Thursday, December 15, 2011

I'm going where? Italy.

In Uganda, people often will break up their sentences suddenly and startlingly by addressing a question to their listener, and then just as suddenly, answering the question themselves, in the same breath. It has the same sort of effect as an "um" or "you know" in American English; some sort of desired suspense is created, but mostly, it just gives the person time to compose themselves and figure out what they are actually saying. Examples: "I am going to what?(small pause) Eat dinner." I think I've been conditioned to eagerly answer questions, so at first, I had a lot of awkward moments where I would try to answer these brief yet bewildering questions, and then find that I had completely killed the rhythm of the conversation.

That was just a brief cross-cultural warm up. THe important thing is that in 5 days I will be stuffing my face with cheese, olives, red wine, and pizza. This is all that truly matters. I have packed up a months worth of living into a small backpack and am about to embark on my first journey outside of Uganda in almost a year. THere have been several strong signs that it is indeed time for me to spend some time somewhere besides Uganda, although I do still love it here. Remember that ceremonial tree planting I did last week for World Aids day? I walked by the parish the other day to look at the 'Tree of Hope', and the Tree of Hope is...not looking so hot. The tree of hope is dead. In fact, it looks like it has been through a desert storm war, enforced starvation, and possibly several children doing the macarena on top of it. It's alright. We will overlook this metaphor, for the time being.

Also, it's Christmas season here, which means that the crime rate has increased alarmingly around these parts. It's the most cutthroat time of the year here. People are scrambling to get enough money to buy beer and meat for the holidays (this only happens once a year for many) and I don't really want to be around when this scrambling and desperation hits a fever pitch. No one is exempt from this holiday fervor. THe private hire drivers have started upping their prices for mundus, police men are ticketing people right and left, and even my neighbor has recently stepped up his modest smuggling operation (one of the many perks of living on a border). Also, 15 more of his children (he has somewhere near 20 children) have come home for the holidays, so I cannot go outside to the latrine without 5 small children running towards or away from me. Peace COrps has advised us to take extra precautions during this festive seasson. Happy Holidays!

Dry season. It's suddenly and inexplicably dry season. LIke literally, no rain. There are some good things about this, because frankly African rains are terrifying, but mostly I just feel an impending sense of doom, and spend the long dusty days hurling desperate questions and pleas to the heavens, like, WHERE WILL WE GET WATER FROM?? IS THERE ENOUGH WATER IN THAT DINKY BOREHOLE TO SUSTAIN US ALL?? WILL I EVER BATHE? CAN WE RE-USE OUR OLD BEAN WATER ANY MORE THAN WE HAVE ALREADY BEEN DOING?? I think this horror is mostly caused by the comments I get from every Ugandan I talk to recently, that is always accompanied by a manic laugh. it goes something like this, "There will be no water! You will not survive! THere will be no food except for tomatoes and onions! We will all suffer!" It's great. I think it's hightime I escaped to somewhere like Italy where humans have conquered nature and bent it to its will so that it does magical things like travel through little pipes and come out when we turn on a faucet.

I think the most telling sign was the recent big event here in Arua, that happened to occur in my village! The other day, Tom and I were enjoying a Primus (giant congolese beer) with Father Lino at a cool market right on the border, and father got a phone call from someone, informing him that a plane had just crashed a kilometer away and burned three huts. Because we had just finished our Primus's and felt invincible and magical, we decided to drive over in father's vehicle through the bush to see the crash site. WE also decided, somehow, that this was a very casual and normal thing, like deciding to go out for ice cream after an especially good dinner. Anyway, we enjoyed the bumpy drive into the bush, passing by hundreds of villagers who were also dropping everything to go enjoy the destruction and catastrophe. Father informed us that he could tell whether each person was going to see the crash based on if they were carrying anything on their backs or their bikes. Apparently here, if you are not traveling with a load 47 times the size of yourself, then you are probably indulging in some recreation, say for instance, viewing the burning of a crashed plane. Luckily, no one had died or even gotten very injured, but the crash site itself was surreal. In the middle of this African valley, with nothing but a scattering of huts peeking out from the surrounding hills, was a burning plane and a few decimated huts. The minute that we arrived at the site, we saw a white truck driving away with three very disgruntled and grumpy looking Americans in the back; the crash victims. They along with 9 Ugandan policemen, were relief workers, on their way to deliver aid to the Congo. So, instead of taking a moment to reflect on the savage beauty and destruction in front of us, and perhaps muse on the fragility of life, and the presence of hope in the face of disaster, we both immediately raised our hands, pointed directly at them, and yelled, "LOOK! WHITE PEOPLE!" Not a proud moment. I wonder how those guys felt, after surviving a plane crash in the middle of nowhere, as they drove away and then suddenly saw us lurking amongst the crowd of villagers. They must have chalked it up to shock. So, after this, we walked with Father Lino, past all the security and military, to get a front-row experience with the city mayor and councilmen. Standing in the tall elephant grass just meters away from a singed and burning plane with debris scattered all over, I looked behind me to see thousands of villagers gathered in a large circle all around us, kept in place by large soldiers wielding large sticks. If it were not for that Primus that I had just ingested, coupled with the feeling of, "well, this would have been weird even WITHOUT the plane crash," I would probably have been in shock myself, but instead, I just stood there, shoulder-to-shoulder with all the big-dudes in Arua, over-hearing top-secret military information, and watching the villagers try to decide what was more interesting to look at: the crashed plane, or the mundus looking at the crashed plane.

I think it's just about time for me to go sit in a large piazza and people watch with a glass of red wine in one hand and a piece of pizza in the other. Also, I can't wait to see my family. It's almost been a year and I flip out every time I realize that I will be seeing 5/6s of them in less than a week.

Wherever you go, go with all your heart,

Monday, December 5, 2011

Plagiarized Poems and Pilfered Primates: this is Peace Corps

There is an article out on Huffington Post about what the Peace Corps teaches about failure. I suggest reading it. I read it today and found myself exclaiming, “yes! That’s it!” many times, and getting a warm glow in my chest. In Peace Corps, I think it’s completely necessary to find camaraderie over things, whether it’s over the state of the nation or the state of your latrine, but most especially over failure, so that those times when your projects entirely bomb and fall flat on their faces, at least a little part of you can remember that it’s normal and expected (or the time that you completely miss the hole in your latrine, it’s okay!). I do think that in America, we are set up to avoid failure at all possible costs. FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION!!! CARPE DIEM!!! WE CAN DO IT!! SHOOT FOR THE STARS!! You know what I mean; you’ve been in a school locker room before. I think what this fanatic refusal to fail DOES to us, is set us up to become completely obliterated by self-hate and denial every time that we DO experience failure. Ever ask someone out before? I bet you haven’t. Why?? Because FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION. You should come to Africa, I get proposed to 12 times a day, and by the time I laugh and shake my head, the dude is already doing something else. I think that what America had taught me, for 23 years, is that most things that I will do, I will do well. I will succeed, I will pass with flying colors, I will be awarded, rewarded, graduated, dated, sated. I will do. I don’t think that that stream of successes and accomplishments are unique to me- although I am going to hold my first-chair-trombonemanship over all of you for the rest of my life- I think it’s an American thing. Sort of like how we are time-nutso, when people and animals all over the world could care less. But here, failure is everywhere. The crops fail to produce. The women fail to stop producing. The water fails to come. The power is out. The rain destroys the crops. AIDS destroys families. This is normal. This is part of being a human. Things fail. Nothing is certain. Sometimes there is not as much food. Sometimes there is disease, disaster, accidents, often there is death. Sometimes the rains don’t come and the earth dries up like the skin of an elbow. Carpe Diem? The only thing that I’ll be seizing anytime soon, are the love handles I am growing from takin’ it easy.

