On Saturday, I was introduced to the whole Bakomba clan during thier general meeting as a new member. There was about 400 people there and it was quite the day. Days like that are why I joined the Peace Corps. Days where it is so surreal and so outside of what you know and expect that you can't really believe that it is happening. So here's the scoop:

I knew that the general meeting would be like the first meeting with the clan leaders, but bigger and more ridiculous....man, was I right! To witness the spectacle, I invited my friend Derek to come to the meeting. So we get there in style (ie, in a car, the only members to arrive in something other than a bike or motorcycle) about 2 hours late, which is standard here. Everyone is already assembled and as we get out of the car, the music starts and women start dancing around us and greeting us. After we were sat down in the front, or VIP benches under the Mango tree, the meeting officially started. After introductions they started on general clan business, recounting what happened at last meeting, deaths of members, etc. The most amazing and surreal part of this entire day, was the fact that there were interpreters translating the whole time. Into English from local language you ask? NO! From one local language into another. My clan speaks 2 languages that are totally not related at all. Lugwere, a Bantu language and the one I struggle with, and Ateso, the one that Derek speaks in his area and a Nialotic language. It was amazing to see how quick they would translate. Of course Derek and I don't know enough of either of our languages to understand what's going on, so my supervisor, Kateu told us in English what was going on. The fact that under educated villagers are so skillful in language continues to blow me away.

After an hour or two of boringness, the fun times start. Derek and I both get to give speeches. Derek starts off and kills it in Ateso. He talks for like 10 minutes, which is super impressive. A real crowd pleaser and showman! Of course he's stealing my thunder, cause it's MY clan, who is this guy!! I get over my jealously and stutter through my speech in Lugwere and is not as impressive or even close. They still appreciate me trying and all is good. Then Derek is sworn in as an impromptu member of the clan. Neither him or the clan leadership knew beforehand that he was going to be a new member. He was there and white, so they decided to make him a member and gave him the name of a retired member named Seku and "all the powers that he used to have." As a guy who always jokes about having super powers and being a super hero, Derek ate this up. Return of jealousy on my part... Then he sits on the chair and they do the whole ceremony where they give him a walking stick and tell him that his family is representatives in America. Jealousy is out of control now. MY parents are the reps, not his!! So as I'm stewing, they tell me to come up and go through the ceremony. Here's where the Wesman makes a comeback and claims his dominance as the superior token white guy in the Bakomba clan! They invite me up and it's clear that they have stuff for me that beats Dereks stick. First they give me a Kansu, which is a ceremonial robe. As the Papa Bakomba slips it on, I sense some excitement from the masses. So as a goofy showman myself, I raise my arms out to a huge cheer and yell "ABANTU WANGE" or MY PEOPLE! It was amazing. I was then presented with a clay pot, the stool I sat on, and a cane with a knife concealed. Way better than Derek's cane... :) So after that, the music starts and they want me to dance to tribal music. I break it down and the crowd is going nuts! That's the highlights folks, hope you enjoyed! The moral of this story is that if you can't speak the language, dance around like a fool and people will love you :) Take care America and talk to you soon...