Friday, April 30, 2010

Today we took our first Boda Boda ride (Luganda for motorcycle- you sit behind the driver and hang on!) into Jinja and from there we took a taxi into Lugazi. The taxis are old vans that seat 14 people, but here they seat more like 30! They remind me a lot of the chicken buses in Guatemala. The goal: squeeze as many people in as you can and get from place A to place B as fast as you can. It's all about the money. The more people and the faster the service, the more money goes into their pockets at the end of the day. It's crazy, but it's one of the only modes of transportation for longer distances of about a half hour, which is how long it takes to get from Jinja to Lugazi. There are no fixed costs, they charge what they feel like and what was one price one way could be a lot more or less going back the same way. If you are white, the price automatically doubles.

This morning we met with the director of one of our Partner Organizations. Wilson is only about 22 years old and he runs an organization in Lugazi called the Youth Outreach Mission. He is fantastic and has done so much good in this community! We are excited to work with him and his team of dedicated volunteers. They use creative methods and projects to reach the youth and public through sensitization on HIV/AIDS.

The house situation is going, slowly, but going. We have some leads, but so far nothing has worked out. Lauren wrote up an experience that we had while house hunting yesterday...

...Back in Lugazi (about 40 km away) we met with Dr. Nyombi to procure housing. Dr. Nyombi studied medicine in Russia and now runs a medical clinic in Lugazi where we met him. He took us to his property where which we were surprised to see was a former night club and hostel…surprise #1. After walking through the gates into the large commons area, we initially thought this place might actually work out. There was a pool table and many small cafĂ© tables and the room was absolutely huge. The property then wound through a series of open air halls with individual rooms that each had a shower. I immediately thought of how nice it would be for our team of volunteers to have their own rooms and SHOWERS, until the distinct odor of mold wafted into our noses. Nicole, who is a public health major and I looked at each other with the exact same thought in our heads. 25 HELP volunteers, brain dead from toxic mold exposure. NOT ON OUR WATCH! However, we didn’t want to be abrupt or rude so we continued to follow Dr. Nyombi around this bizarre set up of a “home.” Finally, Nicole said to Dr. Nyombi, “My only fear is that the rooms are not properly ventilated since there is running water in each space.” I sincerely wish you could hear her carefully annunciated Ugandan accent. As she said this, we both looked up to a big patch of 1970’s-couch-mustard colored mold literally crawling out of the ceiling…surprise #2. Dr. Nyombi quickly countered, “There is no mold here! This place is just fine, clean! It’s no problem! No worry!” Uhhhhhhh. Sure. We then ventured around to the back of the property to see the storage place. When Dr. Nyombi opened the door of the closet intended for a generator, an emaciated cat literally exploded from the room and leaped across our feet. Nicole reached back and grabbed my arm as I recovered from my heart attack…surprise #3. “The place needs a little cleaning, it has been unoccupied for a while,” Dr. Nyombi responded. You think?! Needless to say, in spite of the attractive price tag of $2 million Ugandan shillings a month (I still haven’t adjusted to the exchange rate!) we will not be making our volunteers sleep at "Club Moldy Cat" as I have dubbed it. Hopefully Dr. Nyombi doesn’t read our blog. We haven’t had the heart to break the news to him yet...

We're really starting to feel like we should secure something soon so that we can focus on accomplishing more things before our volunteers arrive next week. It's tough being foreign and trying to find a good price on a large house that will accomodate all of our needs, but we have some good local people willing to help us and we're confident that all will work out.

To end the day, all of the children that live here with Kimi were gathered into the sitting room. Auntie Kristine (all of the children refer to their superiors in this house as auntie and uncle) shared an inspirational thought and we ended the night together with a prayer. One of the children said it in Luganda and it was very touching to think that our Father in Heaven speaks all languages and understands each of His children and the desires of their hearts. I felt humbled and excited that one day I will have the opportunity to teach children of my own.
The Ugandan culture is all about respect. In the last couple of days I’ve learned from Kimi and a local that serves on her board, that it is common to pay people for a “service” that they render you. It is known as an “appreciation”. In our culture it would be viewed as a bribe or trying to buy someone off, but here if someone goes out of their way to help you, even though it is not expected, you show your respect by appreciating the time that they’ve taken to help you by compensating them. It is also received in a respectful appreciative way. Today Lauren and I gave out our first “appreciations” to the property managers who showed us a home and to our driver, who has been so helpful.

This morning as I was getting ready for the day and thinking about what we were going to accomplish, I decided to pass on the sun block because a majority of our time would be spent in a vehicle to and from the airport. We were in the car for a total of about 7 or 8 hours today, but my arm of course was hanging outside the window. By the time we got home, it was totally burned! At dinner, the children asked about it and if it hurt. I suppose a red suburn on a white muzungu is something so foreign to someone whose skin doesn't burn the same way. They kept touching my arm to feel the heat from the burn and poking it to watch the point of pressure turn from white to red. It was fairly entertaining for all of us!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tonight I am writing from underneath the safety of my bed net... I heard the rats earlier, I still haven't seen them, but I'm sure that I heard them! Kimi warned me to keep all of my suitcases zipped otherwise my clothes would be chewed to pieces! This morning there was a cockroach playing dead alongside my bed and of course the bats stuck in the cupboard next to me... I think it'll take some time to get used to all of this company!

