Thursday, October 13, 2011
Land. The majority of Ugandans are currently subsistence farmers who are reliant on owning enough land to grow food for their whole family. Land is already becoming a scarcity for many farmers, and while most still have enough food, that could easily change for millions in the coming years. Subsistence farming is by definition extensive and has much lower productivity then modernized or commercialized farming. While modern, mechanized farming has caused many problems in the U.S., namely environmental, there is no denying that some level of scaling-up of agriculture is necessary to feed a growing population. But can this be done fast enough in Uganda, and effectively enough, to keep up with the increasing number of people?
Waste management. All Ugandan roadsides, towns, and cities are covered with trash because there is no formal waste management system. Even in the capitol city, there is trash strewn everywhere, clogging gutters and adding to an already-poor sanitation situation. While most rural Ugandans don’t produce nearly as much household waste as Americans, as they buy most of their food fresh and rarely buy packaged items, the influence of Western societies and increased urbanization is also increasing the amount of trash produced. I still find it shocking, 14 months after arriving here, when people throw their trash out the bus window or even into their own yard… but then I think, where else are they supposed to put it? The main method of dealing with rubbish here is burning it in piles. Even the U.S., with its reliance on landfills, does not have the perfect waste management solution, but at least we have some method to keep trash off our streets and out of our waterways.
Education. The education system is already rife with problems, with one of the biggest being too many students and not enough teachers. There is also a lack of actual school buildings and classrooms, with students often squeezed onto small benches in a crowded room that is not conducive to learning. Even within the next decade, there will be millions more children to educate than the system has to currently deal with. Without an education, people are forced to remain subsistence farmers, which, as detailed above, will become increasingly more difficult. Uneducated women will also continue to have many children. It’s hard to say how a timely solution will be found to this problem.
Electricity. Uganda already experiences regular rolling blackouts, sometimes for days at a time – and there are still many parts of the country which have no electricity at all. Not only will a larger population require more electricity, but people are increasingly moving to urban areas, and rural areas are demanding that they also be put on the grid.
Health. There is already a shortage of doctors, nurses, hospitals, medical equipment and supplies, etc. for the current population level. While an increase in population size will hopefully result in more people also being trained as health workers, it is likely that the increase will not meet the demand.
This list could really go on and on. While Uganda has problems now, I can only see them becoming much, much worse if the population continues to grow as it is. Honestly, within a relatively short amount of time (possibly a decade or two), I believe that there will be widespread chronic hunger and that Uganda will once again descend into chaos as people literally fight each other for survival. (And as a quick plug against foreign aid, can I just say that in 2010 alone, Uganda received almost $1.8 BILLION in foreign aid to fix these problems, and nothing ever seems to get better? And President Museveni can hardly blame this lack of results on his predecessors, a common American presidential tactic, as he's been in office since 1986 and has received $31 billion in foreign aid during that time)
What’s one solution to slowing down the population explosion? While the provision of family planning (contraceptives) is of course the main tool to reduce the fertility rate, it means nothing if people still desire a large family size. One of the most successful strategies at lowering fertility rates worldwide has not been provision of family planning, forced sterilization, a “one child rule”, etc. but rather increasing girls’ education. By ensuring that girls receive a full education, they are provided with an alternative to simply being a housewife. Women who are educated not only understand the health and economic benefits of having fewer children, but if they work outside the home, they also know that they must have fewer children or forfeit their career. Of course, men also have to be educated to see the benefits of a smaller family and to “allow” their wives to have fewer children, as many women in my village have to hide their contraceptive use from their husbands or risk being beaten. Many refuse to take The Pill, as it is easy for their husband to find out, and only come when the health center has Depo-Provera, the injectable contraceptive they get every 3 months. Gender equality is not just some feminist, 70’s, flower-power concept – it’s absolutely vital for development and even, in Uganda’s case, survival.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
After All Vol, I went with 4 other PCVs from my training group (Becca, Chelsea, Lisa, and Rashida) to KENYA! The trip was absolutely incredible. Nairobi was an impressively-large, much more developed city than Kampala. As we were passing through, I remarked, “Wow, look at all the traffic lights they have!” just as our taxi driver ran a red light. Oh well, nice try Kenya. The people seemed much less muzungu-crazed than in Uganda, and we were called ‘muzungu’ only a handful of times – a very nice break for us.
