Thursday, June 25, 2009

New, and a bit alarming...

So, I really can't think of anything exciting to report. The last couple of days we've just been working on drafting the policy that we are going to submit to the city council to begin the municipal composting project. I think we are going back to Jinja this weekend to do some shopping and have some Western food.

I have gotten a lot of reading done, which is nice justification for bringing so many books with me. It's looking like I'll finish all of them!

Sondra, I will be home the evening of July 9th (which is a Thursday). We for sure will have to hang out. I'm sorry I won't get to see your sunburn- take pictures for me! =]

Monday, June 22, 2009

An inconvenient truth about roaches...

One of those things that the predeparture packet didn't warn us about was cockroaches.

Prior to coming to Africa I had never actually seen a cockroach. I was okay with this. However, our bathroom (you know, the one that is inside of our room and is really only separate because it is eight inches below the level of our room) is infested with roaches.

Fortunately they hide during the day time and all it (usually) takes to make them run away during the night is a flashlight. Also fortunate is the fact that Chelsea and I are not afraid of them. I mean, I don't want to be friends with them but I'm not scared to go to the bathroom or anything- as opposed to Jen and Michelle, who either use the pit latrine out back, or come use our bathroom, when their infestation is threatening them.

Did you know that roaches play dead? That's why it's so hard to scare them away sometimes. You shine the light on them and they stay still, so you think they're dead. Then you step down into the bathroom next to them and they scurry away. Other times they stay where they are until you spill some water on the floor while flushing the toilet (if I haven't posted about that before, we don't have running water in our room so we have to haul in buckets of water from the outdoor tap to fill the commode).

The other night we were having a going away party for Brin, when Troy realized he had stepped on something (in his bare feet, no less). A flashlight revealed it to be a cockroach. We thought he had killed it until he tried to pick it up with some toilet paper, at which point it started scurrying around, in the midst of lots of other people with bare feet (never fear, I had shoes on). Katie eventually squished it with her stool. Don't ever let anyone tell you that life in Africa is uneventful!

The bug issue does mean that while packing to leave I'm going to have to take everything out of my suitcase and turn it upside down to try to get everything out. Brin found a slug in her suitcase while she was packing!

Sondra, I am jealous of your job- it sounds awesome! We should have another shrimp stir fry making night when I come home. And it should also involve dessert. =]

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

White people don't have secrets?

Oh, man. Sunday night was crazy.

So, this neighbor guy, Richard, has been coming over a lot and obviously he has a thing for Chelsea. She's been really weirded out by it but didn't really know how to handle it. On Sunday evening he came over with his brother's cousin (or cousin's brother, I forget). Chelsea said she was going to go take a nap. She didn't actually fall asleep, and since I was sitting right outside our room with Richard and Angel (the relative) she got to hear my whole conversation with Richard.

Basically, it consisted of him telling me that Angel was going to be my friend, then my boyfriend, and he was going to date Chelsea!!!

This obviously led to a big fight about how neither of us are going to date any African boys, and anyway Chelsea has a boyfriend (she doesn't, but it's a convenient lie).

I also found out that Angel had apparently fallen in love with me at first sight, which was kind of exciting since that's never happened to me before. =P And I have "strong eyes." And when I said that there were Ugandan women with strong eyes I was told I was mistaken, so I assume that he just likes that I have blue eyes.

Also, he informed me that white people don't have secrets, and that's why our government is not as corrupt as the Ugandan government.

Anyway, we talked to Michael, the volunteer coordinator, about it and we haven't seen Richard since so hopefully he got warned off.

In other news, a new volunteer arrived yesterday and is going to be living in our house since Brin is leaving on Friday. Her name is Michelle, she is from Wisconsin, and she is going to be working at the hospital. She is nice but has a lot of family issues going on at home so she might have to leave early.

Speaking of leaving, we fly out three weeks from today!!! I'm pumped. Uganda has its good moments but I'm getting ready to come home.

This weekend I think I'm going down to Jinja to go white water rafting on the Nile (it starts down here) so that will be an adventure. Hopefully I don't drown, haha. I've never been rafting before so it will be an experience. The owners of the company are from New Zealand, so apparently the meals are very Western and they have dorms we can stay in with showers! That alone is probably going to be worth the cost of rafting. You can also go bungee jumping but I will not be doing that.

