Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas in Uganda

My friend Lisa and I spent Christmas in her village (about 15 minutes away from my village). We had a great time cooking great food and “enjoying life” as the Ugandans say. Our menu included French toast, pancakes, creamy potato soap, grilled cheese, sesame noodles, paneer curry, and homemade chapatti. For dessert we (tried) to make no-bake oatmeal peanut butter cookies (from the Peace Corps cook book) and rum balls (a traditional family favorite of my mine). While neither of them turned out quite as expected and therefore had to be renamed as crumble 1 and crumble 2, they were delicious and a big hit with the Ugandan neighbors.

Lisa with our homemade paneer

Making Chapatti

We also enjoyed Christmas lunch with my supervisor, Maria, and her children at her home. As soon as we arrived, my supervisor asked us if we could make a cake. She had tried the day before to bake her first cake and it didn’t turn out great….or even good. So Lisa and I made a delicious cake using her fabulous gas oven/stove combo (oh how I wish I had one of those) to enjoy after our Christmas lunch.

Maria, me and Lisa making cake

Christmas Lunch

Maria cutting the cake

All the kids!

Christmas afternoon we went back to the village and enjoyed some traditional Busoga music and dance, where, of course, the two mzungus had to demonstrate our (not-so-good) Busoga dancing skills! Lisa has decided to take lessons J

Enjoying Christmas and the mzungus

Our Ugandan Christmas card picture - this backdrop was set up at the trading center

Enjoying local brew

Ugandan dance party!

Some other things I’ve discovered about Uganda in the past month or so:

It’s important to keep my door closed at all times. ALL TIMES. I found a chicken lounging on my neighbor’s bed on more than one occasion, and when I asked her about she simply said “he likes to lay his eggs there.”

I love the stars. With no electricity around and no buildings taller than one story, the stars create a blanket around my house every night: my very own planetarium.

I seem to discover new types of ants every day. Lisa and I discovered 2 new types over the Christmas weekend alone. That’s when I discovered that Peace Corps tried to prepare us for this via an entry in my Lusoga phrasebook:  

Stink ant?! I haven't seen that one yet...

You can get any piece of furniture you want made in my small town. You just give the carpenter the dimensions of what you want, pay a boda boda driver to deliver the finished product to your house, and in a few days you can enjoy your custom furnished house! I'll post the house pictures once it's fully outfitted. 

ttfn – ta ta for now!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

TIA - This is Africa

Some things I’ve learned in Uganda:

In America, we often say “time is money,” but in Uganda, it’s more common to say “eh, there is always time!” I think I like the Ugandan philosophy better.

Carrying a 20L jerry can of water on your head is hard. Really hard. Carrying 10L is easier, but only slightly.

Children are a lot stronger than me, and therefore end up doing a whole lot more work than me. For example, if I don’t want to carry the 20L jerry can of water back from the bore hole (see above about it being really hard), a Ugandan woman will often yell “boy!” at the nearest child and commandeer his bicycle to take back our water. What if the child doesn’t have a bicycle? Well then, he will go fetch one.

Kerosene lamps can burn. Oww.

As the only white person in my town, I often get overcharged for everything. A Ugandan friend told me that I should say: “Eh seebo! You are putting me in an oversized shoe!” when this happens.

My current favorite Uganda song goes likes this: O baby, oli vitamin. Omusuja gunuma. Oli chloroquine. Which translates to: O baby, you are my vitamin. I am suffering from malaria. You are my chloroquine.

ttfn - ta ta for now! :) 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Officially a PCV!

So I know this update is super long overdue, but keeping a blog has become increasingly more difficult without electricity!

A lot has happened since I’ve last written, so I’ll try to summarize the past month or so as best I can.

Our last week in Wakiso concluded with a party thanking all of our homestay families for hosting us these past two months. As part of the festivities, each language group presented some form of entertainment that demonstrated what they had learned about Uganda during training and also shared something about America for the Ugandans present. Some of the Ugandan entertainment included traditional songs and dance. For the American component, groups performed things like the chicken dance, the YMCA dance, and taught the group how to make rice crispy treats. My language group tried (not so-successfully) to sing the Busoga anthem and then sang (more successfully) the 50 state song. In addition, I was asked about 5 minutes before the program started to lead the group in the national anthem, since somehow word got around that I enjoyed singing…sheesh

After leaving Wakiso, we all gathered at the Peace Corps office in Kampala to get the official tour and get some books from the library (yay!) Then we went to a hotel outside of the city where we spent our final week of training, which consisted mostly of workshops introducing us and our supervisors/counterparts to expectations for the next two years.

The week ended with the official swearing in ceremony at the ambassador’s home where we officially became Peace Corps Volunteers. The ceremony included fabulous speeches by two volunteers (both from my fabulous language group!), the country director, and the ambassador. I had also found out the previous day that traditionally, the volunteer who sings the national anthem for the homestay thank you also sings at the swearing in….not sure how I got roped into all that hehe.

All the new PCVs

The above mentioned fabulous Lusoga language group!

We were told that we were indeed a unique training class (something we already knew!) because all 45 of us made it through training and became volunteers – usually a few trainees go home during training for various reasons. I have high hopes of seeing the entire group still here at in service training in 3 months!

