Thursday, November 27, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
So this setup brings me back to my story. I was riding and one kid in a group of about 5, all around 8 years old and wearing the local primary school uniform, calls out "You give me my money!" So I yelled "oize" which means, "you come." I did this thinking that if he really wants it, he should chase me down and get it. In retrospect, that's demeaning and I won't do that again. Immediately I said that, I forgot that I said it and was thinking about whether I remembered to bring the key for Jessica's house with me or not. I stopped my bike and started digging through my pockets, not even thinking about it. Sure enough, those boys run up to me and stand next to me staring. Halfway through tearing through my pocket I realize what I'm doing and what I've done. I look up and say no, I don't have money for you and tell them to go to school and to work hard. As I'm riding away, I feel like utter crap. The look of expectancy and joy on those boys faces when they thought they were getting a handout from the Muzungu was so great and sad at the same time that I almost stopped again and gave them something. That experience was the first time I had ever stopped and gave someone the impression that I took the bait and was going to give them money. Should I have done it? "NO!" I think to myself, "you can't just hand out money to these extremely poor kids. That will cause more children and even adults (who are often way worse than children) into demanding candy and digital cameras, and scholarships to schools in America from me." "But Wes, haven't you given out thousands of dollars worth of free stuff??" "Yes, but that has always been to support a community based project benefiting a larger group of people or something relating to the health of someone." I have donated to medical costs of individuals I know before but it's always been on the sly and i make them not tell anyone that I did it. I hate loaning money or helping people out, but everyone here ends up doing it sometime in one form or another. People take you in like family members and family helps each other out. That's something that translates across cultures.
All this misperception and rude behavior (in my mind) goes back to ignorance, poor parenting, poor education, and irresponsible donors who just dump money and run thinking they are saving Africa by giving a ton of money to one guy who in turn "eats" the money and becomes a wealthy man. A lot of people perceive that situation as "that man got rich because white people gave him money." They don't question why he got the money or whether he was supposed to do something that benefited more people than just his own family with that money. I'm always frustrated because I want to scream to people "If I had money, would I be riding a crappy Chinese made bicycle in the middle of the village for 2 years sweaty myself dry!?!" "Would I be sitting in this cramped, sweaty taxi with 25 of my closet "friends"? Wouldn't I just get a Land Cruiser and a driver?" "Would I be buying supplies and food in your small, run-down trading center in the middle of rural Uganda if I had money to spare? Wouldn't I have people do my shopping for me?" There seems to be no critical thinking for a lot of people in the village. It's WHITE=MONEY, simple as that. Black and White (no pun intended, but that's the perception). It's amazing to me that people will have their back to me as I'm approaching on the road and then turn around and immediately, with no hesitation, ask me for money. Like they've been waiting all day for this opportunity and expected it to happen at that moment.
So that's my vent for the day. These type of scenarios of misperceptions of money and the overcharging that goes along with it together with sexual harassment, mockery, incompetence and corruption are the things that really wear on people here and create a negative taste in their mouths. It saps up hope and idealism and replaces it with cynicism and bitterness. Keep in mind that this is only a portion of an extremely complex experience. I am actually really positive about a lot of things that other people aren't but it's easy to talk about the things that bother me because they have a big part in how I act and react now.
In lighter perception news, I sometimes get stereotypes that are fun. People have mistaken me for all sorts of celebrities including Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Dam. Lately though, there seems to be a trend that I might run with. People here are crazy about English Premier League Football (soccer). People are either fans of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, or Liverpool. Though the two biggest are Man U and Arsenal. Apparently I look a lot like one of the stars of Arsenal, named Cesc Fabergas, a Spaniard. I have gotten this at least 10 times in the last 3 months. Of course I always confirm that I am him and that Man U, sucks! :) My next purchase is to get one of his jerseys and see what kind of reaction i get when I'm walking around. Should be fun. When the CHOGM meetings were here last year, I tried to convince people I was the Prime Minister of Canada. Unfortunately, no one really bought that one. :) Maybe they know what Stephen Harper looks like really well, you never know??
Last, but not least, I gotta say that I LOVE having the internet in the village. It's so nice to be able to keep in touch with what's going on with friends and family as well as around the world. So much better than fighting with crappy computers and the formidable "time remaining" counter at the bottom of the screen. Now I can do important things like update my Facebook profile! :) Ok, all for now. Enjoy!
Sunday, November 23, 2008
My friends concluded that Village time was their favorite and I don't blame them. Village life is so interesting, horrible and amazing all at the same time. They learned to cook, fetch water from the borehole, and do their business in a dark hole. All feats worthy of street cred! I was amazed how relaxed and comfortable they were walking around the village and interacting with the locals. Having people living in abject poverty staring at you and occasionally asking you to save them isn't something that the average American has to deal with and can be rather overwhelming. The three of them handled it all style, grace, and very few stupid questions...expect for Alex's during a rain storm: "Why are those buckets outside?" "I'm collecting water Alex" "Why?" :) Activities included going to the rocks by my house, a prayer session for my supervisor who almost died in a bus accident (Hannah read from the bible, it was awesome), visiting the orphan school and fish pond guys that i work with and distributing donated soccer balls to 2 primary schools. Fyi for everyone out there, they brought home 300 bead necklaces made by women's groups that 2 of my PC friends work with. They are trying to sell them to give support to these groups. Christmas Presents anyone?? Also, my sister will be coming back with some handmade baskets in early Jan.