We saw many amazing things in Kenya, but our main objective was the Masai Mara National Reserve, which was probably the most amazing safari I’ve ever been on (and I’m privileged to have been on safaris all over East and Southern Africa). On our 4-day safari (with only two full days in the park), we saw 54 lions(!), 4 cheetahs, a leopard, elephants, giraffes, hyenas, ostriches, and hundreds of zebras. While this was all super impressive, the main reason we chose to go to the Masai Mara at this time of year was to see the wildebeest migration, which is featured in countless Discovery Channel and National Geographic documentaries. We were SO lucky to not only see the migration, with literally hundreds of thousands of wildebeest stretching up to the horizon, but we also saw them cross the infamous Mara River! After our safari, we had a chance to visit a Maasai village, which was interesting but of course touristy – at least it was a way for us to take unlimited photos without offending anyone. Overall, this was a once in a lifetime experience, and we are so lucky to have seen all that we did.
All those black dots? Wildebeest, as far as the eye can see
Wildebeest crossing the Mara River
Zebra being attacked by a crocodile!!! (surprisingly, the zebra got away and seemed fine)
An elusive leopard
A Maasai woman
The “Kenya Kitties”
When I came back to site after Kenya, the road into my village was flooded! I thought the taxi drivers had been joking when they said the road was impassable, but when I arrived at dusk, I had to wade through 100+ yards of water that sometimes reached halfway up my thigh (I’m short, but still!). Thankfully my house was nowhere near the danger zone and the water soon receded.
The water the next morning, after it had already gone done significantly!
I also recently had a chance to help train the newest group of trainees (who will soon swear in to be Peace Corps Volunteers). I talked about malaria prevention and what PCVs in Uganda did to celebrate World Malaria Day and raise awareness in our communities. I’m also coordinating with two local schools to do the World Map Project, through which the students will paint a giant map of the world on a wall of the school. One school is definitely on board, so we should start work next weekend. I’m really excited to get this going, as this is a project I’ve wanted to do since the beginning of service. The goal of the project is not only to increase the students’ knowledge about geography (which is very limited for even educated Ugandans), but to help them with critical thinking, creativity, mathematical methods such as drawing a grid system, and to build confidence by completing a big project that will be a beautiful, permanent fixture of the school. I’ll post photos as our map develops!
Sunday, August 21, 2011
The most amazing thing was the change we could see in the girls. I really didn’t think we would see a tangible difference in 3 days, but it was like night and day. When they arrived, they were quiet, shy, didn’t make eye contact, and frankly looked scared (part of it just being in a new place, part of it being the way most Ugandan girls are). Over the course of the camp, you could see the girls making friends, taking pride in accomplishing something completely new for them (like any of the team competitions/games), and started to become more vocal. After the closing ceremony on the third day, the girls had so much energy, they were bouncing off the walls, danced without a care in the world, and even at 11pm it was hard to get them to stop talking, giggling, etc. to go to bed. It was so amazing to see this difference in them. My favorite girl, a very intelligent and well-spoken girl who always smiled at everything I said even when the other girls were shut-off and non-responsive, wrote me a letter at the end of camp that almost made me cry, thanking me for everything and saying I was “the best counselor of all the rest” and “I promise that I will always remember you and always take into account what I have learnt from this camp…I wish you a safe stay throughout your life till ends meet. Your loving elephant, Joventah.”
During the camp, I felt like who I used to be before Peace Corps (a sentiment expressed by other PCVs, too). I felt like I was needed and necessary, constantly busy, and full of energy and enthusiasm. All of these were feelings I haven’t had in a very long time. I was exhausted by the end but felt like my sense of purpose had been refilled. Considering how low I’ve felt about service for a couple of months, this was just what the doctor ordered. I also enjoyed feeling like a little kid again for a few days – summer camp rocks. :)
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Also, newly-named game popular among PCVs that I had unknowingly been playing for months: “Goat or Baby?” Here in the village, there are lots of goats and lots of children (the average family has 7 children around here!). I frequently hear loud, high-pitched wails coming from nearby, and it always causes one to pause and think, “Goat or baby?” because the two sound remarkably alike sometimes. Just another way to pass the time.