The next day, all of us new volunteers departed for our sites…well, except for me. There was a snag with the paperwork and housing with my organization and Peace Corps, so I instead traveled to another volunteer’s site. Thankfully, she is an AWESOME person and friend (from, of course, my awesome language group), so we had a fabulous week and half together, where I helped her settle into her new home.

Finally, I did arrive at my site only about a week and half late, and now I’m settling into my home for the next two years.

My new house!

So far, my house has a bed, a tall cooking table, and 4 chairs. Other than that, I’m attending some meetings with the district health office staff, such as planning meetings for upcoming mass polio immunization campaigns, observing the immunization and HIV clinics at the health center, getting to know the town, and adjusting to life without electricity (I go to bed very early and read lots of books…)

I’ll try and update again when I can.

ttfn – ta ta for now! 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

So remember that flexibility thing….

Last week we all went to visit our future sites (with the exception of two of our trainees who had their site fall through at the last moment – actually about 12 hours before they were to leave), and here is the updated information about my future site:

  • I will indeed be working at the District Health Office in Mayuge, but I am actually working for an organization called URC  (University Research Company). Here is a brief overview of URC (from their website):

University Research Co., LLC is a professional services firm dedicated to helping clients use scientific methods and research findings to improve program management and outcomes and achieve organizational and behavioral change. For over 40 years, URC has helped government and private sector clients design, operate, and evaluate programs that address health, social, and educational needs.

With its non-profit affiliate, the Center for Human Services, URC works in the United States and abroad on projects that span five core practice areas: Communications & Outreach, Education & Training, Health & Population, Quality Management, and Research & Evaluation. CHS and URC share the same capabilities, staff, and facilities and provide the flexibility to work under for-profit or non-profit contracting arrangements.

  • I will be working specifically on the Health Care Improvement Project. Here is another internet blurb about HCI:

The USAID Health Care Improvement Project builds on URC’s technical leadership of USAID’s global efforts to improve health care quality since 1990 through the Quality Assurance Project (QAP) I, II, and III. The five-year project, which was awarded on September 24, 2007, supports the USAID Global Health Bureau and country missions to address significant challenges in raising the quality of health care in developing and middle income countries. The contract’s task order mechanism allows USAID country missions and other U.S. Government agencies to issue separate task orders within the HCI mandate. The first task order, effective September 28, 2007, covers three years and the transition of field and centrally funded work from QAP.

The goal of the HCI Project is to improve quality and outcomes of health care in developing countries by adapting and applying modern methods of quality improvement (QI). The project is guided by a vision that health care quality can be significantly improved by applying proven QI approaches to curative, preventive, and chronic care.

Priority areas for HCI are scaling up evidence-based interventions and improving outcomes in child health, maternal and newborn care, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and reproductive health. Other significant goals include expanding coverage with essential services; making services better meet the needs of underserved populations, especially women; improving efficiency and reducing the costs of poor quality; and improving health worker capacity, motivation, and retention. 

·      Document interventions implemented to improve the quality of health care, how quality is measured, and the impact of the interventions
·      Institutionalize modern quality improvement approaches as an integral part of health care in USAID-assisted countries
·      Expand the evidence base for the application of QI to human resources (HR) planning and management
·      Expand experience with the improvement collaborative approach in USAID-assisted countries
·      Expand experience with the spread collaborative approach in USAID-assisted countries
·      Expand the experience base for other specific QI approaches
·      Improve the cost-effectiveness of QI in USAID-assisted countries
·      Provide global technical leadership for QI in USAID-assisted countries

  • More specifically, I will be working on a pilot project in my district on palliative care in health facilities, focusing on patients with HIV

  • Lastly, I actually do not have electricity or a water tap; therefore, once I move to site, blog posts are likely to be even fewer and farther between – my apologies! However, I have an adorable blue roof on my house. Pictures (hopefully) to come relatively soon. 

In other news, since I recently celebrated my 23rd birthday, I would like to reflect on the differences between this birthday and my previous one:

The day I turned 22:
  • I was a graduate student in Baltimore
  • I had 7 AMAZING roommates
  • I woke up to find a wall of balloons barricading me into my room, followed by a breakfast of pancakes and cookies, courtesy of the above mentioned amazing roommates
  • The amazing roommates also made me a delicious meal of fajitas followed by chocolate cake and gifts
  • The festivities ended with an evening at the symphony with, you guessed it, the amazing roommates J

The day I turned 23:
  • I was a Peace Corps Trainee in Uganda
  • I was spending my first night alone in my soon-to-be home: Mayuge
  • I attended a Village Health Team (VHT) training in one of the villages outside of town
  • I greeted several groups of Ugandans in Lusoga, and all of them were extremely amused that I could do such a thing
  • I ate lunch huddled in a hut during a monsoon-type rain
  • On my way back to Wakiso, I treated myself to a delicious meal of Indian food followed by a coffee milkshake

In conclusion: my life has changed a bit in the past year J

This week marks our last week in Wakiso, and we’re all surprised that it has come so soon. For the past several weeks we’ve all been eagerly counting down the days until training ends, but as the end approaches, a lot of us are filled with some anxiety about the transition to come as well as sadness at leaving our 44 new muzungu friends. The next two years are finally about to begin: scary/exciting!!!