Thanksgiving is coming up and unfortunately I won't be able to celebrate it. My wonderful girlfriend has promised to share her pumpkin pie mix and cranberry sauce with me when i visit her in December, but for now, no Turkey day :( There are two volunteer Thanksgiving dinners I could go to on Saturday but I'm going to be working. Through my village networking skills, I'm hooking up 3 different groups to work together and test everyone who wants it in the most remote Parish for HIV. I'm really excited because if it is successful, then my last really big project will be to plan to test, counsel, and refer everyone in my sub county for HIV. I've pretty much given up on trying start a bee-keeping project. Kinda disappointing, but oh well. Can't save the world. However, leaving with helping to reduce the rates malaria and HIV isn't a bad rap sheet for a PCV. After the testing then I'll help my organization launch our Savings and Credit society. We're getting a lot of capital from a Kuwaiti donor, but the loans have to be interest free, ie, no profits to pay staff and running costs. Luckily, the staff is really smart and together we'll come up with some income generating activities on the side to support the SACCO. Should be interesting anyways.
In other news, the Wes is a hypocrite meter has dropped significantly after I put up my mosquito net over my bed for the first time. I thought that it was funny and ironic that I helped hand out 13,100 nets to the community but didn't use one myself. The nurse working for Peace Corps didn't find it that funny, but I did convince her that it was ironic :) My excuse was that my house is at a higher elevation than surrounding areas, there's no standing water around, I had screens on the window, and I haven't missed more than a day in taking my anti-malarial medicine. But hey, no malaria for me so far (knock on wood!).
Ok, I think I'm going to watch some movies from the external drive that my friends brought me...did I say that they're awesome??
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Ok, so this picture sort up sums up my feelings towards my recent vacation to Mozambique, and my general happiness level here. Thanks to my girlfriend and travel buddy Diana for adding a super happy face to this photo. Well, maybe we're exaggerating a little, but hey, don't you know me??! :) Things are going pretty good right now, because...wait for it...I HAVE INTERNET!!!! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I can now check my email from my house in a remote African village. My friend Jessica and I (with the help of our folks) split the costs of a modem that plugs into our laptops and runs off the local cell phone tower and gives us unlimited internet service for a monthly fee. As long as there's cell coverage, we have net! I heart technology! Of course if I could get electricity at my place... Luckily I can get to Mbale easy and Jessica is willing to lend me her house for electronics charging purposes. So in theory, I should be able to update a lot more on this blog and so forth. In theory...
This is gonna be long blog with some fun stuff and some sad stuff. You guys are in luck! Ok, maybe not, but at least you're warned.
Last weekend was the annual PC Uganda Goatstock celebration this year at Lake Nabugabu near Masaka and Lake Victoria. It was the first time I'd ever been there and it was extremely beautiful and peaceful. The locals left us alone, the staff was attentive and there was plenty of food available. That last sentence would never be uttered in America, that's for sure! Whenever there's an event with a lot of white people or any foreigners, it attracts a lot of attention in the village. Guest Houses rarely stock or plan food properly for large groups and are often unhelpful. That's not all the time, but when it happens, no one is surprised. The lake was warm and was actually safe to swim in, ie no bilharzia...in theory...again. A lot of theories in this post... Anyways, some people went out on boats, there was a great sound system that facilitated some fun, but sometimes inappropriate dancing. Goatstock is the yearly Halloween celebration that Peace Corps Volunteers in Uganda have and is always around October 9th, the Ugandan Independence day so that we can take a 4 day leave from site without tapping into our vacation days too much. A lot of people dressed up in costumes. For me, I didn't have a plan so I just through on all my tacky African and Hawaiian clothes and went as an a-hole tourist. First part I'm pretty good at, I just needed to get into the tourist role! Hey ohhh! My friend Brad dressed up as the joker from the new Batman movie. He was extremely scary but won the best dressed competition as he deserved.
I just looked up my village on google earth. I love the internet! Apparently I'm at 3,628 ft here. So basically I'm at Snoqualmie Pass for those of you I-90 drivers to Eastern Washington. Not very clear images, ie, can't see any landmarks i recognize, but still cool.
So the election is in a couple weeks. Thought I'd gotten my ballot, but it was a miscommunication and actually hasn't arrived yet. I hope it arrives soon. As for the election, we're going to watch it in Kampala somewhere, don't know yet. My friends Alex, Hannah, and Ian come in the night of the 4th (YAY!!) and I have a VAC meeting that day too, so i'll already be in town. The results will start coming in about 4am on the 5th Ugandan time. We're planning on renting out a place with satellite tv to watch. AND, since i now have wireless internet, i can bring my laptop and get all dorky about it by looking up all the details on all the house races and stuff i care about. Should be interesting. Everyone in Uganda (the Ugandans that is) are totally pulling for Obama because his father is from Kenya and his Luo tribe is found in some places here. What's kinda ironic is that Uganda is such a conservative country that if people actually knew all the policies of the 2 candidates, they'd probably go for McCain. However, even without the whole "African man running America" appeal, most people here are really excited that he will be able to do a lot with his celebrity to help the world, especially Africa. A lot of people aren't happy with the Iraq War (though their facts aren't always accurate), but they think Obama can help with that. We'll see!
I'm saving the less fun stuff till now. Last night my supervisor and good friend, Kateu got in a horrible bus accident on his way back from Kampala. Something like 26 people died. Luckily, he seems to be ok. I talked to him this morning and though he wasn't very specific on his injuries, it sounds like minor head and hand wounds. It could be broken stuff, but Ugandans can be so nonchalant and vague about their illnesses and injuries. The fact that he was talking to me on the phone was a plus. He sounded tired but ok. This is the second fatal accident he's been involved in since I've been here. He was in a minibus the other time and 3 people died. It was scary cause we were both leaving Kampala at the same time but he wanted to eat before he left so we got on different taxis. I've had phenomenal luck so far so knock on wood America! Transport is something that scares me the most in this country. However, since I have to use it and there's really nothing i can do, I just get over it and board the overcrowded sweaty vehicles. I hope that Kateu can recover fully and get home soon. That guy works harder than anyone i know and seriously needs a vacation; hopefully he'll give himself one!
