My new home
The flush toilet, a rairity in Uganda.
Sunset in the "Pearl of Africa".
The Alpha male relaxing.
Dressed for success, Ugandan style.
So I finally have a chance to write about all this crazy stuff I’ve been up to! Sorry for the lack of emails so far, it’s hard sitting down and writing for a long time at internet cafes…
Anyway, I’m have a great time here in Uganda, it’s definitely the best decision of my life! I’m working with a great organization doing all sort of projects related to health and the environment. It’s definitely the perfect fit for me! Right now we’ve got a big grant from the Nile Basin Initiative, which is a multi-national organization composed of the nations in the Nile Basin. They support Environmental, Health and Sanitation Initiatives in the Nile Basin Catchment. Through that grant we are protecting a number of springs in the area, planting trees in Kalisizo Town and the rural sub-county, conducting a baseline survey of peoples perceptions and knowledge about environmental, health and sanitation related problems in the area.
We are also collaborating with some social scientists Georgia State University to build upon their work in the States on grandparent- headed households. Those are households in which the parents have either died or are not around anymore. Such a scenario puts a lot of pressure on the grandparents. We interview them and find out how they are doing basically. We also have a program going on with our local Rotary Club supporting local child-headed households. We are supplying them with things like school fees, scholastic materials, farm animals, seeds etc. Lastly, we are distributing hundreds of mosquito nets to the surrounding areas
I’m still very much defining my role here, but I’ve been spending a good deal of time in the field, inspecting water projects and on our outreach activities. I’m also spending a lot of time in the office working on proofreading grants. In the future, I imagine I’ll be doing much of the same. Working on spring protection projects, grants and hopefully some environmental outreach. My boss is super. He’s a work-a-holic putting in 12-14 hour days 6-7 days a week! He’s introduced me to all the local government officials. I’ve been to a couple of district meetings so far, which is also interesting.
I have a great place to live. It’s in the boy’s quarters of my supervisor’s house. It is a separate structure, but in the same compound as the main house. I’ve got a room for sleeping and one for cooking. I’ve even got a flush toilet, electricity, a shower and access to a refrigerator! Although I don’t have hot water, it’s a far posher pad that most of my colleagues. I’ve got a gas cook stove and a nice assortment of cooking utensils and such.
Although the locals eat basically banana mush (matoke) and cassava three meals a day, pretty much everything is available. Last night I made my famous peanut soup for all my friends. This morning we made yogurt smoothies and crepes using my brand new blender! Thanks Anna! Other than that, there are loads of fresh vegetables, fruits, rice, spaghetti, milk, yogurt, flour etc available locally. There is a city 28km up the road where I can get other things like good fruit juice, peanut butter, olive oil, pasta etc… What I can’t get there I can get in Kampala. The only really hard/expensive item to find is cheese, which is really expensive and not that good…
I usually wake up about 6:30 or 7 and go for an hour mountain bike ride to the surrounding villages. I make myself eggs or oatmeal most mornings topped with locally made honey and bananas. I then head out to work about 8:30. It’s just a 10 minute walk to my office which is in the center of town. We have a small office with just 3 rooms. It’s basic, but we have a couple of computers (w/o internet) and a fair assortment of books and reports. Including my supervisor and me we have three social work types, two secretaries and a driver. We have a pick-up truck for our outreach work. We are expanding to a larger office sometime this fall when it’s all done. I basically work until 5-7 every evening. I then usually stop by the market, pick up some veggies and cook a yummy dinner. I then read/study Luganda for a while before going to bed.
It’s a pretty posh Peace Corps experience if you ask me!
I’ll be spending about half my weekends here and half other places, visiting other volunteers and seeing other parts of the country. When I’m here I do a lot of reading and a lot of exercising. I biked out to Lake Victoria the weekend before last. It was gorgeous. It was 60km round trip on a well-graded dirt road. I passed through a half dozen little villages on the way to the small fishing village at the end of the road. I had a great time coming back stopping a lot and practicing my Luganda. People in the villages are really friendly.
I have several Peace Corps folks in the surrounding area. One is about 20km south of my in Kyotera, a city of about the same size. Another is about 28km north of me in Masaka, a medium-sized city where I do most of my shopping and even has a swimming pool! Both were in my training class. We get together from time to time and are planning on having lots of dinner parties!
Just yesterday I finally met several American students from Columbia University who are working on their Public Health Master’s Degree. They live just around the corner from me and seem very nice, although I just met them briefly. They all work at the Rakai Project, which does a lot of HIV research in the surrounding district.
I live in a nice little town, not to big and not too small. It has a couple of main roads with lots of little businesses on them. Most of the stores sell the same assortment of margarine, toilet paper, soda and jerry cans, but there are a couple of good little supermarkets where I can get the essentials. There are a couple of ok restaurants that serve the exact same thing. Matoke, g-nut sauce, rice, sweet potatoes etc… There are two Internet cafes too, but both are super slow. There are also a number of video rental places too, which might come in handy from time to time!
My language learning is going painfully slowly. It is a really hard language, but really important for me t National Park, which is about 4-5 hours by bus north of here. The chimps are all in a deep, heavily forested gorge surrounded by open savannah. The savannah is the “real” Africa, and has lions, elephants, leopards etc. That’s why we carry a gun! The first day we spent about 2 hours trying to find them. The ranger knew basically where they were, and we would occasionally hear their calls, but it still took a while to find them. Once we did though, what an amazing experience! They were all on the ground resting after a long day of picking fruits in the trees. The alpha male would occasionally make some very loud screams and shake branches to assert his dominance. It gave us quite a fright the first time! We were able to get within about 5 meters of them, and there were 17 chimps all around us.
The next morning I went again. It only took about an hour or so to find them this time. They were all up in the trees this time eating. I saw one chimp high in the trees eating ants using a stick she tore the bark off of. It was so cool to see her using tools! We also saw a group of about a dozen hippos in the nearby river. They are the deadliest animals in Africa, and, seeing them in the wild, it is clear why!
I can’t wait to get up in the mountains. Rwenzori National Park is in that same region and it’s supposed to be absolutely amazing. Mt. Elgon, on the Kenyan border, is also supposed to be spectacular. Gorilla trekking is also high on my list, but, at $500, it’ll be a while before I can afford it…
So I guess that is about it for now. I’m having a terrific time and please check my website from time to time. The Internet is too slow here to upload pictures, but I will be sending them home occasionally.
I miss you all and I hope many of you can come here to visit me and see what Africa is all about!