I’d like to leave you today with an amusing tidbit: one my favorite sites in my village is the ice cream man. Yes indeed, the ice cream man. He rides a boda boda (motorcycle) with a cooler strapped to the back, and he plays music (usually of the Christmas variety) while driving down the street. It makes me smile every time I see it. J

ttfn – ta ta for now!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Oh Happy Day

Today there was a collective rise in the morale of the training class – a general sense of excitement and joy. Today was the day we’ve been waiting for since we arrived in Uganda. Today we got our site announcements.

Now, some of you might be thinking “so what? – you’re already there.” Even though we’ve been in Uganda for about two months now, we’ve had pretty much no idea where we’ll be living or what work we’ll be doing for the next two years. Today we were finally able to start putting together a picture of what our new lives will look like.

Having said that, there’s still a LOT of information that’s unknown, and we’ve all been warned that placements often fall through at the last minute. The main requirement for Peace Corps service = flexibility.

Here’s what I know so far:
-       I’m working for the District Health Office in Mayuge (in the southeast of the country, close to Lake Victoria), whose goal is to improve delivery and access of health services to its population
-       The health office supports 183 facilities and 39 District Health Teams
-       I will live about 2 km from the nearest town and post office
-       I will have electricity and a water tap at my home

This may not seem like a lot of information, but I’m super excited to start getting information on what the next two years will look like, and I’m even more excited about the organization I’ll be working for. Next week we get to visit our future sites where we can meet our colleagues and get to see our new home. Yay J

In other news:
This week we had a talent show, which showcased the fabulous skills of the trainees and trainers. Some of the acts included a skit of a “Ugandan” Hidden Passions (a soap opera that many families here watch on a daily basis), an African fashion show (including my male language trainer modeling a lovely dress), and lots of dancing (both American and Ugandan). I think training should include a talent show at least once a week.

Today after site announcements we went on a field trip to Zika forest and the botanical gardens. We all had a nice relaxing afternoon enjoying the beautiful wildlife. A great ending to a great day.

Hopefully next time I post I’ll have more details about my site.

ttfn – ta ta for now J

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Some random thoughts

Ode to Ugandan yogurt: Oh delicious dairy, thick, creamy and strawberry flavored. How I love drinking you out of your bag with a straw along my dusty walk home.

Eating Ugandan children: I didn’t believe the apparently popular folk tale that white people eat Ugandan children until a few days ago. As I walked to training, I was offered a terrified two year-old to eat, so that I would spare the older children accompanying her. No wonder the shouts of MUZUNGU are sometimes punctuated by screams of terror…

Mist: It’s beautiful, mysterious, and makes me stop and stare on my walk through the jungle to training.

Mosquito nets: Sometimes I feel like I’m in a dome of protection. Sometimes, it strangles me in my sleep. We have a love/hate relationship.

Mefloquine: Disappointment. I was hoping for the advertised vivid dreams/hallucinations/night terrors. Sadly, all it does is prevent me from getting malaria. Sigh. 

ttfn friends :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

More than half way there!

This blog is written in two installments, dated from when I wrote them and listed oldest to newest:

September 12, 2010

Today marks the end of week four of official training – one month down! This week has been pretty eventful, with some field trips during the training week, a Muslim/national holiday that the entire country (include the PC office in Kampala) had off except for us, and a fun filled weekend.

On Monday we drove for several hours east to a current volunteer’s site to visit village health teams (VHTs) and ask them questions about their work. VHTs are meant to be a first line of health care/referral for communities, especially those that are far from health centers. They provide education on hygiene, sanitation, HIV/AIDS, malaria prevention/distribution, and refer people to facilities when needed. VHTs are chosen by the communities, and are usually people who are well trusted and respected within the community.

We also got to visit a woman who raises poultry and grows mushrooms. She demonstrated how she creates her mushroom gardens in plastic bags, and then we got to see her room full of mushroom gardens – bags hanging all around with mushrooms growing out of the sides. Pretty cool! The ride back to town was also eventful since one of our trainers bought a live chicken to take home, and she carried in back in the bus in a plastic bag – his worried little head stuck out of the bag-handle the whole way back!

This week I also got to co-facilitate a medical session on STDs and HIV with two other trainees and a Peace Corps medical officer. Some of you might know that I volunteered with Peer Health Exchange (PHE) in college and taught workshops on this very topic to high school students in Boston. Proof that this is indeed a small world: one of my fellow trainees also did PHE and taught the very same workshop! So we got to pull out our old activities and use them with the PCT class. Great fun J

Saturday was a designated cooking day – within each of our language groups, we prepared a menu to cook at one of our homestays lunch for our class and the host family. We made a delicious three course meal: egg and cheese sandwiches, chapatti burritos with guacamole, salsa, ground beef, rice, and beans, and pineapple and brownies for dessert (one of my brilliant classmates rigged an oven out of two pots and some sand – I love my language group!) The meal turned out great, and I had an absolutely amazing time cooking with my Lusoga team – I really and truly could not have asked for a better group of people. Freeze frame moment: after our meal while waiting for the brownies to cook, we all laid out on a mat on the back porch, and digested our delicious meal while enjoying a gorgeous view of lush Uganda in the midst of the rainy season. Life just doesn’t get much better.