About a week ago, I was moving around the area in a private car with Kateu and the Chairman. The Chairman is just as his title suggests. Chair of our Board of Directors and also the Chairman Local Council III (political leader for the sub-county). The Chairman was the district veterinarian in his younger days and knows the area really well. We had just visited some nursing students who were doing their practicals at the Butebo Hospital about half-way between my place and Pallisa (I assume you all have a map by now!:) ) and were stopped in Butebo Trading Center waiting for Kateu to get airtime for his phone and talk to a million random people like he always does. So we were sitting there and we see this woman in tattered clothes stumbling around in the middle of the street making strange sounds and waving her arms around. It is obvious that this woman was mentally impaired. Maybe in my immature youth I would of chuckled and shook my head, "crazy lady!" However, my knowledge of how the mentally ill are treated (more importantly not treated) in this country makes this situation very sad. My conversation with the Chairman made it even sadder.
Me: Reflectively "Chairman, I don't like how people who are mad (that's what they call mentally ill) are ignored in this country. There is treatment that these people can get, or go to the hospital in Kampala." - of course I know that her family probably couldn't afford it, but still.
Chairman: "mmm (agreeing)"
silence for a few minutes
Chairman: "That girl has 5 children"
Me: "Really? Who's her husband"
Chairman: "She doesn't have one"
Me: Confused "...oh! oh... So she's been raped?"
Me: outraged "I don't understand, who rapes a mad woman?! Also, how do they get away with it!? There's no privacy here, how does someone get away with it??"
Chairman: shakes his head not knowing the answer
Me: exhausted and disgusted i continue to watch her come closer to us talking in jibberish and seeing the boda boda taxi guys make fun of her thinking "why doesn't anyone help her??"
A couple of minutes later someone comes out and temporarily gets her out of the road.
Ok, so stuff like that where you feel totally powerless over social injustices happen all the time. Wondering why people don't stand up and fight for others but then not really fully understanding the history of this country and all the wars and terror people have experienced and the total lack of power so many people have is often on my mind. Those stories really suck the hope out of me, but are always replaced by positive stories where NGO's and Government programs reach rural areas and start to issue social problems.
Ok, now I need to write my sister and do my quarterly work report for Peace Corps. Hope you enjoyed my blog. PLEASE give me feedback and tell me (on any sort of communication channel) what's going on in your life. This shouldn't be a one-way street. I'm severely out of touch. Take care all,
Sunday, September 28, 2008
One is that I just got back in early September from a trip that took me to Mozambique and Swaziland. Not too much to talk about except that the roads are way nicer there, they have beaches, and there are olives, cheese, fresh bread, and a KFC available which are all completely foreign in Uganda. I had a great time on the trip and it was really nice seeing another, and very different part of Africa. Sitting on a beach and "learning" how to surf wasn't too bad either! :)
Second thing is that I've started a program at the nursing school that would bring in other Peace Corps Volunteers with specific skill sets to train the tutors in different skills that will improve their ability to effectively teach and to strengthen the quality and reputation of the institution. Also, it's a good chance to have volunteers come visit my site who have never been there before. The first workshop was on alternative teaching techniques. I got 2 of the best education volunteers to come and train our tutors on different learning styles and ways to adapt to them in your teaching style. Instead of just talking at the students, the tutors were taught how to involve the students in their learning using various different methods. The second workshop involved nutrition and I had 2 volunteers with strong nutrition and dietitian backgrounds come. The tutors learned all the latest information on proper nutrition, where to find it in the local diet, and how to properly relay that info to the students. Both workshops were a huge success and i'm planning on bringing volunteers who specialize in HIV/AIDS and Savings and Credit Schemes to come and do similar workshops at the school and in the community.
I wanna leave you with a plea to help support Peace Corps in a time where it's funding is getting cut drastically and is affecting all programs all over the world. We know that there's a big financial crisis going on over there right now, but it doesn't mean that programs as essential as the Peace Corps should be cut. What follows is an essay/letter that my friend Rishi Desai, who serves as an education volunteer in Kumi district, just north east of me, sent in to his congresswoman and senator in West Virginia to plead for support for Peace Corps. Please write or contact your local congressman and/or senator and help save Peace Corps from shirking budgets and a following inability to fulfill our mission. Thanks, Wes:
Too often does the veil of ignorance cloud the world's perception of America. Though it may be the world's misconceptions that foster anti-American prejudice, it is our duty to correct them. The time is past to sit idly by and ignore the sentiments of our friends and enemies beyond our borders. We are a proud people, and rightly so. We can be proud of our resiliency in the face of adversity, our dedication to peace and freedom, and our willingness to face down the demons of intolerance. But these qualities must push beyond American shores. The greatest tool we have for showing the world the ideals and passions that make Americans a great people, are the American people themselves.
Perhaps no group of people serve this purpose so great as the men and women of the United States Peace Corps. Since President Kennedy called upon his constituents to serve their country in an army of volunteers, highly qualified men and women have been giving two years of their life overseas to help those who need American assistance. We spend our days fighting to eradicate the worlds plagues, not just of germs and disease, but the plagues of ignorance and poverty, of intolerance and injustice. We do this under the banner of the American flag without reservation for race, creed, nation, or status, and we do this because that is what we would expect our fellow Americans to do for us.
I am an American Peace Corps Volunteer, and am more privileged and proud to be a part of this group than any other in my life. My colleagues come from across the nation, brought together by the belief that the American people can help the poorest of the world, and that it is our duty to do so. Nothing has strengthened my patriotism like the passion I have seen amongst my fellow volunteers for their adopted communities. We work long and hard every day of our service to make a positive impact on our communities.