I think that’s the perfect segue into some current happenings in my life. I think the most important thing that I could possibly tell you is that a few weeks ago, one of secondary students came to my house and offered to sell Tom and I a monkey. Actually, he had asked us a few weeks earlier, in a sort of off-hand way, like, “Hey, how is the day? Also, I’ll give you a monkey for 15,000 shillings.” I don’t do well under pressure. Chances are, if you offer me something bizarre and wondrous, I will probably yell “YES” and then immediately run away in confusion. Luckily, Tom was with me, and tempered the situation. I think we parted with this student having no expectations that we would ever hear about this monkey again. A week later, he brought over a monkey. The most important details about this are as follows: that monkeys are illegal to own in Uganda. That the monkey was tied to the handlebar of his bike with twine. That he/she was red and had wise eyes. That I needed, more than anything, to live alongside him/her. So, there must be some sort of black-monkey-market, because the kid told us that he had captured this baby monkey in the Congo or something sleazy like that. My thought process was that the monkey would probably have a better life with us (being fed a rich and varied diet, sang to, read to every night, cuddled, and home-educated) than if it had stayed where it was, probably in a tiny home-made cage somewhere in this kid’s hut. Well, after confirming that Peace Corps had a definite no-monkey-policy, we tried to enjoy our few moments with the monkey, and watched it eat a few bananas and then almost attack a small Ugandan child who was teasing it (deserved it). I love being offered monkeys. It really makes my day.

Besides the monkey, life here has been somehow chugging along. I have had another one of my tooth scares where I ate a rock or some other hard and earth-like substance and created a small but undeniable hole, but that’s not big deal- I’m going to get it fixed in Kampala in two weeks when we are on our way to the airport! Some days the cockroaches really start to get to me, only because I spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning my room and mopping my floor, which is something that is completely out of character, to only find that come night time, two cockroaches the size of Haiti descend into my room and scare the bejesus out of me every time I get up to use the
bathroom…but hey, cockroaches will be cockroaches, as my father always told me.

Last week, I went to thanksgiving in Lira with about 10 other volunteers, which was absolutely wonderful. My friend Liz is an incredible host and her mum had shipped in a giant box full of t-day food, which we enjoyed. I also watched my friend Kirk kill a gigantic turkey after pacing back and forth for an hour and balefully regarding it from afar. It was like seeing a modern day enactment of Crime and Punishment. Several of Liz’s neighbors looked on with amusement to see this suspenseful drama unfold, but were happy to help with the logistics of de-feathering and de-grossing the bird after the execution. I enjoyed being out of my site and it was nice to see another volunteer’s site. We ate mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, home made beer bread, mac and cheese, pumpkin pie, apple pie, smores, and more. Lira town itself was posh, and I managed to eat Indian food, and also a milkshake, and a sandwich with French bread at a fancy cafĂ©. This was truly a Thanksgiving miracle.

After Lira, we went to Gulu for a several day workshop on permagardening, which literally refers to “permanent gardening.” It employs savvy techniques such as companion planting, smart water irrigation, double digging , etc, and is intended to reduce the burden of work on HIV/AIDs victims and decrease the amount of labor needed for farming. Once you have created a permagardening by double digging the soil and creating water channels, you will not have to dig again for another two years. It was a really useful workshop, because we actually got our hands dirty, and learned something about farming. I brought the father that I live with, and he was a great counterpart to bring. By the time that I got back to site a few days ago, he had beaten me there, and had already dug a demonstration garden at the parish. Probably the highlight of the permagardening workshop was when everyone started to say stuff like, “this double digging is double difficult!” or “we will have to double-eat and double-drink!” It was the joke that kept on giving. Seriously though, double-digging is no joke. You literally have to dig twice as much as usual, and really deep into the earth, all the while straddling a meter long garden (because you must never step on the garden) and pretending that you know how to wield a shovel the length of your body. Today Tom and I tried to create our kitchen garden (a circular self-sustaining brick-enclosed garden close to the house, which has a pit in the middle for compost, kitchen scraps, bathing water), and once again realized several cultural faux-paus we were committing; namely, being white, digging a weird-ass garden, and digging on a Sunday. No one digs on a Sunday! Oops. The other highlight in Gulu was walking to the hotel, which happened to be a few kilometers out of town in the middle of a village. As we rounded a dusty little corner, a group of youth saw us coming, and stopped dead in their tracks. One of the girls stared straight at Tom and said “Jesus Christ!” and wouldn’t move until we had awkwardly shuffled past her. I feel like rolling with a deadringer for J.C. will definitely be a beneficial thing. Maybe we’ll stop getting swindled by private hire drivers.

The last few days have been a bit crazy. Upon finally reaching back to site on Thursday, we left again on Friday night to go to a local show in town with our friend Kafu and his brother Akuma. We decided to go mostly because we have recently reached the elite ranks of the lamest 24 years olds in Africa, where a “crazy night” is having 2 beers, baking snickerdoodles, and then falling asleep at 8:15. So, we were overdue. Our friend Kafu is great. He has been to Wisconsin and Minnesota, and knows what tailgating means. He also can speak 8 languages, likes sushi, and has run for town mayor (and has plans to run again, and win) at age 27. Also, he likes dancing, is a good driver (what?), and is not very religious. I also think he owns 50% of Arua town. This is a wonderful formula for friendship. We finally decided to take him up on going out and “setting Arua town on fire”, so he picked us up around 8:30 pm on Friday night, after we had been expecting him for the last 5 hours. It was pretty typical hurry up and wait, and this quickly became the theme of the weekend. I brought along only a camera and 20,000 shillings, fully expecting to be home later that night. Nothing ever happens the way that I expect it, and that’s the thing that I somehow always forget here. We tried to be good sports. The artist was from Buganda and was called Cindy, and like most Ugandans, did not keep time. She came on around 12:30 am, after we had been at the venue for several hours. Because there were no chips or food at the venue, Kafu went out to get us food, somehow, and came back with a veritable feast of Ugandan local foods, and also kept buying ciders for Tom and I. Everyone who passed by our table said hello to Kafu and referred to him as “mayor.” Although I have this stereotype of Ugandans as all being very musical and danceable, this night somewhat shed doubt where it once had not been. For the many hours before the main singer showed up, we watched dumbfounded as a dizzying succession of random people went onstage to “perform” (read: lip sync and strut around the stage to the backstreet boys). I think that lip syncing in America is like anti-matter (it surely must exist but you never see it or talk about it), but here in Uganda, it is alive and well. The only time-worthy thing that I witnessed was some dude dancing the entire Napoleon Dynamite dance, in purple high tops. That was well worth my 8 minutes. As the night progressed, I felt progressively more uncomfortable. It was getting to that stage of the night where everyone else’s boundaries and borders were blurring, and so every few minutes, another (or the same) drunk guy would come up and attempt to either dance with me, or grope me, depending on his motor skills. There was one especially memorable, who had some sort of re-set button, and so would return every 3 minutes, to grind on Tom, or stroke my hair. I was just not ready for it, after 8 months of hanging out in the village. I’m a village bunny now. These city people with their tight jeans and colored hair and shiny sneakers!! Ironically, being the only foreigners evident at this function, we were also the only two people dressed like middle-aged parents from the 1950s. Me, in my pastel flower-print knee-length dress, and Tom, in his loose button up shirt and kakis. Utterly out of place. I’m spending far too much time describing an event that comprised far much time in my life. So it goes. So, after Cindy dazzled us with her questionably real-time singing, we began to beg Kafu to take us home. Me, nodding off in a corner, and Tom, forcing smiles as the reset button kept returning to get his grind on. Luckily, nothing went as planned, and so at 3:00 am in the morning, Kafu finally left the venue with us, asking “so you stay in town tonight and we go back to your village in the morning?” So, we were neatly deposited at a hotel that I think he owns and then he left for the night. And, the next morning, we woke up bright and early, and completely exhausted and bleary-eyed, to hurry up and wait for the entire day for Kafu to take us back to our village. I think I spend the majority of my time in Uganda waiting for something that I expect to happen, to happen. It usually doesn’t happen. Or it happens 15 hours later. It’s okay! I just remember, a certain memorable moment, when we were sitting in Kafu’s living room waiting for him to remember us, come back, and bring us back to our village. He was off doing something and we were nodding off on his couch, tired, hungover, hungry, dirty, and my hair was crusty and blue because I had leaned back against a freshly painted blue wall at some point during the day, and I remember that a giant chicken wandered into the room from the driveway, defecated, and then walked back out, and at that moment, my life slowed down to the crawl of a exhausted turtle and all I wanted in the whole damn world was to brush my teeth, not have blue paint in my hair, and not be in Uganda.