Sunday I went with a few other trainees to a local secondary school event to cheer on our friend’s host sister during their “field day.” She won the cross country race (go Stella!). and we stayed to watch some of the other events: sack racing, long jump, jaggling, matooke peeling (my favorite event! girls had to demonstrated peeling and wrapping matooke in the banana leaves for cooking, but boys only had to demonstrate fast and correct peeling), and bottle filling (a race where kids filled their mouths with water and ran across the field to spit the water into a bottle, repeating until the bottle is full). Since these events took until 1 pm, and there were 32 total listed on the schedule, we left to get lunch instead of watching all the events. However, I was sad to miss some of the events-to-come, such as the laughing and crying contests…not quite sure what we would have experienced with those! Afterwards we enjoyed a delicious meal of fried chicken and fries with a bag of strawberry yogurt for dessert. Mmmm mmmm good.

September 22, 2010

There’s a general feeling of restlessness among our training class: in just over a week, we’ll be given our site placements. We’ve been anxiously waiting for that day since training started (and honestly, since we applied to the Peace Corps), but the wait has become even harder since we’ve just returned from our immersion week. Week 5 of training was our “tech immersion.” We all got placed with current volunteers and spent 4 days at their site. Not only we were all excited for a vacation from the usual training schedule, but it was a great chance to cook our own food: no matooke!

I went with another trainee to visit a volunteer just east of Kampala. Sadly our site was not in my language region, but at least we were close to Wakiso, so we didn’t have to spend 10 hours on a bus like some of our training class. Part of the excitement of the journey came from the chance to spend some time on the way to and from the site in Kampala. We savored the opportunities: coffee, smoothies, burgers, fries (with real ketchup!), Indian food, etc. We even got to use a real flush toilet! Woohoo!

The community we visited was right on the shore of Lake Victoria, and we got a beautiful view by hiking up a hill and looking out over the village. We also got to feed some local monkeys along the lake. Some were shyer than others, but they were eager for our bananas!

In terms of cooking, we learned that the locals are much, much better at preparation than we are. One of the PCV’s secondary students helped us one evening, and she peeled and chopped sweet potatoes, tomato, cabbage, and pineapple faster than I could blink. I have to admit, after using the locally purchased knife the PCV had, I am glad that I brought a set of good kitchen knives with me! We also got to cook some luxury foods: sweet potato fries, peanut butter cookies, and pancakes. Mmmm.

Needless to say, after the freedom of immersion week, it was hard to come back to training. We’re also all starting to realize how little training we actually have left, and we’re all scrambling to finish our self-exploration projects and study for our language exams. We’ve been told that failing the exam is no big deal (you still swear-in as a volunteer and just retake the exam in 3 months), but we’re all a little worried about being that ONE TRAINEE that fails…

Some things that have become “typical” in my Ugandan life:
-       Sweating. All the time. Even at night. What I wouldn’t do for a screen on my window so I could get some fresh air while I sleep!
-       Rain. The rainy season is in full swing, and sudden downpours are commonplace. Last week I enjoyed a peaceful walk to training in the pouring rain: even though it happens all the time, the Ugandans all stay in doors when the rain comes, so I was met with strange looks on my walk from people looking out their windows, but few shouts of MUZUNGU!!!
-       That brings me to the “SEE YOU MUZUNGU!!” and “BYE MUZUNGU!!” shouts that every child yells, at least a dozen times, at the sight of a foreigner. Muzungu means traveler or white person, and I still haven’t figured out why seeing one inspires such excitement in Ugandan children. They scream, run toward us, and often grab our hands or hug us. It can be sweet, funny, or overwhelming depending on my mood.
-       Dust. There’s constantly a layer of it all over my body. It bothered me for a couple of days, but now I’ve accepted that I will be dusty for the next two years. Embrace the dust!
-       Christmas music. They start playing it even earlier than back home!
-       Pizas/Rolexes - similar delicious street foods. A piza (not to be confused with pizza, which has the much missed cheese) is a small chapatti with fried egg and onion on top and costs the equivalent of about a dime. A rolex is a large chapatti served burrito style with fried egg, onion, and tomato, and it’s a bit pricier: about 30 cents.
-       Cadbury chocolate. It’s readily available in town, and has sadly become part of my daily routine.

Well, I think that’s all to report at the moment. I’ll update again when I get a chance. ttfn – ta ta for now!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The good and the not-so-good of Africa

Let’s start with the not-so-good so that we end on a high note:

The not-so-good:

1. The smell of burning trash. The only real public land fill is in Kampala, so for people not in the city, trash tends to get burned or simply tossed on the ground. Now, it would seem better (to me anyway) to burn trash at night, so fewer people have to breathe in the toxic fumes and oh-so-delicious smell. Unfortunately, I walk by at least 2 or 3 piles of burning trash every day. I’m pretty sure this is knocking some years off my life…

2. The cockroaches. They are HUGE (and therefore nice and juicy when you squish them). Now, I expect to see these critters in the latrine, but I am oh-so unhappy when I find them in my room. My host family thinks it’s hilarious that I “fear” the cockroaches, and my 5 year old host sister keeps telling me “Rashida, they won’t eat you!”