And we're good at it. No other organization addresses grass roots community needs like the American Peace Corps. Other development workers are astonished by our language skills, by our level of integration, by the vast network of contacts we develop in our villages, towns, and cities. When others throw money at problems in the pursuit of hard numerical data of progress in pursuit of more money, they neglect the communities they are trying to help. We live and work in the field, and we live a lifestyle similar to that of our community making us extremely sensitive to its needs. I don't need to look at a map to see if my village needs a new water source, I walk the distance to the bore-hole every morning and pump my water myself (despite my frequent complaints, it is easily manageable).
So I ask the members of Congress to support the volunteers of the United States Peace Corps. The thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers across the globe donate their time, skills, and abilities to the organization, it would be a pity if our Congressional leaders didn't support them financially. Please show your support for these hard working men and women by considering our needs in this year's federal budget.
Peace Corps Volunteer, Uganda
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Since we last talked, not too much has happened. I went to the site of 2 PCV's near Kayunga and taught sex ed in primary schools. It was a really good experience and the first time that I faced the intimidation of hundreds of Ugandan primary school kids. With the help of a translator and many jokes (with the subject content, you can imagine where i went with it!), 13 and 14 year old boys were properly informed about their reproductive system, std's, puberty, and making good life decisions. The kids were really into learning and it was good to do "traditional" Peace Corps work. Most volunteers do a lot of good, hands on teaching type stuff like this, but I haven't really done that. My teaching has just been at the nursing school and even then, only a few times.
While I was there, I visited the home of a woman who's sister lives in Washington and knows my sister Marci. I promised the woman, Christine, who hasn't seen her sister Gloria in Uganda, in over 20 years that I'd visit her, take pictures, and send them back. I did just this and had a great time. Gloria's family were really friendly and treated me like a king. When I sent the photos back to Christine, she was overwhelmed. She was so happy to finally see a picture of her sister, but sad that she looked a lot older than Christine, even though she's the younger sister. It felt good to do something small like this that meant so much to people. It was truly a "Kodak Moment"!
Work's been kinda slow lately. Completed a couple of grants for my organization and have worked on creating coherent profiles for the CBO coalition organizations that I'm also helping out. All this has been really slow and I've been in Kampala alot for business and also for fun. On the 4th, we had an ultimate frisbee tournament that was a lot of fun. About 60 volunteers showed up for it and we split into 4 teams. My team got in 3rd, but that was after I twisted my ankle and couldn't play! I totally would have dominated! :) Or something....
That's all for now. I have a cough that's annoying, but I finally found somewhere in Mbale to plug in my laptop and download anti-virus updates and the such. Pretty happy about that. Super pumped about my planned vacation to Mozambique in August and am seriously counting down the days! A beach sounds really nice right now! Peace...
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
As part of our research, we visted a CMD (village volunteers that distribute drugs and created our list), talked to a group of people in a small trading center, and visted the home of one man. This experience was positive in the fact that people said they were happy that they recieved nets and that malaria no longer crippled their family, but then they went on to tell us their other problems and that's when I started to feel drained. The CMD said that he didn't have records of people coming to get malaria treatment from him. I was suprised, because that's his job. "Why didn't they come?" I ask. Because they haven't received doses Coartem, a malaria treatment drug, from the government health center in over a year. So even though people have nets now, they can't get treatment without traveling long distances to get it. This infuriates me, cause there is no good reason why the drugs aren't reaching the CMD's and ultimately the people. I'm not going to use this blog to point fingers or place blame. However, the fact of the matter is that mosquito nets are only one part of the fight against malaria, and if treatment isn't available, then people will continue to suffer.
After we visited that guy, we went to another man's compound deep in the village. He had 2 wives and 19 children. He was very grateful for the 6 nets he received, but said it wasn't enough to fully cover his children. "Why didn't you receive more?" I asked. "Because our name was at the bottom of the list and when they got to us, they were running out of nets." ....sigh... They were running out of nets because the people who made the lists didn't count right and we didn't have time to double check. "But has malaria gone down in your family?" "Oh yes, it has" "Great!". Then we asked him what other health issues were affecting his family that my organization could possibly help with in the future. TB, scabies, worms, malnutrition, lack of shoes and school materials, etc. ...sigh... I'm drained just writing this.
So this is can seem negative, but it's what's really going on. I remember when my parents came, my dad and I were out front of my house just hanging out and he asks me thoughtfully "What would it take to change things here? Where do you start?" Well, we're starting with malaria control and then opening a nursing college to add trained health professionals to the area. That'll have margnial impact for the schools, infrastructure, and economic development of the area, but it's a start. The thought is that this will have a domino affect on the community and the long term result will be a better standard of living for the people that I now serve. It's a little overwhelming, but not impossible. Just because it's hard, doesn't mean you give up. I want to thank everyone for their hard work and support and even though it might not sound like it, what you did IS making a difference. Some people in Peace Corps are a little jealous that my big project is so tangible meaning that you can see the effects versus if you talk about issues in schools or train some people in a skill. However, they're wrong. People have nets and that's great and there already has been immediate effects. How that manifests itself long term is still to be determined. I have faith that things will get better for people and the fact is, malaria will go down, and I can't think of a better way to spend money in a rural African village. People complain that international donors don't really do anything but give people false hope and hinder self sufficiency and development. I think that's wrong. If a school is built, kids will learn. If someone has a net over their bed, then they're better protected against the most deadly disease. It is the role of government and the people to fill these needs, but in the absence of an efficient system, donors have to step in or more people will die unnecessarily. When you start with nothing, something is always better whether it gives some people in the community the wrong impression about foreigners or not. I don't care. That person's kid is going to have a little better life and that is all that matters, to continue to chip away at extreme poverty and disease.
