Thursday, June 14, 2007

New Pictures

New additions to my Round-the-world website (click here). Don't miss the movies!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Pictures from Uganda

My new home

The kitchen

Yumm, bananas!

The bedroom

The flush toilet, a rairity in Uganda.



Sunset in the "Pearl of Africa".


The Alpha male relaxing.


Mosquito nets.

chimp treking.

Dressed for success, Ugandan style.

Hi all,

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!


Saturday, April 28, 2007

New Post from Site

Just got back from my future site visit and it looks awesome! I can't wait! I am giddy with excitement. I’ll be living in my supervisor's guesthouse. It’s pretty posh pad for the Peace Corps. I’ll have a toilet, running water and electricity! The organization looks awesome. They do work in the Rakai region, which is in the southern part of the country, close to the Tanzanian border. I’ll be in the town of Kalisizo, which is a small town on the main road. It’s a poor region in which only about 50% of the people have access to a protected spring or protected well, in the adjacent sub-county the number is a mere 3%. It was hit hard by the AIDS epidemic in its early days and is still recovering. My organization is protecting a number of springs in the area, and is looking to expand that work. They are also very involved in environmental awareness work in the area, planting trees, cleaning up trash, promoting pit latrines and educating people about more sustainable living and farming practices. They also do work on malaria prevention and AIDS education. I’ll probably be working in all of those areas, but it looks like I’ll definitely be doing allot of engineering work on springs and maybe wells. I’d also like to get involved in the environmental work. My boss is very nice, in fact he has a master's degree from a Belgium University and is definitely not your average Ugandan! The region is very pretty. Lots of rolling green hills and bananas! It gets rural really fast once you are outside the cities. My town is only about 20-km from Lake Victoria, and I'm definitely looking forward to some weekend bike trips. There are two Internet cafes in town, so I’ll definitely be better connected than I have been. There is also a medical research facility run by John's Hopkins. So it looks like I’ll have some American neighbors.

I have just one week remaining in Luwero, and then a few days in Kampala before heading back to my site for good. I can’t wait to get started!

Check out my website that my mom has been updating for me:

I guess that's about it for now, hope you all are doing well!


Friday, April 13, 2007

Jon got his assignment!

Jon got his assignment! He will be working in Kalisizo for the Community-based Options for Social Welfare and Responses . Below is an article from The New Vision, a Ugandan News paper.

Kyotera gets sh100m water project
Sunday, 8th April, 2007

By Ali Mambule

THE United Nations Development Programme is funding a sh100m sanitation project in Kalisizo and Kyotera town councils in Rakai district.

The eco-project is implemented by the Rakai Women to Save the Environment in Kyotera and the Community-based Options for Social Welfare and Responses in Kalisizo.

“We have already started sensitising residents on how to keep their homes and the surrounding areas clean and to construct latrines,” the Kalisizo manager, Joseph Mubiru, said on Wednesday.

He explained that part of the funds would be used to construct six spring wells in rural areas.

The project manager in Kyotera, Hadijah Ssozi, said the project would benefit women.

“We have a number of widows who have no jobs and I believe that this project will help them save some money.”
Kalisizo mayor Sande Ntambaazi commended UNDP for funding the project, saying the council had faced difficulties in convincing residents to clean their homes and the town.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


hi all,
i just have a short while on the computer so i thought i'd just give you a short update. i am currently close to kable, a town in the far southwest of the country. i am visiting a fellow pcv for a couple of days before returning to luwero for 7 more weeks of training. everything is going prettty well. my homestay family is very nice. i've got a great room and am very comfortable there. i'm eating lots of matoke (banana mush), potatos, casava, rice, chicken, beef, beans, chipatis etc. i am learning luganda, which is the most widely spoken language here (except for english). it's a very difficult language for me to learn, but i hope to be able to hold simple conversations in a year or so.

my days are spent in training. they put me in the econonomic development sector. i'll probably be working with an ngo that focuses on water in a district capital somewhere in central uganda. my role will be to strenghten them both economically and structurally. we spend about 2 hours a day on language and the rest of the day on technical training, medical, culture ect. it's really borning and i can't wait to get done and get to my site!

i haven't had any culture shock or anything like that except for the gender roles which are very difficult to deal with. children also are very respectful here. they kneel everytime they come into the room, it's a little strange... my host father owns a row of shops that he rents out and is a small scale farmer. my host mother is a shopkeeper. they are solidly upper middle class and all their kids are in secondary school or in college. as is typical in africa, we have many relatives that stay with us. we have some grandkids who live with us. the house is very nice. it has a nice concrete base and a solid tin roof. there is a main house with 3 bedrooms and an annex with 2. there is a pit latrine and a tap stand in the front yard. since the mom doesn't get home 'til 10pm everyday, the teenage kids are responsible for doing everything from cleaning to cooking. even the little things like laundry take a whole day. last sunday i started washing my clothes (by hand of course) and they all started laughing at me! apparently i wasn't doing it right although my clothes came out just as clean as their's. they also got a kick out of me peeling the bananas, apparently i don't do it fast enough either.

as a whole the country is a little bit richer than either tanzania or malawi. they have a decent infastructure and many people have concrete homes. they have one of the highest birthrates in the world at 7 kids per woman. they also have one of the highest deforestation rates in the world at 2% a year. unemployment is very high, and so even those with a university education can't get work. HIV is a huge problem here, although it is considered an african "success" story since "only" 7% of the population is infected. it is very difficult seeing kids who are hiv positive. yesterday i met one. she was 10, but looked 6. she was very unhealthy looking and i fear that she will not live for long...

anyway, i've got to go now, but please give me a call or text sometime. it's difficult to get through, but keep trying. the best time to reach me is 11am-2:30pm eastern time. text messages are the best way to reach me. i'll have very limited access to email during training, the internet is very expensive and unreliable in luwero.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Off To Uganda!

Hi Everyone,
It's finally almost here! After a year and a half of planning and preparation, I will be leaving for Uganda in 10 days! I am totally psyched for my next big adventure!

We'll be meeting up on March 2 in Philladelphia. We'll have two days of orientation there before boarding a bus for JFK where we'll fly out on 4th to Uganda via Brussels and Nairobi. It's then 3 months of language and technical traning before I'll be placed in my village in early June. That's where I'll spend the majority of my 2 years!

Many people have asked me whether I am nervous or anxious about my upcoming trip. The truth is, not at all. I just love being in the developing world so much. The sights, the sounds, the sense of adventure. Being in a totally foreign land is where I feel most comfortable and where I feel most alive. I live for the moment and without any regrets. I am totally happy.

I'm looking forward to sharing with all of you my new adventures. Please check back often as I will be updating this webpage w/ pictures and stories as often as I can!



The views expressed here are mine and in no way reflect those of the U.S. Peace Corps, any agency of the U.S. Government or the government of Uganda.