Sondra, I'll have to come by and see Brent's new place. The house with James didn't work out? I'm glad you like your job! And we definitely need some mall Chinese asap when I get home, I've been craving orange chicken.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hey, hey Hockeytown!

Geez, it sounds like I'm fortunate to have been out of the country and not have to watch that game seven. I'm not that annoyed that they lost- they can't win every year- but the Pens fans are going to be absolutely unbearable after this. I'm glad Crosby didn't get the Conn Smythe at least (newsflash, Pens bandwagoners, he's not your best player!). One of my emails about the loss said there was a story on the news about a fan in Pittsburgh that was hyperventilating and said it was the happiest day of her life... she is married with kids... sounds like someone needs to get a life! I'm pumped about next year... I just hope we get rid of Hossa and can keep Hudler, Leino, etc. But in Ken Holland we trust!!! And the Olympics are next year, which will be awesome.

Sarah and Sharifah seem to have made it their personal mission to take care of us. When I took my shower today Sarah asked me multiple times if I had my towel, shampoo, etc. and made me leave my flip flops with her so she could wash them. Sharifah read me some early reading books today, including a Berenstein Bears book! That took me back.

We seem to have finally mastered the fan, so that helps cool things down at night as long as the power stays on. It's not entirely uncommon to have it go on and off. Overall I'd say it's been on 75% of the time. It's only inconvenient at night, because it's pitch black in our room and I hate having to do things by flashlight.

It's occurred to me that I haven't explained anything about the other volunteers. They are:

At Our House:

Room 1- Chelsea and me.

Room 2- Brin and Jen. Brin is the girl that was here before us. She is actually leaving on Friday- I'll miss her. She is very outgoing and was extremely helpful when we first arrived. She also had malaria the week before we got here. Jen has been here for one week now and I haven't seen her much because she's planning on spending her weeks out in a village and her weekends at the house. She is very young and convinced in her (generally uninformed) beliefs.

At The Second House:

Room 1- Serina and Jenny. Serina was here before us and is staying longer. She is a year older than us and is from Kentucky. She is working at the microfinance institution and researching for her senior thesis, which has something do do with development financing. Serina had malaria this week. Jenny is 32 and is a banker from the Netherlands. She speaks almost perfect English but is definitely missing speaking Dutch (it must suck to only be able to speak your second language for a month). She works at a center for women with disabilities.

Room 2- Gwen and Dez. They are med students at University of Alabama and just finished their first year. They are working at the local hospital, primarily in the women's ward. They're both really cool and in general are horrified by how unsanitary the hospital is.

At The Third House:

Room 1- Katie. Katie is from Taiwan and is starting her master's in Public Health at U of M in the fall (Chelsea and I have decided that she needs to learn to play euchre). She is working at an HIV/AIDS clinic but may start helping out at the hospital because there isn't much for her to do at the clinic.

Room 2- Troy. Troy is going to be a senior this fall at... some college in Illinois (where he is from). He is in the process of applying to med schools and is working at the hospital. He is a huge Blackhawks fan and hates Detroit, but I've had some good hockey discussions with him. I think he gets overwhelmed sometimes, being the only boy.

We all hang out pretty regularly... it's nice to be with people that speak English, share a similar culture, and miss the same things.

I have a glass Sprite bottle in my bag, because they actually reuse the glass bottles here! So when I go to the store after this I can take the bottle back for a deposit, which I think is 500 shillings or about fifty cents. But I find it very funny that Uganda has a recycling deposit program and the majority of the US does not.

Sondra, I am all about going ice skating when we get back! We'll have to go spend some of your paychecks, haha. And get mall Chinese (you have no idea how good that sounds right now).

Friday, June 12, 2009

Walking fast, faces pass and I'm home-bound

And we're going to game seven! Well, I'm not, exactly, since I won't be able to watch it. My dad just informed me via email that the Wings are going to win 3-2... I hope he's right!

It's silly but I've had a couple of bad days in a row and a Stanley Cup win would be a huge pick-me-up! I think the worst of it has passed... my moods here have been very closely tied to how I'm feeling physically, and I was quite dehydrated with an upset stomach. I spent most of yesterday sleeping and have felt better today. In any case we are now 1/3 of the way through our trip, which is an encouraging thought.

We didn't have to go in to work today so we've basically just been reading all day. Tomorrow there is an expedition to Jinja to go rafting on the Nile (it begins down here) but we'll have to see how I'm feeling.