The Against Malaria Foundation has a chart on their website that has a mathematical formula that claims that for every 20 nets distributed, 1 person's life is saved. Congratulations everyone, you helped save 655 lives. The fight isn't over and I thank everyone for all their support. Today's my birthday and I miss all of you very much. Take care,
Friday, May 23, 2008
So (i start off a lot with "so" i've noticed) i've mentioned in earlier posts that I was a "rockstar" of the taxi system. We'll do to a bunch of turnovers and my unwillingness to put on a comedy show for taxi patrons, that is no longer true. There are guys who know me and we get along, but most of the time I just sit there and will the taxi not to break down, run out of gas, or stop a thousand times to run shady deals on the side of the road. However, I've become a minor rockstar on the village path circuit. Now that I have a bike, I've riding around the area and now people are more familiar with me. I move around and people are yelling greetings to me from the fields, some calling me by my local name. I feel like a politician or Brad Pitt or something moving around the area smiling and waving. I'll have to stop and kiss some babies, but that's kinda wierd here so maybe i won't! For the kids that still call me Muzungu, I stop, greet them in local language and tell them my name is Kampanya. This usually goes over well and I don't mind if people yells my name from a distance, it's kinda flattering. Some people put on headphones to drown out the noise and I'm sure I'll do that eventually, but for now, I like the rock star status!
So we're picking up the nets on Tuesday and are looking to distribute on the 4th and 5th. On the last distribution, which will be Kakoro Parish, the biggest on and the one my house lies in, we'll be inviting a bunch of District and Government peeps as well as PC staff. It's sure to be a long and stressful, yet rewarding day to finally finish with these nets and cover almost everyone in a political geographic area. There's about 25,000 people in Kakoro Sub County and almost every home will have enough to protect their most vulnerable. So so so so so cool!
In other news, there seems to be big leafs growing in my garden that I assume are some sort of squash or pumpkin. Every other sort of growth looks very weak and may not yield the results that I want (ie FOOD). One of my hens gave birth to 6 chicks (did i mention this already?) and I'm looking forward to eating them someday! I didn't get the "improved cocks" cause apparently the guy who tends my chickens already has 3...once again, hold the jokes! Ok, all for now. Going to Kampala next week for nets and my one year medical checkup. Hope I don't have some crazy disease...or any disease really!
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Ok, but seriously folks, the national pop music station is one of my best friends here. Sounds pathetic, but it's not. Some people write, others read books, some go running, while others garden. Me? I listen to music. That's what de-stresses me and keeps me company when I'm alone in my house in the middle of nowhere. Now a lot of people listen to music, but not to one radio station religiously. I think I do this because 1, it keeps me company and breaks the silence, and 2, I've always been a radio guy. Even in America, I rarely listened to CD's or recorded music. It was all pop radio, all the time. The radio here provides entertainment and comfort. Most songs are not really deep or inspiring, but they are upbeat, fun, and catchy. Yeah, Akon isn't exactly Mozart, but he keeps my stress down and my nights filled with entertainment.
So what am I doing while I'm listening to music? Just staring at the wall watching lizards fight? Well...sometimes! Mostly what I do, which by the way is really annoying to my friends, is pace around my house from room to room. I do this under the guise of cleaning, but after a couple of hours, i often stop, look around, and realize that my house is still a mess. "What have you been doing all this time?" my friends ask. Well, I'll tell you! I've been moving things around from one surface to another and doing small, incomplete tasks that over enough time (about 3 hours i've calculated), add up to real results. This pacing exercise provides much needed exercise and I'm often exausted after "finishing". Of course I could totally be more efficient in my tasking, like, maybe completing one task before starting another, but that'd just be a crazy waste of time! :) Oh, and there's always a lot of Crystal Lite drinking involved (and the time consuming trips to the latrine that follow). So, with all this obsessive, ADD cleaning, is my house spotless? NO! Somehow I manage to turn it into a war zone in no time. But it's not really dirty, it's just "cluttered" as my friend Jessica says.
That about sums up life in my home. Oh, things are growing in my garden that look awfully like they could produce food at some point (ie, they don't look like grass). And my chicken had 6 babies, 3 didn't make for some reason. I didn't fully understand the explanation from the guy tending them for me. And I saw a lady make peanut butter! And the baby of her female goat named "Beef" is going to be named after me!!...maybe I am going a little crazy...
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
I made it! Saturday, May 10 was my official 1-year anniversary for being a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Kakoro, Uganda. I arrived in country March 5th, 2007 as a trainee (PCT) and was sworn in as a PCV in May. I decided that to commemorate my full year as a PCV, I would reflect a little about what I’ve learned, how I’ve changed, and how I now see the status, problems, and solutions in my small part of Africa.