Lesson learned; no more “setting Arua town on fire”, or if I do, it will be on my own terms. Speaking of lip syncing and originality, this morning marked the culmination of my World Aid’s day poetry competition amongst primary school students in my sub-county. This morning I had arranged with Father Lino and my counterpart to have the 3 winners of the competition recite their poems after early mass following a brief introduction on World Aids day, and also receive their prizes and certificates. Only one of the students showed up to church. The other two showed up afterwards, while we were planting our donated trees for our “hope garden.” That actually didn’t faze me, and the actual ceremony and poetry readings went fairly well. The problem had come the night before, when my counterpart showed me how many of the students had written down the exact same poem, line for line. The first place winner had the same poem as several other students, who had turned in their poems too late, and therefore had not been considered for the contest. So, the students had either copied each other, or more likely, had all written down the only AIDS poem that they all knew. I don’t think they knew that they were doing anything wrong, and it’s partially my fault for not explaining better what poetry is, and the importance of originality, but all the same- it put a damper on the whole event. I think that this just shows me that next year I need to spend more time sensitizing the students on things such as creative writing, poetry, originality, etc. It’s something that I take for granted that everyone knows, but in Uganda, these sort of things are low-priority. Eh. I take this one as a small failure but also a small victory.
Signing off for now, because tomorrow I need to go to town and ask the district education officer to help us train people for our Female Adult Literacy Project.

Love and Lions, Ilse

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I am not exactly sure why, but for some reason I have completely stopped reading news or keeping up with the world in any way since I've arrived in Uganda. It may be due to a general lack of Internet and power but I suspect it's due more to a lack of motivation. It's kind of awesome that I have no idea who will be running for US office or what Michelle bauchman recently said. I'm sure I'll get back into it at some point, but I'm currently relying on the goodheartedness of my friends and family to cue me into giant things that would be embarrassing not to know about. So, the next time you talk to me, it would not at All be non-sequitir to suddenly segue from a conversation about weather into, "so, you know that financial crisis in America?" because, I probably should know about it.

I have read exactly three articles in the last 8 months, of varying significance to the world and my life. One of these was accidental and horrifying and happened when I accidently let my eyes skim over the front page of a Ugandan newspaper that said something absurd like "pop star Barbie has a close kiss (brush??)with death... And likes it" with an accompanying photo of a crazily dressed woman with giant sunglasses making a smoochie face at the camera. Luckily, I haven't had many other close brushes with Ugandan media
The second article I read was one that popped up when I idly googled east African news, figuring that I should have some vague notion of what was happening in the region I live in. The first story that popped up was "man killed by his beloved rhinocerous pet". I guess this man had encountered a lot of adversity to prove to the world that you can indeed domesticate rhinocerousds and raise them as loving pets. After that article, I couldn't really stomach the idea of reading more east African news... I live 5 minutes from Congo, so it migt be relevant, but if
I can't handle reading about an unlikely pet tragedy... So the last article and perhaps most relevant, was a lonelyplanet that listed Uganda as the number 1 destination for this year!! I call this a victory and also a shameless plug to consider coming to visit me sometime over the next year and a half.

Uganda as a whole is a fascinating small country with all of the African animals and tourist attractions that you can think of, but what's even better is that I happen to live in the least- developed and visited part of the country. West Nile is the forgotten corner of Uganda, cut off from the rest of the country by the Nile river
and by tribalism. It also happens to be the birth place of idi Amin (his house is right down the street ) and the west Nile virus. The people here are often described as "war like" and "primitive " which I think goes to show the divide between the south and the north , and the tribalism that this divide engenders. The people aren't "primitive"- that's an awful categorizing word- but they are fantastically friendly, exuberant, and welcoming. The west Nile is also thought of as the bush (or to us the boonies) , but I'm frankly grateful for the relative remoteness- the endless stretches of scrub Savanah, the rolling hills, the clean air, the tops of grass thatch huts that peek over the high grass like the tops of mushrooms. Come visit me and experience a unique and rather untouched part of Uganda. I promise it beats kampala's pollution and traffic.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My life is a giant Cultural Misunderstanding

I'm deciding that the next year or so is the perfect amount of time for me to cultivate a whole host of bizarre hobbies. (And yes, cooking/baking somehow lies under this category). So far, I am working on:
-successfully using a clay stove that burns charcoal
-predicting rain/weather patterns
-dodging stray lightning bolts
-sweeping/mopping/cleaning. weird, right?
-taking pictures on a real camera
-having a garden
-staring at anything that wanders past my field of vision
-predicting whether the rumbling noise we hear is a. thunder b. trading lorrie or c. motorcycle
-being in the sun
-making coffee
-communicating successfully with other adults
-saying no
-hiring children to fetch beer for me
You may say that many of these hobbies are not so much hobbies as they are general life skills--- well, there is no time like the present, as they say!

In addition, I am also considering
-archery (people here keep bows and arrows to kill birds, and also because bows and arrows are much more frightening than guns)
-sea-monkey raising
-minor whittling
Open to other suggestions. Heck, I can even make a decent syrup from scratch.

In other news, the only projects that I am actively involved in at this slow end of the school year, are a female adult literacy project, and a poetry contest for World Aids Day. You may be nodding now and praising my noble efforts towards development, but let me assure you that on the ground, it looks a lot different. I think that everyday I am here, I am surprised/shocked/dismayed/embarrassed by some sudden and illuminating cultural difference that I run/jump/fall/dive/bump into. It's a "oh hey, we are from incredibly different places and were raised in wildly different ways, aren't we?" sort of moment. Yikes. I'm trying to keep a running list of times when differences of expectation or culture lead to interesting things, so I'll give you a brief preview below of times when I realize, suddenly, just how I am on a different page from anyone around here. Heck, we are reading different books. I'm reading John Barth, and they are reading Jane Austen. No fault of anyone. (Please note: this is not a negative observation, merely another glimpse of how Peace Corps includes a head-on collision of cultures, and how peace corps volunteers are continually learning from their mistakes, blah bla)

Illuminating examples of culturally-derived differences in expectations:

1. Reading Clubs
to Ilse this means: Lets all get together and read whatever books we want to read outside on the grass and enjoy reading because reading is great!
to Uganda this means: Lets all sit in a classroom and silently read designated passages, without moving lips at all, and then answer pointed questions and read passages outloud to ensure correct pronunciation.

2. Poetry
to ilse: Poetry is great because you get to express yourself and also be creative. We should all try to learn about poetry and do it because it will enrich our lives and let us be creative and even teach us things about the world and ourselves. No prescribed form is necessary, just write whatever you want!
to Uganda: All poems must start with repeating a word three times, for example if the poem is about AIDS, the poem should start, "AIDS, AIDS, AIDS", and then directly address the title in a series of questions such as "where do you come from?" and "why are you destroying our families?"

3. Religion
to Ilse: We should all be/believe/think whatever we want! yeah! If you believe in God, then I may believe in pesto! And, that's okay! ALl forms of worship are great, as long as you are tolerant and open-minded!
to Uganda: Everyone is either Protestant or Catholic (or maybe Muslim). It is what we structure our lives around, and is easily the most valuable pillar in our lives, and being atheist or non-religious is not even a possibility. Moreover, all foreigners are probably missionaries. And should go to church.

4. Food
to Ilse: ....should be delicious!!! and flavorful!! and most likely, uncomfortably spicy! and eaten at any times!!! curry for breakfast!! devilled eggs for dinner!!
to uganda: must be cassava/posho/matooke plus bean/meat/fish sauce, and eaten at specific times, 10:30 am, 1:00 pm, and 7:30 pm, and if anything else is eaten, it is not truly "food" but only a snack and will cause us to go to sleep hungry.

5. Daily Interactions/Conversational topics
to Ilse: Should be random and informal and most likely awkward!!
to Uganda: Must stop every person you meet to ask them: "Yes Please how are you? HOw is your family? Your wife, is she okay? HOw is your home? HOw is work? How are your crops? Where are you going? Where are you from?"