It's becoming harder to avoid the creepers. Yesterday one came in my room while I was laying down and sat on the edge of my bed! Maybe they just think they're being friendly...?

Today has been semi-cool, probably only around 70, which is really nice. The power was out last night, but it came back on today so we had the fan running in our room for a while, which brings it down to a comfortable temperature. Biti also brought us an air freshener for our bathroom, which is helpful.

Sondra, is that the camp that your dad wanted to send your brother to? Taco Bell might not be too bad, I'm sure you get a discount on food.



Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tonight will be the night that I will fall for you over again

I remember saying before I left that I wasn't sure who would win the series but that it would go to seven, so it looks like I was right about that one. If the goalie of the winning team gets the Conn Smythe then I'll be two for two! =] Lord knows Ozzie deserves a Conn Smythe by now.

A couple of the kids are guys, and Kaka is 17 so I guess he's kind of a man. A relative that lives out in a village but is a vet in town lives with us during the week so that the commute isn't as bad. And there are other uncles and things that visit sometimes... but mostly it's just a lot of estrogen, haha.

We are technically here in the rainy season (although it's only rained, like, twice) so there is a lot of fruit and things right now. Tropical fruits don't need as much water to grow, so I would guess that they do pretty well year-round.

It is quite sunny here. Prescription sunglasses would have been a good choice... oh well.

Somehow one of the kids found out that we have a deck of cards so that's been the big thing the last couple of nights. We taught them Go Fish and Crazy 8s and they taught us some Ugandan card game. And then we tried playing Hearts but that didn't go as well. Sharifah and Sarah love playing war but someone has to watch them and mediate because they both try to cheat.

The first night we were playing cards some friend of the family named Richard was there, and he seems pretty informed on Western culture and whatnot so he was asking us about our full names, where we're from, etc. I told him that my middle name is Elizabeth, and Chelsea and I were joking about how I should just go by that because people here can actually say it... and now some of the kids are calling me Liz!

There are lots of varying symptoms for malaria. And apparently if you catch it early it's not a big deal, you just go to the clinic for the day and have some IVs and then it's all better. But I'd still rather not get it.

Yesterday was a public holiday called Heroes Day, so there was no school or work or anything, but our boss invited us to go with him to some land that he is operating for a friend because the friend is in the United States. So we went with him to a tree nursery and got 3000 eucalyptus seedlings and then drove out to one farm and left 1000 of the eucalyptus seedlings and got 1000 pine tree seedlings, then drove to another farm and dropped off the pine trees, and then went to a third farm to drop off the rest of the eucalyptus. We were quite dirty by the end of all this and when we got home Sharifah (who is 8) lectured us about our dirty feet and made us wash them, which was pretty cute.

Basically it's hot every day here, so we try to stay in the shade and if there is a breeze we sit where we can feel it. The grandmas sit on mats outside with the baby kids and they basically migrate around the house as the shadows move. If it rains it does cool down some, but sadly that doesn't happen very often. It's a nice temperature at night, but there are lots of mosquitos even with bug spray and also no light. Last night it was sweltering in our room when we went to bed and a good fifteen degrees cooler outside but we couldn't leave the window open due to mosquitos and neighborhood creepers. I could definitely do with some cold, Michigan weather right now.

Sondra, you aren't really going to name your cat Piddles are you? I mean, I guess it's more creative than Kitten but I think you're just asking for some bathroom problems with that name. =P

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dream about the things to come

Shutout city!!! Take that Pens! I am so glad to hear that Datsyuk is back and up to his usual ridiculousness. Also that Hossa woke up. How funny will it be if the Wings win game six and get the Cup again at Mellon? I think I will have to buy the jersey of whoever gets the gamewinning goal (if they do win). And by "buy" I actually mean I'll put it on my Christmas list.

Some of the family is learning to sort of say "Lauren." I call them by their names, if I know it (there are a lot of people around!). We are living with three sisters and two of the sisters have kids (like, four a piece) plus like three grandmas and an orphaned cousin. And some of the other cousins get dropped off for babysitting during the day. The main host mom is Biti. Her kids are Becca, Kaka, Sharifa, and Baby Dan (not to be confused with Creeper Dan, a neighborhood guy who is a creeper. We also have creeper Joseph). Another sister is named Pamela. She doesn't have any kids or a job and is drunk a lot. I don't know the third sister's name, and her kids are all too little to speak English. They cry a lot though.