Overall, this has been the best year of my life. I have grown more as a person than even the idealistic stereotype of “going to Africa to find myself” could ever imagine. I’d say about 75% of the change has been for the better. Though I’m more confident, assertive, and creative than I was before, I am also more detached and unsympathetic than I was in America. What created these changes was being thrown into the village with thoughts of either saving/helping/teaching everyone, or doing absolutely nothing. What has manifested itself is a feeling of being able to do a lot of things, but not without limits, difficulties, and anger inducing situations. I realize the obvious that I can’t save everyone, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a flood of emotions related that manifest itself in a negative manner. Every time someone blatantly asks you for something for nothing or is unappreciative of your work and the difficulties involved in everyday tasks of just living in a foreign environment as an outsider, it wears you down just a little bit. You start to get a little bitter and sometimes turn the tables around a little. Less “oh, poor African living in poverty”, to “stop complaining and relying on the West, go to school, and demand more of your government.” “Stop accepting that things are bad and do what you can to make it better.” Every time someone says “you assist me” or “bring me to America” I think: stop trying to run from your country and stay and fight for change! Then, just when you’re almost super bitter and ready to say, “to hell with you Africa, deal with your own problems”, some amazing, positive things happen that make you want to fight even harder to help people out. For every person that is greedy, selfish, and rude, there are 10 that are completely selfless and wonderful people who care about the well being of others. For every “Muzungu, you give me my money”, there are 5 people who supporting 6 orphans and 3 widows with no money and never ask you for a shilling (specifically 2 woman I know). For every corrupt community based group that’s stealing money from their beneficiaries, there is one that is making change happen with literally NO resources except for what they create internally. For every person who has 3 wives and 25 children, there are 100 waiting for marriage and making smart reproductive decisions. For every person wanting something from me, there are thousands willing open their homes and feed me just because I’m a visitor and they are good people. There is a lot of hope for things to get better and when there is change it looks and feels really good. When you see people who have nothing then get something whether it’s a mosquito net or a goat or even the knowledge of how to do a new skill, you realize what you role is here and how you can help.
They say that the Peace Corps is full of the highest highs and the lowest lows. It forces you to deal with things you never imagined you’d have to and opens you to the possibility of accomplishment that defies odd and expectations. I just got a call yesterday from my mother saying that the Against Malaria Foundation had 4,700 more mosquito nets for us in Kampala so that we can complete our distribution in Kakoro Sub County. I literally danced around my house with a huge grin on my face like I was in some cheesy romantic comedy with Hugh Grant. The flip side is the days that are just plain bad. When you don’t get enough sleep and then there proceeds to be a series of small things that add up to a really crappy day. Sometimes they are personal like unwanted attention coupled with unreliable transport, stagnant work only to come home to no power and water and remembering that in your funk, you forgot to buy food and there’s not exactly a Safeway nearby. Then there are the days when the conditions around you really affect you. When you see people’s primary food and income source destroyed by hailstones in one hour. When a small kid in tattered clothes asks you for 100 shillings and you say no because you can’t give people the impression that you’re just a money source and should be self-reliant but then you feel like crap because you totally can afford to give out what’s equivalent to a nickel, the kid could obviously benefit, and you can always say no to others. There is this guilt that I think lingers the entire time that we’re here. When we sit in our houses that are extravagant for village standards and watch movies on our laptops, it’s hard not to feel bad when literally next door people are really suffering. I can’t save or help everyone and that bothers the daylights out of me. It’s really hard to help one kid or one family, because there are too many and I don’t have the money or skills to do it properly. What I try to do to counteract that is to help as many community based organizations that I can so that they can help their beneficiaries on a long-term basis. There are a few individuals that you connect with and they end up benefiting from knowing you, and then you’re like “why does this person deserve more just cause he’s nice to me,” then it’s “well, is that why everyone is nice to me? Just to get something from me??”
You may be reading this trying to make conclusions to tell people that “Wes is having a hard time” or “Wes just likes to complain a lot” or “Wes is having an easy time” or “Wes loves it there”. You’d all be right but the lesson is that my biggest fear is that people will make assumptions about everything that has to do with me being here based on a couple of lines in my blog or some phone conversations or rumor. Whether it be me, my village, or Uganda and it’s people, it’s impossible and slightly irresponsible to sum it up with one phrase. My parents put it best when they got here. They said that they had talked to me a lot on the phone, seen pictures I took, heard my stories, and did research on the country, but until they actually saw and lived it, they have no idea what it was like. I see short term volunteers in country all the time and I think “sorry dude, no way you’re going to get the whole experience in 2 months.”
“So Wes, how’s Africa?”
As far as work goes, I’ve been really luckily. The situation I’m in is perfect for me and allows me the structure and flexibility I need to be productive. I have a great supervisor, a young and energetic organization, and a lot of support from both the community here and people back home. Other volunteers have it hard because their organizations don’t fit with them or don’t have the kind of work they want to do. I’ve been happy with all the work I’ve done and there’s plenty more to do. Though there’s plenty of time to relax and read a book or watch a movie, there’s always work to do and for that I’m happy.
I’m now comfortable moving around the country and my awkwardness level is at record lows. You get over the fact that you don’t always understand what’s going on and just have fun with it. I’m always cracking jokes and have found a style of humor that crosses cultures. People have described me as “a jolly man” and I take a lot of pride in that. For the times that I vent and flip out, there’s the 90% of the time that people see me smiling or joking or at least playfully challenging someone for being “stubborn” or “lying me.” I’ve mentioned before that I take great pleasure in the ridiculous such as novelty items sold at markets. I brag about my hologram belt that has Michael Jordan and Tupac’s picture on it. I have a goofy shirt that says “CAUTION! Heartthrob.” I rely on fun things and other volunteers for sanity and support. I have a great corps of friends near by that I get along with famously. My comedy skills are at epic proportions (as well as my ego!) and I might go on a stand-up tour when I get back.So to sum up, like I didn’t want you to do: I’m doing great and having a good time. HOWEVER, there are many many challenges and I’m forced to make tough moral and strategic decisions on a daily basis. 1 year in, this has truly been an “opportunity of a lifetime” that I wouldn’t trade for anything. The days when I say “man, I love it in Africa” far outweigh the days when I don’t. Take care and stay tuned to my close of service thoughts and feelings. -end of heartfelt comments-
Monday, May 12, 2008
All for now, just wanted you to know I'm eating well...sometime! Take care and check out my new photos (finally!).