We recently had a 1st birthday party for Amanya, my next-door neighbor (Gertrude)’s daughter. I made a yellow cake with chocolate frosting all from scratch, and without a real oven! I’m using a tried-and-true PCV technique of using a dutch oven (big pot with a lid, then inside you put the cake pan on big rocks or sand for conduction and airflow), so I baked a cake over firewood! It was delicious. After having tea, popcorn, peanuts, and cake, we all watched Beauty and the Beast, although I think they found the movie just plain confusing (a big creature they've never seen before? Dancing candlesticks and clocks? What is this?).
Tiny baby, big knife
Baking the cake gave me confidence, so the next day I tried making pita bread using yeast (I have never made bread before in my life) – pretty easy and it came out super delicious! I dipped it in olive oil and basil with some balsamic vinegar that I splurged on in Kampala. If I can do all this in an African village with like 4 ingredients, imagine what I can do with access to an American grocery store!
Homemade pita bread… mmm mmm good!
Projects! I’ve got a few things going on, including trying to start a support group for HIV-positive community members. I decided to try to start a support group while at the funeral of a friend who died of AIDS. As I was at the burial, I looked around and saw at least 2 or 3 other people I know to be HIV-positive, and I’m sure many others were in attendance, and I just couldn’t imagine the fear, loneliness, and hopelessness they must have been feeling. I also asked people to submit proposals for a Peace Corps grant we can apply for, and the general consensus was to do a goat project, where we distribute goats, and those recipients pass on the first female offspring to another person in the community. I feel unoriginal with this since a neighboring PCV just did a similar project with goats, but I’m happy to have an animal project to work on! I’m still teaching health and life skills at the primary schools, and am planning to do the “World Map Project”, which was started by a PCV in the Dominican Republic in 1988, with one of the schools next term. We will paint a huge map of the world on the side of the school, increasing awareness of geography and the world but also instilling in the students a sense of accomplishment, leadership, critical thinking, etc. since they have never done anything like this before. I recently visited a friend’s site where they were completing the World Map Project, and I noticed that the girls doing the project were outgoing, independent, not afraid to ask questions, etc., which is very unusual for young Ugandan girls in the village. When I mentioned this to my friend, he said they used to be shy and never spoke up, but this project had completely changed them.
In true Peace Corps style, though, I haven't been super busy at site (although I've been attending all kinds of workshops, etc. away from my village lately), so I've gotten into quite a few TV shows - currently catching up on The Office and Grey's Anatomy, finished the 2nd seasons of Glee and Modern Family (probably my current favorite show), getting into 30 Rock, and have a few more on the docket.
Also it's official - I'll be home for Christmas!! Counting down the days - in just over 4 months I'll be State-side! I'm imagining holiday decor everywhere (especially wreaths on streetlamps, since we don't even have streetlamps here), hopefully snow for the true winter wonderland (come on Cincinnati), decorating the tree, eating amaaaazing American food, and seeing how I react to freezing temperatures now that I have turned African and put on a sweater when it's 68 degrees out. Can't wait!
Thursday, July 14, 2011
While we were in my village, we actually stayed pretty busy, which is rare haha. One day for lunch we went to the house of the Epicenter Chairman (basically the community leader for The Hunger Project’s work) for lunch and were treated to an amazing spread – matooke, posho, millet, potatoes, chicken, dodo (greens), and delicious pineapple fresh from his garden. His wife even gave each of us a handmade necklace. Another evening, we walked deep into the village to see a friend’s newborn baby who they named after me (Kamusiime). Mom also brought a donated microscope with her which we presented to the community – they are really excited about the potential to have malaria and TB testing in their village very soon. Mom also came with us to one of the immunization outreaches. Every night, we watched movies curled up on my couch – felt like old times from my childhood.
One of our adventures away from my site took us across the border to northwest Rwanda at the base of the Virunga volcanoes (most of which are inactive). First of all, Rwanda is so much cleaner and more organized than Uganda! The roads are paved with streetlamps and shoulders that have gravel (i.e. not muddy grossness). Every Saturday, people are required to close their shops for 2 hours and clean up their communities, so there is virtually no trash, whereas in Uganda the amount of ‘rubbish’ on the ground is disgusting. Also, the boda boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers wear helmets and safety vests, are limited to carrying one passenger (whereas in Uganda I have seen 3 adult passengers plus the driver on a motorcycle before), and they carry an extra helmet for their passenger! The president, Paul Kagame, has also outlawed plastic bags. These little differences are like night and day between Rwanda and its northern neighbor Uganda.
