Saturday, June 25, 2011

So Peace Corps isn’t ALL fun and games…

I know I mostly post about vacations/non-work related things, but that’s mostly because I figure those posts make for a more interesting read. Also, I think pictures make for more interesting posts :) However, I realize it may come across as if I don’t ever work. So I wanted to make it clear that while the work here is slow and very often punctuated by fun and games, there is still work.

Case in point: I’ve been teaching life skills/health/whatever at a local secondary school. Since the kids are often shy around the muzungu (and in front of their classmates), I thought it would better to set up an anonymous questions box, where students can ask questions about health, etc. without having to ask them in front of everyone. Well, no one else seemed as excited about this idea as I was, so I thought the box would just be forgotten about, or maybe even stolen by a trouble-making student. Imagine my surprise when I came back to the school two days after setting up the box to find it overstuffed with questions. I was a bit overwhelmed by the volume of questions posed to me, so I told the students to let me take them home and prepare my answers for next week. Well, here are some of the questions that I got:
  • If you have sex during your menstruation, do you get pregnant?
  • Is it true that if you kiss someone who has HIV, you’ll also get HIV?
  • There are some boys who disturb me during my leisure time, but if I see them I feel like vomiting. What can I do, please help me? 
  • Is it true that if young people play sex before menstruation begins you can still get pregnant?
  • How can I know when playing sex that sperm is coming through the penis?
  • Is it true that if you delay having sex you become an abnormal person?
  • Is it bad to practice homosexuality?
  • People usually tell us to have sex when we are still young in order to become perfect in sex. What is the meaning of perfect in sex?
  • I am 17, but my fellow students say that I can’t get somebody pregnant because I do not erect. What am I going to do? Because I like studying more than playing sex.
  • Is it true that menstruation breaks your virginity?
  • How many times can you use a condom before it gets destroyed?
  • If your uncle admired you and you stay in the same house and he pays your school fees and his intention is to fall in love with you, how can I avoid that?
  • If you are disliked at home because you were raped by a certain man you don’t know, and your guardians and neighbors are harsh, and you are shy, what knowledge do you give to that person who is in such a condition?
  • If your father takes drugs, how can you avoid that problem if you want to study?
  • If I am a boy and I have not experienced wet dreams, am I infertile?
  • I am a girl of 12 years. I have aborted 2 pregnancies. Can I manage to give birth the next time?
  • I have AIDS, but I feel like I’m in injury of playing sex. What can I do?

This is just a sampling of the questions I received after two days. TWO DAYS. Some of the questions can be addressed with sessions on facts about HIV, menstruation, safe sex practices, etc., but some of the questions are more difficult. How do I address the issue of homosexuality in a country where it is illegal, and gay activists get beaten to death? There are still discussions of passing a bill penalizing practicing homosexuals in Uganda with the death penalty. How do I address questions of rape and stigmatization, drug use, and a relative who wants sexual favors in exchange for school fees? Good grief! Well, that’s the challenge of the day, and only time will tell what questions I’ll get next time!

On another note, I recently visited an orphanage near my town. My presence was requested by the orphanage’s director, who saw me at an event at my health center. After making it clear that, although I’m white, I’m not hear to give their organization money, I went for a visit. While it’s still a new organization, I was shocked (and I thought I was over being shocked in this country) by what I saw. The students have class under a wall-less temporary structure (so of course, no class when it rains). They sleep 40 students per room, with no mattresses, on a dirt floor. They fetch their water (for washing, drinking, cooking) from an open pond with gray water a 15 minute walk away. On the weekends they have to work in the garden to grow their own food to eat. Sometimes they perform songs/dances/skits about HIV and family planning around the district to earn money for the organization. They walk miles each way to the performances because they can’t afford transport. When I talked to the kids, one girl asked me to be her mother.

The director told me they need money to fix the place up (no-duh). Since the students perform (they performed at my health center) to make money, I was a bit confused about where the money went. Are the kids seeing any benefit from the money? Why are they still sleeping on a dirt floor then? I told them I would try and help the organization develop some income generating activities (clearly not something I know much about though) if I could have full access to their financial reports. We’ll see how this turns out!

ttfn :)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Cleanest Place on Earth

This past week, I went on vacation to Rwanda with some other volunteers, and we had a blast. Rwanda borders Uganda in the very southwest of the country, so Lisa and I, being the only ones to come from out east, had the longest to travel. The trip started out a bit rocky: we sat on the bus in Kampala for almost 3 hours before it filled up enough to leave the bus park. Luckily, we did meet an up-and-coming rap artistic named Rastor Pastor on the bus selling photos of famous people. He even gave us pictures of himself so we wouldn’t forget his visit to the bus.

Finally, the bus takes off for the west, but only 20 kms outside the city the bus breaks down. While we’re waiting for the mechanic to come and fix the bus, what else should happen but a hailstorm. That’s right, a hailstorm on the equator. The storm does pass, only for us to find out that the bus can’t be fixed, and the bus driver had lied to us about calling back to Kampala for another bus to pick up all the stranded passengers. At this point, it’s been over five hours since we arrived in Kampala, and we’ve only made it 20 kms west of the city. Well, this is Africa.

Lisa and I decide maybe we’ll have better luck hitching a ride in one of the local aid vehicles passing by. Not 30 seconds after we make this decision, a vehicle headed to Mbarara (our destination for the night) pulls up behind the bus. We’re saved! The kind drivers take pity on the two stranded mzungus and we get a free ride into Mbarara in the much more comfy car.

On the way to Mbarara we do actually pass right through the equator. Of course, we had to document the moment:

The Equator!

The next day, after meeting up with some other volunteers/travel buddies, we continue our journey south towards Rwanda. We finally make it to Kigali, and we discover that it’s the cleanest place on earth! Or at least it’s the cleanest place we’ve seen a long long time. Apparently, once a month the entire country has a community day to clean up the country. All businesses shut down for the morning, the police put spikes in the street to prevent taxis from driving around, and people actually go around cleaning the city. The event did make it difficult for us tourists to get breakfast, transport around, or access to museums, etc., but it was astonishing to witness the program in action. What was even more astonishing was comparing this beautifully maintained city to Kampala, where the roads and sidewalks are all covered with potholes and trash.

The deserted city center during community day

Waiting until the city opens again

Pretty Kigali
Once the city was finished cleaning and opened again, we went and had lunch at Hotel Des Mille Collines, the hotel that was the inspiration for the movie Hotel Rwanda. After the European managers of the hotel were evacuated, the Rwandan manager Paul Rusesabagina provided shelter to over 1,200 Rwandans escaping the genocide. The four-star hotel still operates as normal today:

Hotel - poolside

Our group

Afterwards, we went to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a beautifully done museum and memorial for the victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where about 250,000 of the genocide victims are buried in mass graves.

Kigali Memorial Center - the flame is lit for the 100 days of mourning

Mass graves at Kigali Memorial Center
We also visited a memorial a little outside the city in Nyamata. This memorial was set up in a church where over 10,000 victims died in one attack during the genocide: 5,000 died inside the church itself and the other 5,000 who couldn’t fit in the church perished in the surrounding areas. The experience was very emotional. The church is filled with the clothing of the victims, and the sheer mass of them gives some indication of the multitude of people who were killed here. In the crypts out back there are piles and rows of skulls and femur bones of the victims. It’s a very graphic memorial, but it really imparts upon you the magnitude of what happened.

After experiencing the “big city,” we decided to go and relax along the shores of Lake Kivu. Yes, it really is paradise:

Lake Kivu

Enjoying the lake

A cool lizard-dude with cool flowers
ttfn! :)