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Second course of action was to dig up my yard and plant some stuff. That was hard, but fun and it looks like stuff is growing, as is all the grass that I hoe'ed up! Not quite sure exactly what I planted, because of course I didn't write it down or make a map. We'll see what happens. It'll be like Christmas, never knowing what the gift will be! Hopefully I planted a beef jerky tree...
The third and coolest village like activity I've done, is to start growing chickens! I got 2 from my friend Derek and 1 started laying 2 days later. She's now sitting on 9 eggs and I'll soon have 11 chickens! I think that's pretty awesome considering I've never owned any poultry and it'll be cool to be able to get fresh chicken when I want. Of course the whole killing and cleaning part isn't fun, but it really makes you appreciate your food. I'm not around enough to tend them and I don't really have any close neighbors, so I'm keeping them at the home of one of my organization's staff members. He's agreed to tend them and in the future, I'll let him keep some of them. I'm planning on buying an "improved cock", hold the jokes, to help out my chickens as well as the neighbors. An "improved cock" is a larger, stronger one that helps produce offspring that grow quicker and lay more. Now really hold back on the jokes! They are pretty expensive for the average villager (about $5-10), but not a big deal to me. He will of course make his way around the neighborhood and help out the production of other people's chickens. I'm hoping to have some big, fat chickens ready for eating in the fall when my friends visit.
Monday, March 31, 2008
Monday, March 10, 2008
I was in Kampala for this weekend that carried over from a Peace corps VAC (volunteer advisory committee) meeting I had on friday. I was voted the new chairman so I'll be a direct link from the volunteers and the country director. I'm pretty excited about my first political post and think I can be good at it. First VAC, next Washington's 8th Congressional District! Haha, but seriously, i studied politics and public policy so now it's interesting to find out how a government program works and how it can be better or more efficient. It's fun to complain and spout off about how things should be different or better, it's another to do something about it.
Anyways the main thing I want to mention is a totally random and fun adventure i went on yesterday actually few weeks ago. Some friends of mine were hanging in Kampala and we wanted something to do. So this one guy suggests going to the only port in Uganda, Port Bell and checking it out. We get there and there's not much, but it's on the shores of Lake Victoria and very beautiful. We decide to follow a path along the lake. About a kilometer into it we come across a sign that says "Miami Beach" and has an arrow. So this is completely ridiculous and we have to follow this sign! For a guy who's been to Miami Beach and think it's perhaps the complete polar opposite from what I've seen in Uganda, we decide to check it out. We get down there and it's a grass lawn on the shore with a restaurant and some people swimming in the lake. The most amazing part though, is this sign on the gate that is for a swimming event on April 5th. The event is sponsered by World Swim for Malaria which is a part of the Against Malaria Foundation which sent the mosquito nets to my area. My sister and other family members are setting up similar events to raise money back in Seattle. It was so random to see this. I was really really excited and was able to talk to the coordinator, who is a boat guide and found them on the internet. He told us all about it on the boat ride out to this island called "Spider Island".
Ok, this was on a draft post that i didn't finish 3 weeks ago, but for a better account of the trip and pictures, go to my friend Diana's blog and read about it:
We are going to try to help out at the World Swim Event next weekend.
In other work news, my family and friends have once again overwhelmed me with their generousity and hard work to help me and my organization grow. A few days ago, after lots of hard work and stress on both ends, I picked up 3 big boxes from the DHL office in Kampala. DHL, with direction from my sister's mother-in-law Linda, donated the shipping. The boxes had a donated slide projector from a family friend named Pat Farber, medical slides donated by Bastyr University in Seattle, nursing textbooks donated from my friend Alex Rainey's mom, Maria who is a nurse, and a wide assortment of other medical and nursing books and office supplies purchased by my sister Marci. Marci was the one who collected and coordinated everything and I'm already working on a bronze statue to be erected in her honor! I want to thank everyone who contributed these items. Everyone in my organization was absolutely floored by the extent of the donation. The teachers kept on saying "These are VERY good books!" as they flipped through the texts. Kateu and a couple of teachers told me that there aren't anything like the medical slides to be found in Uganda. They say that even the national hospital or other nursing and medical schools lack that type of teaching material. It was suggested that when other institutions find out that we have those things, they will ask to borrow them. I was delighted that people were so appreciative of the slides, but kind of sad that outdated technology like medical slides don't exist at all in the entire country. It just goes to show how far Uganda has to go to catch up. Fortunately, things are improving every day. Anyways, I feel like my blog has turned into a big thank you board, but i'm saying what I feel is the most important for people to know and hear. That people can make a difference no matter where they are in the world.
Ok, I apologize that the pictures haven't been updated in a really long time, but it's really difficult to download pictures at internet cafes. I have a bunch from when my parents came and from the net distributions that i want to put up. Thank you for your patience.
Fyi, I still don't know how to respond to comments, but i put my email address on there and if you want to email me, you are most welcome. It's great that people from my past are still interested in what I'm doing. Thanks everyone!
Sunday, February 17, 2008
The next three days were spent in beautiful Murchison Falls Park where we saw hippos, giraffes, elephants, crocs, various gazelle breeds, cape buffalo, and the highlight, lion cubs eating an antelope while the lioness watched. We were literally 10 feet away. Super amazing and one of many awesome animal adventures that we experienced there and on our 10 day safari in Tanzania. After animal time, part 1, we started our journey out east to my current homeland. First stop was at a fellow volunteer, Megan's site on our way to Jinja. My folks experienced their first "street meat" which was very tasty chicken though might have been the culprit to my mother's 4 days of hell she experienced soon afterwards. After a nice visit, we went to Jinja and my mom put her feet in the source of the Nile River completing her journey to put her feet in both ends of the Nile (did the other end in the early 80's). The next day was Mbale town, then out to the village for a very hectic, but exciting experience. The highlights included a visit to an orphans school and presenting them with donated school supplies, being initiated in the Bakomba clan and watching a great traditional dance and song group perform there, and doing spot checks with people that received mosquito nets. It was quite an exercise in accountability that my folks (and myself) were very impressed with. My supervisor Kateu spotted a man on the side of the road and said "hey, did you get nets? yes? take us to your home". We did that to a random child that showed up and a lady who was a widow with 5 children. Every person were using their nets properly and it was so great to see the nets that so many people worked so hard to get hanging up in these mud huts in the middle of the village. So cool!