6. Privacy
to Ilse: is important! It's okay to stay in your room/house for several hours if necessary, in order to read or play guitar or just stare at the wall.
to Uganda: ????!!! Where is Ayikoru?! Is she sick?? SHe must not be well!! SHe has not been seen all day!

7. Mornings
to Ilse: can start at anytime! They can even start at 11:00 am! Whenever I wake up!
to Uganda: 7:00 am. Everyone is awake and out of their houses. 8:00...people start to suspect foul play or death.

8. Gender Roles
to Ilse: are irrelevant! I like soccer and frisbee and not-cleaning equally as much as I like mascara and dresses!
to Uganda: Women=cooking/cleaning/hauling/digging, men= sitting/drinking/talking

9. Animals
to ilse: ...are amazing!! I love goats! I love dogs! I love lions! I love beppo! I live chickens! I love birds! I love spiders! I love to pet and love and nuzzle them!
to Uganda: dogs= watchdogs, cats=eat rats, goats=delicious, birds=excessive

10. Safety Precautions
to Ilse: I don't ride motorcycles or ride on the back of trading trucks and yes, I wear a white helmet when I am biking.
to Uganda: if there are less than 4 people riding a bike/motorcycle, then it is a waste.

11. Phones
to Ilse: are awkward
to Uganda: it is okay to hang up at any time without a forewarning, and also not necessary to identify yourself at any point.

12. Public Speeches
to Ilse: gratuitous.
to Uganda: anything less than 25 minutes is disrespectful.

These are just a few examples of how conflicting my expectations are with people who live around me.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I’m sorry I haven’t written for a long time. I can’t say that I’ve been too busy- because that would be untrue, with the amount of time I have been reading and shooting the breeze under mango trees recently. Rather, Arua town has had a bit of a power problem. West Nile isn’t actually wired, it is all run by one ancient wheezing generator that was supposed to supply power for about 2 years (back in 2003), until the new hydro dam was constructed. If you do the math, that generator has been supplying a rather questionable and unstable stream of power for the last 10 years. Recently, it has really begun to feel its age, and there has been little to no power, even in Arua town. So when I have gone to town recently to use internet and do other power-related things, it’s been a bust. I think somehow there is some semblance of power right now, although surely not from this “dam” that has allegedly been supposed to be finished for the last 10 years.
Anyway. It has come to my attention to thank a few people, namely Beth Billington for a sriracha bottle which I finished in the embarrassingly short and record breaking span of a week, also Jerod for sending me a giant bottle in addition to a French press, awesome coffee, and other goodies (including seamonkeys and candy), and my parents and grandparents for the packages. Thank you everyone for the mail you send me. It is nothing short of obscene how much mail I get weekly. Love from across the oceans. I’m also starting to realize that that the two things that I will always be short of in Uganda are books and sriracha. I guess not much has changed.
The pace of life here right now, I would best compare to the pace of a beautiful woman sashaying slowly down a dirt road with a baby on her back and a jerry can balanced on her head. This woman smiles at me when she passes, somehow managing to raise a free hand to wave at me, and to me, this has all come to symbolize one simple message, “ilse, slow the hell down.” And I am. I’m slowing down. Most of my transformations and accomplishments take place in my mind, or through long languid conversations. I would love to tell you that I wake up at 5:30 am every morning to run to the Congo, or that I spend my weekends sweating triumphantly in my flourishing garden, or that I have implemented several successful projects and am working hard all week long. But that’s not true. On the other hand, I am taking more time each day to talk to people who I pass on the road, to cook delicious meals, and think more about why I’m here. I’m not here to change anything or anyone through groundbreaking projects or to write grants. I’m here to learn. To watch, listen, observe, and taste. I’m here to form relationships with the people I live around. And, hopefully help out anyone who wants the help. As a PCV I'm not here to force anything on anyone--- I'm here to respond to what the community needs and wants.

I think I’ve been reading too much Daniel Quinn. For my book club, we are currently reading “My Ishmael”, and I recently read “The Story of B.” For those interested, the first book in the series is called “Ishmael.” I can’t really describe what these books are about, but I can tell you that these books have made me think differently, or at least using a different lens, about our culture, and why we are so troubled. The books themselves are troubling, I think, because they call into question the things that we do and the things that we value. And why we are the way we are. But if a book can make me uncomfortable or reevaluate the reason I am doing something, then that’s a huge accomplishment. I appreciate the way that the books have made me realize what my Peace Corps Experience means, or at least how I should use my time here. It has resulted in some major re prioritizing. But when it comes down to it, it has told me that--holy damn, how lucky am I to be living amongst the friendliest people in the world (arguably). I would have realized that last bit with or without any book.

I have posted a lot of pictures on facebook of my village, especially during the independence day celebrations from october 9th, and from a recent visit to a local nursery school. I am also going to post some pictures on here. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A'dumi: A photo journal

Some of our friends from Lira came to visit, and we showed them around our village, and even took them to the top of the small mountain/big hill that our subcounty is named after; A'dumi hill. We were greeted by everyone on the way, and even dropped by my old house to see my neighbors! I'm glad I finally have pictures that describe the environment and views that I see everyday. I'll try to write more later; hopefully I am buying solar power this weekend so that I can actually charge my computer in the village and sometimes use internet. Independence day is tomorrow, so I'll be celebrating in my village, and hopefully taking more pictures. love and lions,

Friday, September 9, 2011

Two Catholic Priests

It has been done! The terrible saga is complete! The mold vanishes like wisps of cotton candy far into my past! My days of full bladders and dirty hair are no more! Fare thee well rotting cassava on my front stoop! Village drunks who sleep outside my window, get thee behind me! Quit my sight, thee uncomely mouse turds!

I think the solution to all my bizarre housing problems was always right in front of us all. Put this girl in a tiny green dorm room in the priest's quarters of the Catholic Mission. AND WHY NOT??? THEE UNBELIEVERS?? WHO IS TO SAY THAT A YOUNG UNITARIAN (?) WOMAN FROM AMERICA CANNOT HAPPILY BUNK UP WITH SEVERAL CATHOLIC LUGBARA PRIESTS? I happen to LOVE green walls. AND small spaces. I'm like a vole. Or an otter. Besides, what honest person would leave me in charge of an entire HOUSE? A small room, I can manage.

In all seriousness, I am really happy with my new place. It is quiet, peaceful, and almost a little retreat from the rest of my village. There are flowers, kind people, and shade. The fathers are incredible; they are the community leaders here, and are very progressive. I think I'll be able to work well with them. It is a rather unlikely situation, but I am really glad with how it turned out. Plus, I'm like a 5 minute walk from Tom now. I have spent my last few days settling in, getting to know the priests more, and trying to explain what a unitarian is. My room is adorable and I am starting to become a bit of a clean freak, or at least balancing myself out more. Because of my last house, I am completely determined to not share my space with any of the local wildlife (including mold), and so I"m keeping everything very clean.

Here are some pictures!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

In between homes

I haven't written a blog in a long time, partially because of very limited internet access, but also because I didn't want to blog anything negative. That's what journals are for in the Peace Corps. The good news is that my housing situation is almost certainly fixed. I won't, indeed, be continuing to live in the house without a latrine, bathing area, and with a copious mold problem. I count this as a victory. I have never really seen it as home, and was having a hard time with the idea of living there for two years. I think that positivity can only go so far, sometimes, and although i was convinced that PC could place me in a cave for all I cared, I now know that having a home that I like is incredibly important. I think that my counterpart has found me a place close to the mission in my community, which should be great because I love the fathers and nuns there. Although I haven't seen the house yet, I do know that I will have my own bathing area/latrine area, and that I am a lot closer to Tom now (and also the Congo...whoops!) I hope that being in a decent place will aid my productivity and creativity this upcoming school term, because I found it difficult to work effectively the last 4 months with all the uncertainty I was facing (and also all the biking to go bathe at Tom's place).