You can still get malaria while taking the medication, if you get bit enough. We sleep under mosquito netting and wear lots of bug spray and so far I have only three bites. I know Brin was taking a different medication than me so I'm hoping mine is more effective. Apparently the family is well-versed in the symptoms so they should recognize it.

Meals are overall comprised of some kind of starch- rice, posho (which is mashed up maize and completely flavorless), plaintains, potatoes, that kind of thing. We usually have chicken or fish, sometimes beef. Lots and lots of fruit, usually pineapple or mango. For breakfast we have bread and butter and sometimes hard boiled eggs. Occasionally we get other things like beans or eggplant. Everything is always in larger portions than I can finish and so they're constantly scolding me to eat more. One of my favorite things is getting passion fruit juice- tea and room temperature water gets old. The supermarket with the ice cream also sells juice, I might get some today. The ice cream was good, but not dairy based (I don't think). Which is probably good since I doubt milk is pasteurized here.

We showered outside today! There's a kind of concrete stall thing out in the yard so I hauled a bucket of water out there and bathed in the sun shine. It smelled a lot better than bathing in the bathroom, in any case. We also cleaned up a bit and actually organized our books and things... it only took us a week, haha.

Last night we went to a bar in town and ended up dancing, even though no one really dances here so it was a bunch of mzungus and Kaka dancing to African pop music and old American songs from the 90s- we heard some Celine Dion! It was pretty ridiculous. We have to stay in groups though, especially on the walk home. We are rich mzungus, you know.

It's kind of "cold" here today, maybe only 70 degrees and overcast. I keep hearing thunder but, like all the other storms, I think it will pass to the north. We brought our umbrellas into town just in case.

Sondra, I'm glad Brent is amused by our exploits. I don't think they could say your name either. They do okay with Chelsea but only because they know the football club. What will you name the kitty if you get it?

Connie, I'm so annoyed that I am missing the party and your potato salad. I'm sure it will be a good time. One of my best friends works at that Tim Hortons so I did know about the Coldstone. They actually bought me an ice cream cake the night before I left.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Speaking words of wisdom; let it be...

Boo on the Wings losing games three and four. :-( It's funny because normally I wouldn't be that upset if they lost (they can't win every year, right?) except it's the Pens and their obnoxious fans. Ew. (Excluding the Pens fans that read this blog, they're pretty cool). One of the volunteers that came yesterday, Troy, is from Chicago and is a Blackhawks fan, but he's cheering for Detroit now because us winning will make the 'Hawks look better. =P

I haven't been taking as many pictures as I should, really. But I have a lot of time to take more! I did get a video of some school kids singing to us, which was really cute. Technically the official language in Uganda is English, but people grow up speaking their tribal language and then learn English in school so it's usually nearly incomprehensible. Our host mom speaks pretty good English (probably all the volunteers) and the kids do pretty well. It's good that people speak English because my knowledge of the local language is pretty limited. My first word was "mzungu" which means white person. Little kids run after us yelling mzungu! mzungu! mzuuuuuuuuunguuuuuuu (because they want money... of course being white makes us rich). Our host family doesn't really call me anything because they can't pronounce my name, haha.

I'm glad to hear that the weather finally got nice at home! A brat sounds amazing right now. The only meat we really have a lot of is fish (because Lake Victoria is so close). We did find a supermarket today that sells ice cream! Which was fabulous since it's so hot.

Another of the volunteers was sick with malaria yesterday! Brin had it a couple weeks before we got here. Apparently about half of the volunteers get malaria. The Ugandans think it's no big deal, but I'm still hoping to avoid it. Even if it's not deadly if caught early, the symptoms don't sound fun. I'm also hoping to avoid Chelsea's cold... the whole family already got sick but I'm hoping that my immune system is used to it from when I was sick in April.

Brownie points to Sondra and Connie for leaving comments! I do read them even if I don't respond (the internet here doesn't like responding). I completely forgot that Alan graduated on Thursday. I'm kind of glad that I didn't have to sit through the ceremony. =P

I miss everyone!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

M... Musketeers, Three!