I'm running out of time, so I'll forgo talking about Tanzania except that it was a huge success, there were many animals, and my parents spoil me! There were so many surreal moments throughout my parents 3+ weeks here and they all made a permanent and positive mark on my life. I'm so greatful to have great parents with the means to visit me and support me during this important part of my life. Ok, enough mushiness! Back to the village and back to work for me! Thanks again and again and again to those who have helped not only with the mosquito net project but who have sent me packages, letters, and emails to help me stay sane and happy. Until next time, Asante (thank you) as they say in Swahili
Friday, January 25, 2008
So as far as the distributions go, the video for Kitoikawononi parish are up and it looks really good. It was edited by the donor org and they added music and captions to tell you what was going on. I'm super happy and can't wait to see the other parish's videos. I'm tired so I'm not gonna do the promised recap, but the jist is that we were organized and vigilant on our rules and it all turned out well in the end. The End! :)
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Here's the donor link from the first distribution, Kitoikawononi Parish: http://www.againstmalaria.com/en/Distribution.aspx?DistributionID=231
Since I have a little time here, I'll give you the breakdown of everything that happened since picking them up and bringing them this way. So after many stressful days dealing with money issues dealing from the rise of fuel prices and a failed loan attempt, I finally just told my supervisor that we were going to take some donated money intended for the distribution and use it for transport. I was super tired of waiting and just wanted to get the nets to the village. Our nursing students would pay tuition in a few days so I knew that we'd have enough money for the distribution. We couldn't wait any longer because the donor needed video and picture footage ASAP for a conference he was going to attend. So midday on Monday January 8th, after the last straw had been broken with these shady microfinance guys we were trying to get a loan from, I told Kateu, my supervisor that we were leaving right then for Kampala to get the nets. After a series of calls with the Red Cross (who had the nets in a wherehouse) and a guy with a big truck, we set up to transport them the next day back to the village. Gas prices were down a little so we were able to get a truck for 250,000 Ugsh ($145) which is a good deal. We found a guy who's job it is to transport goods from Mbale to Kampala, but since he usually doesn't have anything on the ride back to Mbale, he transports for less. So the day starts really well. We go to the Red Cross, the guys are really nice and give us a free ride to the wherehouse. The nets are there in bundles of 100 and I almost cry when I see them. Ok Kateu, call the guy and get him here with the truck. So it's 10am and for Africa time, we're doing really good. The guy shows up in 3 hours which is annoying, but not unheard of. We load up the truck and get ready to head out at 1pm. Not too bad, we'll get back to the village around 5 or so. The next 3 hours is when the nervous breakdown almost erupts. After many shady deals with some middle man and stops for who knows what reason, the driver tells me that he needs 200,000 of the 250 that we owe right away because some guy ran off with his money and we need petrol and blah blah blah. It's 4pm and we haven't left Kampala yet. We finally get on the main road and the driver has the gaul to ask us for small change to pay off police bribes on the way. This is were I flip out and start yelling at the guy that he can pay his own bribes and he's made us wait and so on and so on. About 40km into the journey I calm down especially cause the driver was making good time and we arranged for an advance team of Kateu's brothers to meet us at our school building and help unload. By 9pm the nets were securely stored in one of our classrooms and I was a seriously happy man. Kateu and I looked at each other with big grins on our faces and just silently congratulated each other on the first step to the biggest project we've ever worked on together. That was a good day. You can see the huge cheeser on my face in the photo of me holding the bale on the link above.
I'll save the rundown of the actual distributions for another blog because of time reasons and the bulky length of this entry. But before I go, I want to give out a HUGE thank you to all the people back home that helped made this distribution happen. It's not easy to make a difference so far away, but you did it. Thousands of people in my area of Uganda will be protected from one of the deadliest diseases because of your contributions, hard work, and faith in the ability of a small amount of people to make a big difference. There's no way I can properly thank each and every one of you, but I hope you know that me, my family, and my community here in rural Africa is extremely grateful. That's all for now and wish me luck with my parents. It should be a fun and adventurous trip! Take care, Wes
Thursday, January 3, 2008
All this has completely disorganized my organization's program of receiving and distributing nets (fyi, that sentence was inspired by Ugang-lish). We were scheduled to pick up the nets today in Kampala, but transport costs has grounded us. The normal taxi ride of 12,000 Ugsh from Mbale to Kampala is now 40,000 Ugsh. Not including what it's going to cost us to rent the truck to bring them back. My supervisor and I are discussing sucking up the costs and just getting the nets asap. We don't know if things are going to get better or worse in Kenya, especially cause there is a huge rally of opposition supporters scheduled for today in Nairobi. We've been waiting so long to get these nets and really want them in the village in people's homes. Especailly since we found out that the donor organization, Against Malaria, has fundraised and authorized us to have an additional 2,000 + nets during this round. That means any time now, we will be distributing 8,400 treated mosquito nets to 5 parishes in Kakoro Sub County. Super exciting stuff and it better all go right or I'm going to go crazy! Stay tuned and hope all are having as an exciting (if not nervewracking!) new years as I'm having...