3. The mosquitoes. They seem to think I am quite tasty, and the bug spray PC gave me seems to only be icing on the cake for them. At least I’m taking my antimalarials!

4. The ants. They are also much bigger than should be allowed. And they bite. My feet. All the time.

5. The matooke and posho. These are staple foods in Uganda, but they are unlike anything I’ve eaten back home, and I have to say I don’t enjoy them. They are basically dense, flavorless starches…that I eat everyday. On the plus side, we got a PC Uganda cook book with lots of different recipes that I can’t wait to try out once I get to site.

The good:

1. The weather. It’s beautiful, sunny, and in the 70s just about everyday. Never too hot or too cold. The rainy season is starting, making the roads very muddy,  butI’m still extremely grateful for the moderate weather, especially since we’re on the equator!

2. My host sisters. They are SO cute and adorable. The eldest decided she was going to love me even before she met me. It took the youngest a few days to warm up to me, but now she also never leaves my side. It’s pretty great.

3. The scenery (minus the burning trash and the cockroaches, of course). It honestly feels as though I’m walking through the jungle every day on my way to training. It’s lush and green and just about everything that urban America is not.

4. My fellow trainees. They are absolutely fabulous, through the good times and the bad. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people.

5. The pineapple. It was already my favorite fruit before I came, but the pineapple here is the best I’ve ever eaten. I could eat it everyday (and I keep hinting to my host family that I want too…)

6. Dancing to the Ugandan version of VH1 with our house girl. It’s just so much fun. She’s also teaching me some Busoga dances (from the region I’ll be going to), but my host family tells me I’m “not so good,” and I need to practice so I can dance for them at the farewell party at the end of training. No pressure!

There’s lots more I could add to this list, but I’ll leave it here for now and update it as time goes on. ttfn – ta ta for now J

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wow, I've been here for a while now - time to post!

Sorry to all of you who have been following my blog for the last few weeks hoping for an update – internet (and sometimes even electricity) has been difficult to come by. Anyway, here is a very long post about my first few weeks in Uganda J


My journey started with an orientation (called “staging” in Peace Corps-speak) in Philadelphia. I had to arrive the night before because I came from the west coast, so I was able to enjoy a fabulous tour of the city and dinner with a friend of mine from college. Thanks again Jason! After arriving back at the hotel, I met a few of my fellow PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees). They are all amazingly wonderful (of course), so I enjoy a long night’s rest (my last for quite a while).

Staging involves a lot of paperwork/logistics/get-to-know you activities. I finally get to meet all of my training class (although it will take me a while to learn all of their names), and we get to share are common fears and excitements about the next 2 years. It’s very comforting to know that we all have very similar anxieties about traveling to Uganda! Staging ends with some logistics for our journey to Africa, and we’re all told that we should pack our carry on luggage to last us our first 6 days in Uganda because we may not get access to our luggage until we get to our permanent training site. This causes a bit of a panic among the group, as we’ve all spent hours carefully packing our bags before coming to Philly, only to find out we need to re-arrange it all. Several people make a mad-dash to the Target that is (thankfully) right across the street, and then we all share a last-American meal at California Pizza Kitchen before delving into the re-packing task.

After a “restful” 0-2 hours of sleep, we all pile onto buses at 2:30 am for JFK airport. The journey: 15.5 hour flight to Johannesburg + 6 hour layover + 4 hour flight to Entebbe = 45 very tired/slightly smelly PCTs. Also, fyi: it is currently winter in South Africa, and their airport seems to not be at all heated….so if you happen to have a 6 hour layover there, you might consider packing some warm clothes or a blanket, as I did not.

We arrive to a warm welcome by the PC staff and pile into a coupler of buses for the ride to Lweza Training & Conference Center. We drop off our bags, eat dinner, and stumble to bed.  

Arrival week:

Our training in Lweza starts with some introductions of each other, the staff, and Peace Corps. Oh, and of course we get a couple of immunization shots. The next few days involve meetings with our program coordinators about expectations and job assignments, preparations for moving into out homestay, and survival Luganda language lessons. The first week has a “summer-camp” feel because of the (fabulous) morning and afternoon tea breaks, the dorm-style living (complete with running water!), and the continual “bonding” activities. We even get a gorgeous view of the Ugandan landscape in out backyard, complete with monkeys. All in all, it was pretty great.

Our week in Lweza ends with a tour of Kampala. We split up into small groups and explored the city with a Ugandan PC trainer. We went to Kampala on Sunday so it would be less crowded, but the city center was still a bit overwhelming. Not only is the city packed full of more people than I thought could possibly fit into such a small space, but the amount of dust and fun odors in the air was a bit of a shock to my system. After some shopping, we rode back to Lweza on a public taxi and repacked our bags (again!) for our homestay.