I just got back from training yesterday. We had about two weeks of IST and then a few days of the all volunteer conference, which takes place at a relatively nice hotel in Kampala. It's sort of like a conference meets spring break-Cancun. Think 180 20-somethings getting together at a hotel with a pool. It was kind of a magical disaster and definitely didn't feel like Peace Corps, but it was fun all the same. I also learned a lot about possible secondary projects that I could do, potentially. Until I move to my new place, I'm staying with my friend La Toya in town, which is great because I can go to the internet cafe and eat Ethiopian until my fingers turn into injera. I recently put up some new pictures on my facebook, but they are mostly of Arua-town and also Jinja-Town, where we went inbetween IST and Al-Vol, to do a booze-cruise and just hang out. Jinja is nothing like west nile; it's full of foreigners, both NGo's and missionaries, and so is stocked with "mzungu" food. I may or may not have spent a small fortune on lattes and veggie burgers. It's okay.

I think I'll feel more comfortable in my community, especially with a more stable place to live, so hopefully I'll get the camera out more. My plans for when I get back to site (tomorrow??!!) include setting up my house, starting to run again, and trying to start up a tutoring program and a lifeskills program at a few of my schools. THings move REALLY slowly here, so I'll be happy if I even make baby steps for some of my projects. It's still too early on to tell what will work and what won't.

I miss all of you and hopefully I'll start posting more regularly again!

love and lattes,

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My life is in shambles

I can check this one off my list:

sleepwalking in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom outside only to awake and find myself surrounded by no less than 11 GIGANTIC guard dogs. with limited clothing on. in the middle of africa.

It's okay.

Friday, August 12, 2011


I'm currently in between site and IST (in-service training) because my house has a mold problem and still has no latrine or bathing area. I feel like I could live anywhere after this. I am fine otherwise, just a little uncertain about where I will be after training. I really hope that my housing is figured out, or they find another place for me to live that does not include me moving away from my community.

A few blocks away from me right now, president Museveni is speaking at Arua Hill. It's nice because everyone is there so the city is less crazy. I have been enjoying the modern delights of movies, and pizza, so I cannot complain.

I hope I can talk to you a lot of you while I'm in Kampala! I think I can get some internet from the hotel on my computer so hopefully I can do some talking.

Love and Luck,

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Our Smirnoff Angel

People drink in Africa. I’m not out to shock. Drinking is inescapable, borderless, global. At the same time that I was surprised how relatively little people drank in Rome (this coming from a junior at Madison), I was even more surprised to see how much people drink in Uganda. Not everyone does, but the ones who do certainly make up for the teetotalars. This is not a lecture on alcoholism in Uganda, although it is an issue often close to my mind, it’s just intended as more background- to provide a backdrop for my rural life here; the beautiful savannah scenery is sometimes and rather often occupied by at least one fantastically inebriated villager. I could say the same thing about Madison- it is not a condemnation, rather a casual observation, such as “there are many conifer trees by Lake Mendota”, or “at least once a day the staff at the Essenhaus has to mop vomit off the bathroom walls.”

I actually have great experience dealing with drunk people. Don’t worry, grandma. I’m resourceful. So there, the background is filling out slowly, despite a lack of pictures. I’m sure one of you is now envisioning The Lion King, except that Mufasa is embarrassingly drunk and doling out terrible advice to Sumba, like “always wine and dine the hyenas” or “there’s much pride in a lion…pride.” And hey, that’s a good start. It’s a good backdrop to the drama I’m about to recount.

To begin, a few weeks ago after watching part of a school soccer match (in which I was supposed to play but was gently encouraged not to and in which I watched as the national team of Uganda disguised as 14 year olds, played), Tom and I walked to the big market by the border where we often go. It’s about a 15 minute walk, usually peppered with many lively encounters and filled out by a terror-striking session at the market in which we scramble around in a tomato-buying trance, as all of Ugandan follows and watches. It’s quite exciting for an event that we must do daily. It’s often emotionally draining and makes me physically ache for a Byerlis or Copps on those days when I want to disappear into a corner instead of buy vegetables as the entire community watches.

Anyway, we had steeled ourselves for the nightly battle and were walking towards the market when we ran into the most likely candidate for our daily market-angel. Yes, we have market angels. They are sort of like the floor attendants at Whole Foods who ask you how your day is and whether they can help you find the newest brand of ultra-organic pineapple, except that they aren’t at Whole Foods, and they are wasted. Maybe when people get plastered, they can only focus on one objective of utmost importance, it’s sort of like their battle cry: I.Must.Help.These.Mundus.Buy.Vegetables.And.Protect.Them.At.All.Costs.From.The.Many.Dangers.Of.The.Village.Market. Why not? Frankly Tom and I are tickled by this. Our market angels must fit several criteria:
1. They must be Lugbara men
2. They must be dangerously intoxicated

These angels materialize in the most ordinary of ways. Sometimes they grab onto us the minute we enter the market. Sometimes they come out of the woodwork. They ALWAYS stay with us for the duration of the shopping- guiding us to the onions, arguing bitterly with the women about prices, sheparding us through the crowds.
This time we met our angel on the way, wobbling along the road with a bag (yes a bag) of vodka pressed to his lips like a sacred secret. Upon hearing where we were going, he grabbed our hands and we walked together. He spoke in an enchanting vodka-infused language that managed to combine Lugbara, English, and Vodka into one tongue. At the market, he lead us fearlessly through the crowds, and became a bit fierce at times. There was nothing more important than ensuring the safety of our green peppers, the integrity of our endives. Although at this point, Tom and I both knew exactly where everything is at the market, he let us there; shouting at everyone in our way. These people WILL have their bananas! And at a non-mundu price! -He seemed to tell them. Upon finishing our food quest, our angel left with us, making a vulgar gesture at the men who patrol the market space. Before heading back home- this angel happens to be a neighbor!- our angel took a quick but spirited detour to the nearest dukka to buy another bag of vodka, ordering it in his almost elven language. Spirits were high and rising on our journey back, and to our sweet angel, the enemies began to emerge from many unlikely places. THEIR VEGETABLES ARE NOT SAFE UNTIL THEY ARE HOME!- he seemed to cry out into the night, warding off friendly greetings with harsh words and hitting passerbyers indiscriminately with his broken sandal. Tom and I felt uneasy. Despite his good intentions, our angel was coming off aggressive. When the road became empty in front of us, devoid of all the threatening pedestrian villagers, we all felt a little better. Our angel’s vodka was nigh gone- he lifted it to his lips to chug the rest. We had not known until then that our angel has a tendency towards song and dance, but for the rest of our odyssey home, we danced down the dirt road, carefully following the lead of our angel to the one-phrased song, “My friend, how are you?” over and over and over. Our angel would interrupt our joyful singing once in a while to say, in a moment of sobriety, “I’m a proud man” before going back to his two-step. We really found our stride when we formed a Congo Line, and this was the means by which we reached our homes safely. For a few minutes there, we were all speaking the same language- that of a person with too much drink and good intentions.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I've got West Nile Fever

Ya'll should come visit. We'll go on a goat-safari. And I'll make you bean-balls.

Arua town is actually pretty cool--- it's a very muslim town and wherever you walk there are men, women, and children draped in beautifully colored cloth and late at night/early in the morning, you can hear the lilting songs of the services floating above the town. During the day, even though it is a small town, it is a dramatic series of frenzied activities that are somehow executed without injury or stress---- bicycle bodas fly past with a woman in robes sitting sidesaddle on the back, boda bodas weave in and out of people, women walk on the sidewalk with large bundles on their heads, and usually a baby wrapped in a clothed bump on their backs. Large white NGO vehicles speed by, the people inside busy talking on their cell phones, as the people outside walk barefoot and sell homemade ropes or mangos. Loud music blasts from streetside dukkas and the owners lay sprawled under trees enjoying the sparse shade, and some gather in front to dance to the music. When I think of Arua town, I think of the beauty of the Congolese fabric, seen on almost every woman, or hung high in shops, and the seamless dance of daily activity that everyone performs together, whether it's a woman sitting on the concrete with a basin of fruit in front of her, a group of boda boda drivers waiting for work on a corner, smoking and calling out to passerbys, or a group of school girls walking closely together with their plaited skirts swinging side to side. SOmehow, without thinking, all of these different people walk, roll, ride, and sit on this same street, all doing their separate activities, weaving in and out of the tide. I don't think I'm part of this dance yet, because I seem to disturb, rather than add to the scene.