After being so tired for so long and sleeping so well last night, it hasen't taken me long at all to adjust to the 9 hour time difference. Today I ventured out into the city of Jinja with Kimi to run a few errands. We had the windows of our rented van rolled down and as we drove through the red dirt roads the children would see us and yell "Hey Muzungu!" (Luganda for "white person") and wave their hands. That word will be what I answer to for the next four months! I have a Luganda-English phrase book that I need to study up on, it seems that it is the most common tribal language spoken here in the east.

Another friend from home arrived today to volunteer with His Hope Uganda, the organization that Kimi runs. It was nice to see Kristy and get caught up with her... Who knew I had to fly half way around the world to finally see my muzungu friends!?! It's been a lot of fun and they are teaching me so much about the culture and the way of life here in Uganda.

Tomorrow morning I will leave bright and early to go to the airport to pick up my Co-Country Director, Lauren. We'll set to work straight away to find a place for our team to live in Lugazi. Once that major feat is accomplished, I think everything will start falling into place as far as finding a local cook, driver, someone to deliver water etc. It will be nice to have an address to give to our volunteers and somewhere that we can start getting ready for them to come. We have to buy each of them beds, which totals to about 25... I'm not sure how we're going to transport them all... maybe a big Banana Truck? Either way finding the place to transport them to comes first!
Despite being so tired and not having slept more than a few hours since Saturday, I couldn't close my eyes for even a moment throughout the duration of the flight from Nairobi to Entebbe, because the view of Uganda from the sky was so beautiful! Lake Victoria never seemed to end and the lush green of the country was much different than what I had imagined; even much different than what I saw from the air as I landed in Kenya, which seemed a lot drier.

As the plane landed and pulled into the airport there was a big blue sign, which read "Welcome to the Pearl of Africa" and it dawned on me for the first time that I was actually in Africa!

After taking some time to locate both of my bags, I passed easily through customs to be greeted by an old friend that I haven't seen in about 7 years and some of her sponsored children. The children and the people here are absolutely gorgeous and so respectful. Children bow when they serve you. I noticed those traits during the drive from Entebbe to Jinja as well, everyone seemed to look their best and care a great deal about their appearance.

The country side is beautiful, but poverty is also very apparent. It seems to be on somewhat of a greater scale than what I had experienced in Guatemala, in a sense a little more desperate. As I looked around, I expected to see Spanish on all of the stores and street signs, but instead it was English. There are no McDonald's or Dominos Pizza restaurants here!

I decided to take advantage of the time that the drive allowed and began asking my friend, Kimi, all kinds of questions. I learned that it was normal to see people of the same sex holding hands and that it was only a sign of friendship, but that public display of affection between a man and a woman, even if they were married, was very offensive.

On our ride back, we crossed over the River Nile, but I never saw any crocodiles or hippos. All I could think about was how nice it would feel to jump in and enjoy the coolness of the water as the air here is so hot and humid. For the first time, I was looking forward to the cold shower that I was going to have once we arrived.

When we pulled in to Kimi's home, I was greeted by several of the children that stay with her as they are being sponsored to go to school. They were very shy and mostly stared. Before settling down for dinner, I decided to "bathe" and get cleaned up, but before I could, one of the children had to catch and remove a cockroach from the bathtub. It was the first time I've seen or been around cock roaches, but surprisingly they don't seem to bother me too much, still I won't touch them! Using the tap, a bucket, and some soap, I cleaned up enough to join everyone for dinner. We had beans and a type of root called "Casava" which kind of tasted like potatoes. I really enjoyed it!

Soon after dinner, I was too tired to do much else other than sleep. I let the down mosquito net over my bed and tucked it into the mattress. It was so comforting to know that in the "creepy crawly world", I was untouchable! That net gave me enough peace of mind to fall quickly into a dead sleep. The squawking of bats in the cupboard next to my bed and the buzzing of insects in the background quickly faded.

Monday, April 26, 2010

After three flights, a day of sightseeing in London, one shower and countless hours without sleep, I have yet to reach my destination of Uganda. Upon our arrival to Nairobi, Kenya, a few of us unfortunate passengers in transit discovered that our flight to Entebbe had been delayed by several hours. I still have a substantial part of the trip ahead of me as after this last flight, I have about a 3 hour drive to the eastern town of Jinja. It's all a part of the traveling game I suppose!
Well, I can't believe that I'm finally on my way to Uganda, Africa for a summer of service through HELP-International. The realism of finally leaving the country has just hit me as I am in the Chicago airport surrounded by British citizens and English accents, while we all wait to board our flight to London. As I listen to and observe the people around me, I feel foreign in my own country. It is all very exhilarating and I am beginning to feel excitement stir within me; excitement that I have been waiting for, but has been somewhat difficult to find. Until this moment, my peace of mind and peace of heart has been masked by the stress and anxiety that the life of a student often brings; however, when I think about the Ugandan children and the lives of others that will be changed through my decision to serve, it all becomes very clear and simple.

I have been blessed considerably in pursuing this venture. This moment of my life has been divinely set up for years before I even knew about it. It is so incredible to see how the events of my life have lead me here to this airport waiting to reach my destination of Uganda. The fears and stress of entering such a foreign country on my own have been dispelled with the knowledge that a good friend from home, who now lives and works in Uganda, awaits my arrival. Originally my co-country director and myself were supposed to fly out together, but the volcanic eruption in Iceland had a very different agenda for her. She will now arrive a few days behind me. I am so grateful that our Father in Heaven knows us so well and loves us so much that He literally plans the course of our life and the lives of those around us to work for our benefit and safety.