Week 1:

Our first week of real training starts with us moving into our homestays in Wakiso, a “suburb” of Kampala. After storing some of our luggage at RACO (our training site), we wait for our families to pick us up. My host mom picks me up in her car and drives me to her home. I had no idea what to expect from my new home, but I am surprised to find that in many respects, it is not very different from a home in America. There is a garage, electricity, and even a television. However, there is no running water, so I get to learn how to use a pit latrine and bucket bathe outside. I have to say, the pit latrine is not nearly as bad as I expected. It’s still not my favorite thing in the world (or even my top 100), but it’s completely do-able. The bucket baths are pretty even nice, except that it’s hard to get all the shampoo out of my hair (since there’s so much of it!). It’s also difficult to explain to my host family why I need more water to bathe than they do since they all have shaved heads…

I’ve also improved upon using just a jerry can for hand washing by constructing a tippy tap at my home (something we learned in training). It’s basically a jerry can tied to a pole (where our clothesline is) and to a stick on the ground. When you step on the stick, the jerry can tilts down, and water pours through a hole poked through the side of the can, creating an easy way to wash hands after using the latrine. Simple yet effective!

I’m staying with a Muslim family: a mother, father, and three kids (a 13 year old boy, and two 5 and 2 year old girls). There’s also a house-girl who stays with the family and helps with the cooking and cleaning. It’s Ramadan, so my family’s schedule is quite a bit different than mine. I eat dinner around 7-7:30 and then go to bed around 9-9:30 (since training starts at 8), but my family stays up until around midnight eating and praying while it’s dark, and then they wake up again to eat around 4:30. By the time I get up at 6, everyone has gone back to sleep. In fact, I haven’t yet met my host dad because he gets home late from work in Kampala after prayer, and he’s always asleep when I leave in the morning. Other than the mismatch of schedules, I adore the children in the house. The eldest son goes to boarding school, so he’s often not home, but the younger girls are the same age as my niece and nephew back home, and they are so much fun to play with.

Training classes involve a lot of language study. We’ve all been assigned to language groups based on the region of the country we’ll be placed in. While we won’t know our specific site placements until close to the end of training, our language group gives us an idea of where we might be. I’m learning Lusoga, which is very similar to Luganda (the language spoken in Wakiso and the central region of the country). Lusoga is spoken in the southeastern part of the country, around the town of Jinja and the heart of the Nile River. There are 4 other (fabulous) trainees in my language group, and I’m pretty excited to have them as “neighbors” after training.

This first week involves learning greetings and introductions in our language and getting some overviews of our program areas: community health and economic development. We also get our bikes to use during training. As many of you probably know, I had to learn how to ride a bike before coming to Uganda, and one of my biggest fears upon arrival was how well I would be able to get around on my bike (especially after all the horror stories I’ve heard about bikes falling apart and poor-quality African roads). Needless to say, I got my bike and promptly put it in storage for safe keeping. After seeing my fellow trainees (with many more years of bike-riding experience) struggle on the rough and bumpy dirt roads, I was glad to be walking. The walk to training everyday is beautiful. It’s about 30-40 minutes (depending on my energy level), and it’s like trekking through the jungle. I’ll try to post pictures when I can.

Week 2:

In week two we get more language and more shots, but we also get to do a field assignment. We met with members from one of the local villages in the community, and we executed an assessment tool that we’ll likely use at our sites. My group constructed a community map, so we had community members draw a map of their village and point out important places, places they like/dislike to go, and places they would like to see in their village that aren’t there. It was a great way to get to know the community, how they spend their time, and their own priorities for improvement in their village.

This week we also learn about perma-culture/perma-gardening and as a group we construct a garden of vegetables at our training site. I have absolutely no previous experience in gardening, so it was great to learn about it, but I’m still unlikely to be my community’s perma-gardening expert.

The week ended with another visit to Kampala: this time to visit the Ugandan Museum and go to Garden City (a nice shopping mall) to test out our new ATM cards, which will enable us to access our PC living allowance while at site. The highlight of the trip for me was getting pizza for lunch – oh so delicious! I hadn’t realized how much I missed cheese…and flavor! The typical Ugandan diet consists of a lot of bland starches: matooke (mushed, cooked plantains), posho (a mushy, flavorless white starch made from flour), rice, potatoes, etc. We usually get some fruits/vegetables thrown in (a PC requirement for our homestays), but the food got old really fast. However, the pineapple here is beyond amazing. Mmmm mmmm good.

Week 3:

This past week has been pretty great, mostly because I finally feel like I’m settling into a routine here – things are just feeling a lot more familiar. Training consists of the same: language and technical sessions, but we also get several opportunities this week to go out into the field. On Thursday we got to visit the local health center and get a tour of the facilities. We even got to see their daily child health activities, where they offer immunizations, growth recordings, and vitamin supplementation to babies in the community (they’re following the EPI schedule recommendations!!). It was interesting yet sad to hear about all the local health issues plaguing the community. Today we also got to visit a local community based organization that works on HIV testing and counseling in their community and hear from the staff and counselors about their work. Overall, it’s been a pretty interesting week. I’m really exciting to start seeing first hand all the things I’ve spent the last year studying.