This is in lieu of pictures. They are coming, I promise. I just need to break the seal and start taking pictures. If I could sum up the appearance of my village in an image, it would be something that happened to me this morning. It's 6:45 am, and I'm walking to the main road on a tiny dirt path that winds through the deep valley that falls between my house and Tom's. In the valley, the mist is crawling up and the sun is almost out. The maize and otehr plants are so green and are wet from the valley's fertile soil and streams. Coming down to the valley from my place, all I can see are the bowing heads of maize, the bowing heads of several early-risers who are either sweeping the dirt around their huts or starting to farm their crops, and the distant crowns of thatched roof huts that surround me over the hills. All I can see are huts and green layers of land and trees far off into the distance. It's the best time of day, when people are just waking up, and starting to go through the daily motions.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Peace and Happiness

Greetings. The good news is that my tooth is fixed, and people are not calling me Ilse Blackbeard. The bad news, is that I just wrote a 5 page blog post and the computer shut off. I'm bummed, because it was a funny blog that completely used up all of my funny and creative storage space in my brain, so now all I am capable of doing is blandly listing the same things I was going to tell you in a wildly creative prosey way.

So. There is deadly lightning in Uganda. I have not been hit. I count this as extremely good news.

Tom's name, when followed by mine, translates to "Peace and Happiness".

I attended a church feast last Sunday where we were "guest of honor" and took our meals in a private room with an ordained Lugbara Cardinal and all of the local councilmen in Arua. They were all dressed approximately like James Bond or Fifty Cent (think sunglasses and three piece suits) except for the Cardinal who was dressed like a cardinal. Tom and I wore our African style clothes to blend in. We didn't blend in. Somehow we stumbled upon a ceremonial tree planting to celebrate 40 years of the church and were selected to plant the last sapling together. Somehwere there exists an awkward photo of Tom and I squatting in the dirt with a baby tree in our hands, looks of bewilderment spreading across our faces. I hope I see it someday.

I am happily being distracted in town for the day by all the cold sodas, loud noises, and shiny objects. I am purchasing things like love seats and curtains to make my place feel more at home, but curtains mostly to dissuade Ugandans from peeking into my house and kitchen to watch me do fascinating things like boil water, read a book, or stare into space.

I'm going to publish this before the power goes out again. For a good read--- check out the South Sudan independence and the Ugandan fiscal crisis.

Love and lightning,

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Broken Teeth

Among other things, this weekend I broke one of my teeth, with the deadly rock and then sticky candy combination. I didn't know my teeth were capable of breaking in such a spectacular way. There is a giant, sharp hole in one of my teeth. Incredible. THe good news (sort of) is that I had to go to Kampala early the next day to see probably the only dentist in Uganda who won't make me look like a pirate. I am spending a few days living in a girls school in a random spare room and then wandering lost around Kampala, looking for ethnic food (that is not Ugandan). I think I'm definitely a village-bunny now. Me being in Kampala is equivalent to Beppo let loose in New York City. It's not pretty.

I have meant to blog for a while, but I'm afraid my posts may be spread further apart, as internet basically does not function out in my village. I will try to do it every time I go into town, about twice a month. THings are going well--- I'm starting to coach soccer at one of my schools, and then hopefully starting up a reading club and girls club at some schools. I also am doing a lot of helping teachers and observations. I am being asked to help with female adult literacy, too. There are a lot of things I am excited about here, and so we'll see how they pan out.

Love and goats,

Saturday, June 4, 2011

There's no hurry in Africa

On the way to town today, we saw a truck with this quote emblazoned on its side. Pretty awesome.

I've been getting so much mail. Thank you all so much! It seems that getting mail to Arua is like 12 times quicker than going through Kampala. Letters have only been taking about 2 weeks or even less to reach me. I have heard it is a lot slower the other way, so you may have to wait months to get mine, sadly.

In the last few weeks, several things of interest have occurred and several things of interest have not occurred. My house still doesnt have a bathing area/latrine, so that's been interesting. Although I'm generally an advocate of infrequent bathing stateside, here in the hottest part of Uganda, it's pretty essential to bathe every day. The structure IS however, being constructed. it's just a matter of time. No hurry, right?

Otherwise, I have started working, which has mostly consisted of me biking to all of my schools to meet the headteachers and students formally. My counterpart introduces me, and then I speak to the staff about my possible role in the schools, and then I greet the entire body of students in Lugbara. I have ten schools that I'll be working at, so by now, more than 10,000 students in the villages around me know me and my name. Getting around is hysterical. We chose the 10 nearest schools to where I live, and even though they are relatively "close", it consists of me sweating my way through miles of biking, while my counterpart calmly motorcycles besides me in a full suit. I'm not allowesd to ride motorcycles, which is really hard to explain, but i think that seeing us coming down the road...a foreigner struggling on a bright red bike with a ugandan going about 3 miles an hour on a motorcycle, has probably traumatized many villagers.

I've recently started to accept that much of what I do probably traumatizes the people around me, whether it's biking in the rain, biking with a helmet, sitting and watching while Tom cooks or cleans, trying to speak Lugbara, walking instead of taking motorcycles.... I guess it's all part of the cultural exchange/hilarity. But I think it's good because it dismantles conceptions of Americans/westerns, at the same time as showing an example of how we live. I respect that here women do most of the work, and especially the cleaning/cooking bit, but I think it's appropriate and beneficial to show that in America, sometimes a man and a woman can cook together, or that even a man can cook for a woman.

Instead of writing about my job, which is frankly still in its beginning stages with teh majority of my time spent observing classes and meeting teachers, i thought I would write about several interesting occurences in my sub-county that may shed light on the cultural differences that I encounter daily.

The first happened a few weeks ago, when I was coming home from a day in town and found that a giant mutant mouse was living in my kitchen. I'm not sure when a mouse becomes big enough to be a rat, but it definitely was on the fringe of being a rat, although still cute enough to be a mouse. That's the exact thing. Americans tend to think animals are cute. We fawn on them. We feed them. We even protect them. So, instead of killing the mouse, which was frozen with fear under my stove, we decided to gently lead it out of the room with a broom so that it would run back into the bush. The minute that the broom came near the mouse, it went bat-shit crazy, and sprinted straight out of my kitchen, and beelined across my stoop to my neighbors stoop (which are connected)and we immediately heard the little boy next door burst into tears as the mouse ran by him into the open door. So, this was pretty funny, even though we had indirectly caused this problem. We both went over to see what was happening, and the entire household was in a dissaray, objects flying through the air, women on their hands and knees, yelling, crying...Tom and I both started laughing with the neighbors as they tried to get the mouse out of their room, but then our laughter dissolved into silence when we saw the mangled corpse of the mouse fly in a high arc off the stoop into the grass. What followed was nothing short of horrifying, as all the children ran out into the grass, to play with the dead body and beat it with a stick. I don't know what lesson I learned that day, but maybe that a hilarious sequence of events can turn macabre pretty quickly, and that the concept of loving animals and pets is not here in Uganda.

The second occurrence didn't happen to me, but happened to Tom. On his first day of teahing, his first day of teaching EVER, in the middle of his class, his students started running out of his classroom. He was in the middle of a get-to-know-you activity and everyone started leaving, running out of the classroom. He felt pretty terrible, thinking that he was too boring and had no class control. Finally one of the students explained that in the nearby church, a goat was giving birth to a man. Later, one of Tom's fellow teachers told him that he has arranged his lesson around the goat's delivery, so that he could go watch to. I'm still unsure about the status of the goat-child, but I have had it confirmed from several students.

The last occurrence happened this morning, while we were getting ready to embark on our epic bike journey to town. Our plan was to get food and especially food that we could make into a picnic tomorrow morning. We wanted to finally climb up the big hill that our subcounty was named after, and that sits right in my backyard, and bring the picnic with us. I had been meaning to forever because I think the view up there is probably incredible and peaceful. Anyway, upon leaving, we told Tom's neighbor, who is a public figure, and he stopped us in our tracks. He told us that we would have to talk to the local councilman in my village and that he would have to accompany us, because otherwise, people would get suspicius. Apparently the hill is somewhat of a sacred place and people would think we mundus were going up there to steal/charm snakes and also stop the rains from coming. Tom and I both laughed uneasily and promised that we wouldn't climb without first consulting the local councilman. It was one of those moments when we were just feeling more comfortable and integrated in the community, and then remembered that things like the drought or misfortune can be attributed to our presence, that we are sometimes seen as sorcerers. I jsut hope that people don't think we are causing the lull in rains right now... It just reminds me that maybe some people are still hesitant and suspicious of our presence in the village, and that i need to work extra hard to overcome these cultural barriers and be trusted and known by all.