When we bathe the water is not warmed, but it gets to be room-temperature before we use it and that usually feels fabulous. My host family has four volunteers (three currently, the fourth is arriving tonight) and there are some others with a few other families. I feel bad because we kicked the adults out of their rooms and all 19 people are squished into three other rooms, including what used to be a chicken house, but I guess their entire yearly income is what they make from hosting volunteers! I'm not sure what they get per day, but there's no way we're costing them more than maybe $5 so I guess they get a good profit. The family is really nice and the money helps get the kids through school so I don't feel bad about them profiting off of us. In any case, they seem very aware that we're their income, they won't let us do ANYTHING for ourselves. If I get up to grab my water bottle out of the room, someone does it for me. If I get up to take care of my dishes, the grandmother yells at one of the kids and they come grab them out of my hands. It's kind of weird.

We should be getting more information tomorrow, but it looks like we're going to be helping them start up a community composting program. Most of the waste here is organic, so if they can compost it it takes care of the solid waste problem and also gives them eco-friendly fertilizer.
If we're just going into the office or town, we walk. It's only a five minute walk into the office, and ten minutes into town. Yesterday, Michael (the program coordinator) took us to his home village which involved riding dirt-bikes to another house to pick up another volunteer, more dirt-bikes to a van-taxi, and then more dirt-bikes to his house and a school he helps sponsor. The dirt-biking in the towns isn't too bad because the roads are paved, so mostly I just try not to think about the fact that I'm not wearing a helmet. When you get out into the villages though it's just dirt roads, and out by Michael's house they were clearly dirtbike trails that were maybe one foot wide, maximum. And one part was washed out so we did some off-roading. And it's not socially acceptable to hold onto the driver for balance, the way you would riding the back of a dirt bike or motorcycle back home, so you kind of cling to the bar behind you. I got good enough at balancing that I could hold on with one hand! Of course, the Ugandans and Brin and Serina (the other volunteer) don't hold on at all so I think I need more practice... or better balance.

The weather is quite warm, usually around 80 degrees during the day and not much cooler at night (mostly because our rooms have to be completely shut up to keep out the mosquitos- when we get up in the morning it's cooler outside than in). It's not as humid as home usually is though. Last night we heard thunder and got a little sprinkling, but the storm passed to the north of us (I've figured out the cardinal directions using shadows, haha). It cooled off to around 60 degrees or so and immediately out came the long sleeves! The family grandma even put on a grandma sweater... I'm glad some things are universal.

Tonight we are going to watch Brin wrestle Serina, which should be a good time, especially since Serina apparently wrestled in high school. Also, Brin is from Atlanta, and wanted me to inform everyone that stereotypes about the South are not true! We are having a lot of fun talking about each other's "cultures." She is very amused that Chelsea and I are called trolls. She also exposed me to putting baby powder on my hair to soak up excess oil on non-bath days (apparently that's common practice in the South). She's been completely awesome.

Also no one here worries about malaria. Half the family has it right now, and Brin had it a couple weeks ago. But I still don't want it. =]

Amazingly enough I am not sunburned and have only two mosquito bites so I would say I'm doing pretty well!



Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Been feelin' so strange; my life is about to change

So, Chelsea and I have successfully made it to Iganga, Uganda! Our host family is awesome and humongous. And this keyboard sucks so I'm just copy/pasting emails to people.

Our room is basically two beds (fortunately with mosquito netting) and a seperate area with a toilet that you flush by pouring water in the back and pulling a chain. There is a drain in the floor and we "shower" by pouring cups of water over ourselves. Another reason I'm glad I cut my hair! Our host family is very nice and very big. They like to give us more food than we can eat, which I guess is better than going hungry.

Today we went to the Environment Office to meet our "boss" who is basically letting us do whatever we want, haha. We went with him to the district council meeting, which was kind of in English. I don't think they got anything done, but it was interesting! Then I successfully navigated us home, then back to the office, then into town! It's a good thing I have a decent sense of direction... better than Chelsea, anyway.

Overall I am enjoying myself. There is another volunteer, Brynne, staying with us. She's from Atlanta and is really nice. She's been extremely helpful in getting us settled. She also killed the chicken for dinner last night! I watched but I'm not planning on chopping heads anytime soon. It's technically a "man's job" anyway.

I am reading and journaling a lot, and trying to stay hydrated. So far I have no mosquito bites and very little sunburn, which I'm taking as a good omen.

Time to head back home, but hopefully we will come into town in a few days. I love and miss you all!