But the main highlight of our trip to Rwanda wasn’t the cleanliness or struggling through speaking French or remembering which way to look when crossing the street (I automatically now look right before I look left, but Rwandans drive on the same side of the road as Americans) – it was seeing the mountain gorillas!!! Our adventure involved an easy hike through farmland and then through the forest as we entered Volcanoes National Park (part of an ecosystem spanning Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo). We had heard that finding the gorillas can take hours of hiking through ankle-deep mud up steep hills and hacking through stinging nettles, but our experience was more like walking in the park on a sunny morning. After only about 45 minutes of walking, we found the Kwitonda gorilla group. Our first sighting was a young blackback male, and it was astounding to see this massive black ape sitting only yards away from us – no fences, no barriers of any kind.
During the next hour, we were continuously amazed by what was happening. While we are supposed to maintain a 7-meter distance between us and the gorillas (mostly to prevent disease transmission between humans and gorillas), at times the gorillas walked right up to us. One silverback wandered right through the middle of our group – I could have literally reached out and touched him had I thought it a wise idea. We saw three silverbacks, youngsters of all ages (including a five-month-old infant), mothers with ‘toddlers’ – all in all, the group has 21 members, the 3rd largest gorilla group in the park. The gorillas were mostly moving around and eating and, incredibly, just about completely ignored us. We were entertained by watching one youngster hang from a vine and use his/her foot to push off from a tree to spin around, presumably just for fun. Gorillas make a deep “Hmm-hmmmm” sound to mean “everything is okay”, and it was amazing to sometimes hear it coming from all around us, even from gorillas we couldn’t actually see.
Just as our hour was almost up, the head silverback, Kwitonda himself, got up and walked within feet of us, all 400 or so pounds of silver and black bulk, and headed off for a new section of the forest as the rest of the group followed. The fact that they, too, were moving on made it easier to leave. I could have easily spent all day watching them, and it felt like we had just arrived when we started heading back to the trailhead. This was easily one of the most amazing animal encounters I’ve ever had.
After Mom left, it was a rough transition back to site. I had been frustrated with things before she came, then everything was wonderful while she was visiting until I got a phone call from my organization on Wednesday telling me to come to a staff retreat in Kampala on Friday, my mom’s last day in Uganda, prompting a huge wave of frustration (this is the first staff meeting they’ve ever asked me to come to in the 8 months I’ve been at site) and actually made way for waves of fairly serious depression in the week or two following that. At home, I’m a normally bubbly, happy person all the time, so depression of any severity is abnormal and a bit scary for me. However, now I’m getting busier again, and I got support from Peace Corps and other volunteers on how to push through this low (and talking to them, I realize most of us are in a rough spot right now, probably the “mid-service slump” a little bit early or the 6-month-slump a little late). It’s nice to hear I’m not alone.
Things have been getting back to normal now and I finally feel I’ve leveled out – part of it may be that I stopped taking mefloquine, the original malaria prophylaxis I had been on, which is known to have psychological side effects. I finally bought a guitar after talking about it for months and am starting to learn how to play – even though I’m just picking out a few notes and chords, it’s already fun and relaxing. I’ve been going on walks with Kibo through the village which are not only relaxing and fun for both of us, but also seem to be the only way her anxiety issues seem to get better. I am already researching how to bring her back to the U.S. with me – seems pretty straightforward, just need to get proof of rabies vaccination and an approved crate to ship her in.
This week, I’ve been at a Peace Corps conference with many of my best friends in-country to learn about malaria as part of the new Presidential Malaria Initiative (PMI). Some of the sessions have been disappointing as they often are when led by Ugandans – not sure why I expected anything different. One of the main speakers, the director for Uganda’s national malaria control program, was not only pompous, but was giving false information, including stating that DDT not only prevents cancer, but that it didn’t kill bald eagles, the “Red Indians ate them.” He also indicated that where you take a blood sample (fingertips vs. arm) affects whether you can detect malaria parasites upon testing, which is completely false. Thankfully, most of us knew this and called his bluff, but we all were quickly fed up. Perhaps it is because this man is so prominent in the public health field in Uganda, and that I kept calling him out, that the Peace Corps community health program manager told me I should get a Ph.D. in public health and write a book, haha. Some of the other sessions were much more worthwhile, and the conference is great simply from the fact that I get to see some of my closest friends who I haven’t seen in several months, and we get hot showers, DSTV, and a swimming pool, all on American taxpayers. Thanks!