In other news, I have been cooking a lot! Cooking takes a lot more time here but I think I've become a lot more patient for everyday tasks. I go daily markets almost every day to get tomatoes, onions, avocados, mangos, cabbages etc, supplemented by when I go to town twice a month to get stuff like pasta, bread, and other items at the supermarkets. Recently I have been cooking a lot of pasta and rice, but also baked beans, Ugandan style beans, ratatouille, indonesian peanut pasta, avocado soup, and others. It feels nice to cook and I'm definitely doing it a lot more than I thought I would be. I guess \I have to eat, after all.

Love and lions,

Sunday, May 22, 2011

For how many cows can I have your girl?

There are something like 40 different tribes in Uganda. It's one of the unique parts of the country. The borders were mapped out with little foresight or understanding of the land's history and people, and so like many African nations, many tribes are even split between neighboring countries. Tribe is often the first thing established by two Ugandans meeting, and English is sometimes the only language in common. I have been asked several times what tribe I come from in America, and I never know how to answer. I don't think Americans, for the most part, share this same notion of tribe, although we do sometimes have strong regional pride. I would be happy to come from the tribe of "Minnesotes".

Learning about Uganda has been so eye-opening and makes me realize how little I knew about African culture coming here. It's a two-way road, of course, and this was illustrated clearly to me this morning when during the workshop the English language was described as "the language of the white people from England." I think there is a wealth of history, knowledge, and tradition to be learned and absorped both on the Ugandan and American side, and this cultural exchange actually comprises 2/3 of the Peace Corps's goals. So, with that in mind, I'm going to use this blog post to give a brief lesson in Lugbara and greeting in Uganda.

I have mentioned the importance of greetings before in posts, but this blog will give you an example of the daily exchanges I have with people, that range from bewildering to boisterous. Although Uganda is comprised of many different people and traditions, I hve found that warmth and curiosity seem to exist equally throughout the nation. Matching the warmth found in so many people here is one of my goals for service, and thus, I have had to learn the proper and appropriate ways of greeting here. To appreciate just how much I have had to change my ways, Iwould like to give an example of how I would greet someone in teh U.S., say walking down state street in Madison, Wisconsin.

Scene: I am walking home from a coffee shop and spot an acquaintance walking on a straight course towards me on the sidewalk; somenoe who might have lived in the same dorm as me or someone who may have sat next to me in a freshman English class. Lets call them personIdon'treallyrememberbutprobablyshouldsayhitobecauseitwouldbeawkwardifididn't. In this scenario, I have three equally mortifying options:
A. Pretend to be talking on cell phone
B. Pretend not to see him/her
C. Walk towards them, panic, and then blurt out "HI HOW ARE YOU" right as they are passing

In Uganda, peoplewhoyoudon'treallyrememberbutprobablyshouldsayhitobecauseitwouldbeawkwardifyoudidn't do not exist. You say hi to everyone. And you say it as if you have known them for 20 years. That's actually not completely true. As a young female here (eek 24!!)I will not greet large groups of men who are vaguely my age. In Uganda, men of generally- my- age tend to aggregate in large packs(gaggles? murders? prides?), whether they are working as boda boda drivers (waiting for business), or just hanging out. They will often call out, "hello sister" to me, or if I am walking with a male like TOm, will sometimes ask him how many cows I am worth. This exchange will usually start by them yelling at Tom, "Is this your wife?" and when he tells them no, they will start to make offers. Tom usually tells them that I cost 30 cows, which maybe two people in Uganda could afford. It is a good way to stop the conversation and get a laugh. I'm totally not worth 30 cows.

Anyway. So, say that I am greeting anyone BUT a giant group of adolescent and post-adolescent men....

Scene: Me walking down any random dirt road/at any work function/anywhere really doing anything in Uganda. I spot someone who I either know/don't know/or might know.
Me: Mi ngoni! Ila ngoni?(how are you? how did you spend the night)
Them: Ma muke. Ala muke. Kani mi i? (I am fine,I spent the night well, and you?)
Me: Ma muke. Awadifo. Aku ngoni? (i'm fine,thank you. How is your home/family?)
Them: Aku ala! Mi enga ngoa? (My home/family is well. where are you coming from?)
Me: Ma enga cua___. (I'm coming from the market)
Them: Mi enga cua afa di je? (You are coming from the market buying what?)
Me: Ma enga cua nyaka je. (I'm coming from the market buying food)
Them: Ee'. Mi mu ngoa? (Yes. Where are you going?)
Me: Ma mu akua. (I am going home)
Them: Mi Lugbara tisi? (YOu are with Lugbara/youspeak lugbara??!)
Me: Ee'. Ma Lugbara ti oni. (Yes, I am learning lugbara)
Them: Awadifo mini asizi (thank you for your work)
Me: Awadifo mini indi (and for yours)
Them: Mi a ci ala (travel safely)
Me: Mi oa muke (stay well)

This is just an example of a conversation that might be had with someone passing by. It's pretty funny to think of the on-the-run greetings I would half-heartedly shout out in AMerica. Here it's an insult to not ask about someone's health, family, home, and day.

It's much briefer with children. They tend to spot me, starting yelling "MUNDU! MUNDU!", chase me, and then assault me with "how are YOU? how are YOU?", or my favorite, "BYE BYE!" instead of "hello."

Love and LIons,

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

I've decided that this quote by Confuscius will be the one that comes to define my PC experience, or at least the one that I hold closest to my heart, not only here in Uganda, but everywhere that I go. It is, of course, especially important while I am here, as I wish to be fully present in my life here, rather than dwelling on the past or future. I strive to put care and importance into every interaction that I have, to always meet the smiles and eyes around me. My program manager, who I saw yesterday on her tour of the West Nile area (checking up on us volunteers), asked me how I liked being "deep in the village", and then told me that she tried to put people with a lot of heart deep in the village. Simply put, I wish to live up to this heart, that I know I have. I have to thank my dear friend Liz Myhre, for she was the one who gave me the parting gift of a bookmark that had this quote on it. It has become so important to me.

Another philosophy that has become manifest in my life (although it's still early on in my service here) is that I'm learning the best I can not to flip out over the small things (something I hold a degree in). It's more a matter of diverting my attention and not thinking or dwelling on these things. Never to lose my peace of mind. It works out well in uganda where one of the most common phrases is "It's okay!"; which is a multi-purpose phrase that can be said in response to a wide variety of statements, such as
"my house is on fire," or "a strange dog bit me," or "I have no idea what's going on right now" (the latter being the most common in my case).

Enough wishy-washiness. It's only that everyone is completely right when they say that you do Peace COrps to learn about yourself, and that's EXACTLY what I'm learning- that there is a lot I need to learn about myself. It's nothing so easily defined by these tidy quotes I lvoe so much---they just serve as sign-posts along the way. I love it here because I am being forced to do things that I never saw myself doing before, and I am in situations that would ordinarily make me uncomfortable, and all of these things are likewise forcing me to recognize qualities in myself that I never saw before. Some good, some bad, but all seemingly new to me. I guess it's like any time in life when you are challenged or uncomfortable--- you somehow shift a little inside to rise to the occasion.

Big news is that I have a new address that you can reach me at. Ilse Griffin, P0 box 933, Arua, Uganda. Use it whenever and often.

