Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sit down, relax, and read everything you wanna know

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 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?"
Chairman: "Yes"
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,