We did bring up more issues of foreign aid and dependency at this workshop, though. We discussed how people given free mosquito nets (the norm from things like Global Fund and USAID) sometimes use them for things like bridal gowns or fishing nets, and the fact that the nets are procured abroad means that local businesses are severely hurt by this influx of free nets. There’s a small mosquito net factory in Kampala – how are they expected to compete in such an environment? Also, since malaria drugs at government health centers are free, people have little incentive to prevent malaria by sleeping under a mosquito net, covering their windows and vents with screens, clearing stagnant water, etc. Why make the effort to prevent malaria if treatment is free? I am now pretty much completely against any type of handout or free anything (including foreign aid in the form of grants, and possibly even loans since the debt gets forgiven) and think the future truly lies in investment and supporting local businesses. My friends and I joke that Peace Corps is actually making us more conservative (at least in the economic sense).
The next couple of months are busy! In a couple of weeks, I have a training near Kampala to teach me how to train the new group coming in August, then hopefully helping with a Peace Camp in the north, teaching the new group of trainees, going to the All Volunteer Conference (every volunteer in Uganda comes together for a few days), then off to Kenya for the migration in the Masai Mara and delightful modern delights in Nairobi (including several rumored sushi restaurants!). After that, it’s only a little while until our mid-service conference at the end of October. The days here move slowly but the weeks fly by.
Sunday, June 5, 2011
Kibo is doing great – she’s now 8 months old and pretty big! I was worried about whether I’d be able to take her back to the U.S. because of how nervous she gets around new places and strangers, but I’ve discovered a few important things. First of all, she’s racist (lol). She is super afraid of Ugandan men she doesn’t know (barks her head off then runs away when they get too close), is curious about Ugandan women she doesn’t know, but she almost instantly loves any white PCV that comes to visit, man or woman, and is all over them right away! She’s already very affectionate with people she is familiar with, Ugandan or American, man or woman. And I think her anxiety with new places or walking through the trading center is the number of strange Ugandan men that she doesn’t know. I’ve been taking her on walks up little paths, between farms and where there aren’t too many people, and as soon as we’re away from the main road she visibly relaxes, becomes her happy-go-lucky self, and has a great time running around. The other evening we took a long walk and somehow picked up a caboose of 5 or 6 small children walking with us for over an hour. They didn’t say much but mostly just giggled at Kibo and ran away screaming if she tried to play with them. Definitely an “I live in Africa” moment when you walk through the village with a bunch of kids. Plus, I just don’t think I have the heart to leave Kibo here when I go back to the U.S. – she’s sometimes a piece of work but I love her and she’s coming home with me.
In my village, my best friend is probably my next-door neighbor, Gertrude, who is one of the nurses at the health center. She speaks the best English, understands most of my jokes and just seems to get me more than most Ugandans. She has a 10-month-old daughter named Amanya Ruth, and she is soooo cute! I’ve never watched a baby grow up like this, as I’ve seen her almost every day since she was 3 months old, and it’s so cool to watch her learn to stand, start to say words, learn how to smile, etc.
I was recently traveling by taxi (aka crowded minibus) to my friend’s site in the central region near Kampala. The woman sitting very close beside me kept nodding off to sleep, and every time her head thunked into my shoulder (not just brushed by actually head-butted me), she wouldn’t exactly pull away and would sometimes linger there. I know she was aware of what was happening, and was astonished because I know that I would be mortified if my sleepy head kept landing on a stranger’s shoulder. So I decided to start shoving my shoulder back into her head every time she lingered for more than a few seconds. Well, the ladies in the row behind me noticed it and burst into laughter every time I bonked the lady’s head away from me, and pretty soon my friend and I were also laughing hysterically. It was a very happy moment after a rough week – despite the fact that I didn’t want the lady to actually be sleeping on me, the fact that I had a moment with some Ugandan women without saying a word – a completely cross-cultural, all-humans-are-the-same moment – just made me so happy that I can’t describe it in words. It’s little moments like that, usually a shared laugh, that help put things in perspective and see the goodness in people, despite all the frustrations that naturally arise when two cultures collide.
And another mood booster - my mom is flying in today and I am soooo excited!! I’ll pick her up in Entebbe this afternoon and then head to my village with her tomorrow. Updates on our adventures together in a few weeks!