In other news, my two-week-old life as a volunteer has been both spectacularly interesting, and also very relaxed. Relaxed because the biggest part of my communtiy integration includes sitting and shooting the breeze with my neighbors. Sitting and doing nothing is an important part of passing time here, and I'm going to be really good at it in a few years. I feel like I have slipped into a new life, that of Ayikoru, but I'm still trying to maintain "Ilse". I love the moment that I introduce myself in Lugbara, the smiles that form on sometimes apprehensive faces. Sometimes, I explain that my Lugbara name has the same meaning as my American one. I go my three different names here; Ilse to my fellow PCV's, Ayikoru in my village, and Griffin at my college (my principal and Deputy are not Lugbara,and therefore can neither pronounce Ilse or Ayikoru). The first week I spent completely in my village, settling in, exploring, meetings neighbors, and now this week and the next I am at at training at my college for all coordinating center tutor's. I'm h ere with three other PCV"s who report to the same college. The training is long- 9-10 hours a day for 14 days. It's more a formality than anything and is not very helpful for us, not to mention that our learning styles are considerably different. I've realized however that at the same time as my patience is steadily increasing, my attention span in also steadily decreasing, so I can come away from an entire day of workshop with like 10 sheets of doodles, 150 pages read in a book, and a smile on my face. (SOmetimes I feel more murderous). Part of me wishes that I could be in my village, integrating, cleaning my house, figuring out the local markets, practicing language...

There are some highlights that I wish to relay. On my first night at site I made friends with the local midwife, who is around my age, and also operates the local restaurant where I sometimes eat. She knows about everyone in my village and splits her time between delivering babies and cooking food, always with a vigilant handcleansing in between. In the evening, I witnessed the latter part of an unexpected birth outside on the grass. Minutes after the midwife had disposed of the placenta, she turned to me and said, "Ayikoru. You have not eaten all day. Come and I will make you dinner." Amazing. I hope I can work with her with secondary projects.

On Easter Sunday, my friend THomas and I went to the local parish in our sub-county, which housed probably thousands of Lugbara and Congolese people. At the end of the service, they made an announcement about who we were and what we would be doing in the community, and then Tom and I trolled our way to the front of the church to everyone clapping and both introduced ourselves in Lugbara. It's good because now many people in our communities will udnerstand why we are here and not fear us. After the service, we were flooded by parish children, who all wished to greet us by holding out their hands. I think it was the first day that I was truly overwhelmed, just by the large volume of people who wished to greet us and know us. I'm not exactly a shy person, but I'm not used to being center of attention. I think that since this visit to the church, I have already become much more accustomed to this attention. No matter where I go in my community, I have to greet everyone, and stop to talk to them. This is a lovely part of the culture, and it also pertains to when a person is flying by on a bike, apparently. I have spent several of my days merely walking around and greetings everyone I see, meetings important membrs of the community.

My house is stil definitely not ready, but getting there. I still need a bathing area and latrine and stronger locks, but I think that itwill actaully happen, eventually. I'm getting used to less privacy. It's a sacrifice I'm completely willing to make especially because I have such incredible neighbors and people around me. To all who wish to visit me eventually, you should! I live about 7 hour bus ride from Kampala, but I think there is a way you can fly into Gulu.

I apologize for this incoherent blog post. THere is so much I would like to write about btu the minute I sit in front of a computer, I can only think of several snapshots that I'll never forget, like walking up the narrow aisles of this parish church to face a thronging mass of people, and greet them unsteadily in Lugbara.

Love and Lions,

Friday, April 22, 2011

You mean I'm supposed to go live in rural africa for the next two years???!

Today is commonly seen as the most traumatic day in a Peace Corps Volunteer's life. I'm in no position to disagree with this statement, especially since a mere 15 hours ago, I was waking up in a hotel room with a toilet, shower, electricity, in a hotel with a pool. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF A POOL IN UGANDA??? I live in a tropical country where I am legally permitted from swimming in any natural body of water! Because if I do set foot in any body of water, I will immediately get shisto (the second most prevalent tropical disease which includes the acquisition of a colony of snail eggs in your body)and have it forever. Having snails live forever in your body is neither pleasant nor convenient. Pools therefore become a small miracle. Swimming is great. Especially when it doesn't include tropical diseases.

Anyway. For the last 4 days us trainees were staying at a swank hotel in Kampala, sworn in at a swank embassy house, and now suddenly we are confronted with the reality of the next two years of our lives. DOn't get me wrong. We are excited. I am excited. It's just overwhelming. After the last week of relative luxury, good food, and company, we all woke up early this morning, blurry-eyed, and hurriedly packed our things into the bags and containers that somehow no longer fit them properly. Then, we all haphazardly somehow found a ride to our sites, whether it be crammed in the back of a matatu, on a public bus, or if we were lucky, in a private van/truck. I rode up with 3 other PCV's who are part of my PTC in the college truck, with all of our stuff perched precariously in the bed of the truck. The trip was a long one, but it was a good opportunity to stare at the landscape and think about what was happening, at least during the times when I didn't feel in mortal danger from the bewildering and terrifying antics of Ugandan drivers.

It's hard to know how to feel. Right now I am not even at my site yet; I am staying at the PTC in Arua Town with another PCV, and I will be taken to my site in the morning, hopefully after buying a bike in town. It feels like the calm before a storm, at least emotionally. My site is good for so many reasons, and I know this. In my mind, I have a mental list of all the advantages of where I live, but I also have a short list of concerns. My goals is to eliminate this short list from my mind. I need to infuse my life with positivity and flexibility these first few months, and also these two years, and I want to start by not letting the downfalls of any situation stand out more than the advantages.

It feels good to finally be a volunteer. I can feel this latent confidence starting to manifest itself, and I'm itching to start working. My first month is filled with workshops, trainings, and also just settling into my house and village. I'm planning on getting a PO box this week so that people can mail me directly here in Arua.

That's all for now. I will blog whenever I can, and I should have the time to, now.

I'll post pictures as soon as I can. I have internet now but I almost used it all up by uploading my pictures onto facebook, so check them out there if you want to see them.

Love and lions,

ps saw a herd of elephants and a family of baboons on the way up north today!

Friday, April 8, 2011

My first experience in the bush

I am in Arua Town on my future site visit, in which we all go to our future site to meet our Ugandan counterparts, see our schools/colleges, and approve our housing. Right now I am actually in the town, and have just departed my site this morning, to see the PTC that I will be reporting to (arua core primary teachers college). I live about 8-10 km from town, down a bumpy dusty road called O'dumi, which leads to the Congolese border. The landscape is lovely, lush, and with some rolling hills. I have a very interesting living situation. I seem to live in government housing (?) in a compound that is close to the sub-county office. It seems that a lot of policemen and medical students live in the flats, because there is a health center next door, too. This is great because I have pretty incredible resources in my backyard. My counterpart, mike, who is eastern ugandan, seems to be a very capable coordinating center tutor and has been doing it for many years. i can tell that he takes his job very seriously and i think that we will work well together, and that i will hopefully stay very busy.

when i first arrived in arua town on wednesday, i was picked up by the driver from the ptc, brought to the ptc for a brief introductino, and then driven to my village. although i live only 10 km from town, it is a longer drive because of the bumps and potholes and all of the human traffic from the congo. i know that the first thing iw ill have to do once i move up north is buy a bicycle, because i will have to be going between town, my coordinating center (which is 1.5 km away from my site) a nd the 29 other schools in my catchment area (which spans about 30 km). In short, I will be doing a lot of moving around and since we are not allowed as PC volunteers to ride on boda bodas (motorcycle taxis), i will have to primarily be biking. i am excited about this. also, my good friend tom lives only about 4-5 km away, further towards the congo. we will be able to walk adn bike to see each other fairly easily. the first thing my counterpart did was introduce me to the staff at the sub-county office, who are all women! the sub county chief, the chief of health, th parish chief, the accountant....they are all such amazing resources for me and i know that i will be working with them for secondary projects. they are all very involved in community mobilization and important issues such as womens issues, hiv/aids prevention, etc. they are all young, beautiful, and intelligent women. also, they wear pants, which is pretty rare here.

i think that between the health center next door, the staff at the sub-county office and my counterpart, i will have many collaborative partners.

The downsides of my visit included a random and spectacular tropical illness that i somehow contracted right before i left for Arua. This said illness kept me basically lying flat on my mattress the entire site visit and unable to eat for several days. It also stopped me from seeing my school/coordinating centers or much of the surrounding area around my home. It was a frustrating few days because instead of walking around and meeting community members and neighbors, i was shut up inside of my house, and probably camke off as aloof. Despite being ill, I was still able to meet a lot of people around the area.

More about this later. I need to go study my language for my final this week!