On a side note: tonight for dinner I got buttered pasta (or “macaroon” as my host mom called it), and it was DELICIOUS. Pasta’s never been one of my favorite dishes, but it was just so exciting to get something new!

I’m still not sure it’s hit me that I’m staying here for the next two years. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not at all planning on getting on a plane home tomorrow, but I just keep thinking about what I’ll do when I get “home.” I need to start getting my brain to think of Uganda as my new home. I’m sure once I get to my site and can settle into my own place I will feel more “settled in,” but it’s hard to really feel at home here while I’m still living out of a suitcase.

I think that’s all I have for now. For those few who actually read this entire crazy-long post – good on you mate, and thanks for reading. Until next time - ttfn, ta ta for now!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

So what's this training thing all about?

So some of you must be wondering what all we're supposed to learn in this 10 weeks of training. Here's an overview of what our first few months will be like:

Orientation (Arrival Week)
August 11, 2010: Airport arrival, transfer to Lweza Training and Conference Centre and a welcome meal. Lweza Training and Conference Centre quarters will be shared with other members of your training group.

August 12, 2010: The Country Director will welcome you, and the Program Managers will give you an overview of your sector programs. Activities include an overview of Peace Corps Uganda by the Country Director, the Role of Volunteers in Development (RVID) and Introduction to Project Plans by Project Managers. In the afternoon, there will be individual meetings with the Program Managers, the Country Director, and Medical Officers.  During the same period, there will be “survival” Luganda lessons – the language commonly spoken in Kampala, Entebbe and Wakiso. You will also have your passport photos. A small amount of walk-around money will be given to help you buy some few personal requirements.

August 13, 2010: Interviews will continue as necessary; running hand in hand with the survival Luganda lessons and introduction to Ugandan English. You will fill in immigration forms to trigger off the immigration process and please bring enough passport photos (12) and your Peace Corps Passports will be collected by a staff member.

August 14, 2010:  The day’s activities include an introduction to home stay living with a panel of current Peace Corps Volunteers to help you prepare for the intricacies of life with a Ugandan family.

August 15, 2010: You will have an opportunity to meet with some of your trainers. They will take you around the city- Kampala to give you an orientation of how business is conducted in the city and for you to identify key areas that you will need to pass through.

August 16, 2010 You will depart Lweza Training and Conference Centre for the town of Wakiso, at the Raco Country Home, where you will meet your Uganda host families. At 2.00pm you will depart to your lodgings of the next 8 weeks with your home-stay family.

August 17, 2010: Return to RACO Country Home in the morning by 7:50 AM, to start your Pre-Service Training. You will do language and have a session on bicycle maintenance. Remember bicycle transport may be your major means of transport once a Volunteer and you will be expected to demonstrate your competency in riding and maintaining a bicycle during training.  Many Peace Corps Uganda Volunteers ride a bicycle to do their work, and please know that the wearing of a helmet, which will be issued, while doing so is mandatory. 

Pre-Service Training            

Training Site

Wakiso is in central Uganda about 45 minutes from Kampala. Trainees live in home stays that are within a six kilometer radius of the training center. You will receive during PST a simple, single-gear bicycle for use during training to assist you to go to and from training sessions and to your home lodgings.  You will also be given a helmet to wear when riding your bike, the use of which is mandatory while riding the bike.  In Wakiso, international calling is possible from payphones, though it may take a few days for you to have the energy and time to figure out the system.  PLEASE make sure your loved ones have realistic expectations regarding this before you leave the U.S.!  Postal services are available in Wakiso, but letters take about three to four weeks to arrive at their destination after they are sent.  This is the case for mail going either direction.  As such, it may be thought best to get your “pipeline” of letters started right away.  Family and friends can use this address during PST and PST only:

Your name, Peace Corps Trainee
P.O. Box 29348
Kampala, Uganda

After PST, you will have access to a P.O. Box closer to your site.
Overview of Training Schedule
The Pre-Service Training follows a community-based approach.  This means that, after a few days gathering at central points for large sessions, we will then begin to hold our sessions in the communities, in smaller groups, using the trainer houses, or places where community members gather. It emphasizes hands-on training and learning by doing. You will practice working with community groups to enable you get acquainted with Ugandan learning styles The initial weeks of training are as follows:

Arrival / Week 1: Overcoming jet lag, and conducting individual Program Managers and Medical informational and familiarization meetings:
 This week involves community entry, as Trainees begin to understand how to communicate with their Ugandan families and communities.  We will explore Uganda’s history, issues of community development and the Volunteer’s role in that development, personal health, and cross-cultural issues.  The focus is on community entry skills and techniques, the concept of HIV/AIDS, at the global level and the Ugandan situation.

Week 2, 3, and 4 Center and Field-based training:
In these weeks you will be exposed to many different relevant technical areas and issues regarding the health and development of Ugandan communities which will be presented to you through a combination of classroom and experiential learning activities. You will practice community entry techniques and you will learn how to work with grassroots development partners. The relationship between socio-culture and HIV/AIDS will be conducted and understanding a participatory approach to development using Participatory Analysis for Community Action (PACA) tools.

Weeks 5- Tech immersion/PCV visit
During this week, all Trainees will be in the field experiencing some of the responsibilities they will assume as Volunteers. You will travel using public transport by your own self to visit a current Peace Corps Volunteer. During this period, you will shadow the volunteer, you will learn about their way of life and their work and  community integration skills.

Weeks 6-7: Other key activities

You will be assessed mid way in training using Round Robin assessment method and  also practice your language though a mock interview.
In week 8: future site visit and Language Practice:
You will have an opportunity to visit your future site and have a good understanding of where you will be for next two years. You will meet your supervisors and future colleagues and start building your work relationships from then on. You will have an opportunity to speak your target with your community members.

Cross-training:. Community Health and Economic Development Trainees will receive cross-training in such areas as integrating HIV/AIDS education with sports for youth; PACA practice where the Peace Corps’ approach to development is promoted; construction and promotion of fuel-efficient cook stoves; Life Skills promotion and Cross-culture lessons etc. You will be exposed to Peace Corps initiatives of Women and Gender in Development, ICT as well as youth empowerment initiatives. All of these sessions will be integrated with improved livelihood and capacity building development activities

Building Community Relationships:

You will explore work opportunities using an asset based approach and how to extend PCV work to reach all the beneficiaries of the project. Overall, you will redefine your role as a development agent. In addition you will be required to demonstrate your readiness to embark on your technical work by presenting a model workshop based on the needs assessment you will have done in a Ugandan community through a Qualifying Project.

Language Proficiency Testing

Peace Corps regards learning a local language to enable you integrate in the community. You will take a language proficiency test to gauge your proficiency in a  Ugandan language that you will begin to learn during  the arrival week.

After undergoing pre-service training you will be sworn in.  The Swearing-In event is normally presided over by the U.S. Ambassador and Uganda Government Officials, which formally marks the end of pre-service training. You are expected to depart for your future site that very afternoon.

Basic methodology and assessment criteria for PST

Peace Corps Uganda’s Pre-Service training emphasizes 1) hands-on experience, and 2) developing an ability to live and work comfortably and effectively in a rural Ugandan setting.  While the initial week of training involves coming together at a central site, as the training progresses we move sessions more and more into the community.  We find this is the fastest way to get you acclimated into the culture, so that you can become a more effective volunteer.

“Competencies” are the skills, knowledge and abilities that we have identified as necessary for effective service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda.  In each component of training, we use “competencies” to help focus the sessions and to help you monitor your progress.  The trainers have the responsibility of recommending you to our partner organizations (NGOs and Government Ministries) and to your program Associate Director as ready to be sworn–in as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  You will be advised of these competencies during the first week of training, and you will be asked to take part in several assessments during the PST in order to monitor, 1) the effectiveness of training, and 2) your progress toward acquiring the necessary competencies. You will sit a language proficiency interview and you will demonstrate to the training staff your ability to survive in the community by demonstrating your survival skills such as cooking, and presenting a qualifying project.

Overview of Training Components (see Welcome Book for details)
Training components are:
  • Cross Culture
  • Community Development
  • Language
  • Safety and Security
  • Technical knowledge and skills
  • Administration
  • Medical

Sample Day’s Schedule

A sample Trainee day usually begins at 8.00a.m. and ends at 5.00 p.m. for formal training –  which includes four hours of language sessions, usually two in the morning and two as community practice, and then a technical session. There is a strong emphasis on integration, so the specific aspects of cross culture and safety and security are incorporated into language and technical sessions.  After 5:00 pm trainees are expected to return to their home stay families.  There you will continue learning language and cultural skills through participating in home chores and in interacting with family members and neighbors.

Swearing-In Date

The swearing-in ceremony date will be October 21, 2010.

The departure

So I've been putting off starting this blog for a while now (as all of you who have asked me about it over the past several months know!), but since I have arrived in Philadelphia for orientation, I think it's safe to say that the journey has begun. Time to blog!

I had every intention of chronicling the entire packing process (mostly because I appreciated when other bloggers did the same thing!), but time got away from me. All I have to show for the long and painful packing process is my desperate attempt to pack my niece and nephew to take with me:

While they would fit under my 80 lb weight limit, there might be some trouble getting through customs, so I thought it was best to leave them home :(

The trip to orientation: well, it was early and long. I had a 6:30 am, 5.5 hour flight from San Diego to Philadelphia. The good news: it was WAY shorter than the trip we'll be taking to Uganda on Tuesday!

We're staying in a hotel about 7 miles outside of the city, but I'm meeting a college friend for dinner, so I should get to see some some of Philly before I leave!

As for staging itself, this is the schedule we got a few weeks ago:


12:30 pm: Registration, turn in completed forms

2:30 - 4:25: Who we are, what's expected of you

4:25-4:45: Break

4:45-7:00: What you expect, what's next, closing


2:30 am: Check out of hotel

3:00: Depart for JFK

11:15: Flight departs for Uganda

It's a pretty vague schedule, so I'll post more once I know what it's all about. Now: off to explore Philly!
ttfn - ta ta for now!