Today marks two weeks that I have been in country! Like my mission, the days are long but the weeks are flying by. I have a feeling that this summer is going to go by in no time and before I know it, I will be flying north back over the equator, stopping in London briefly enough to see Big Ben out the window of the plane, waving at the cubs in Chicago, viewing the pacific from the sky as I fly over California and finally, driving across the border into Canada after I land in Spokane, Washington. It has been a week since I have had time to sit down and recall all that has happened in these short seven days, but as I do, I can’t help but laugh! We have been placed under arrest for taking pictures on a bridge, someone attempted to steal keys to our padlocks (we caught him, got them all back and changed the locks), volunteer flights have been canceled and delayed, the water and the power in the house have gone out (those desperate enough have resorted to using plastic bags and throwing up in the yard), our toilet is broken, our sink is leaking and flooding the house, we haven’t showered for days, my mattress had fleas and I woke up with several bites across my stomach, one morning we were woken up very early by the crowing of our dinner, we've enjoyed the smell of our neighbours (four cows), marked ourselves for circumcision, and have tried the delectable dish of fried grasshoppers...
Our volunteers arrived on Friday and others on Saturday and of course the house wasn’t ready with construction workers entering and exiting at their leisure. Thankfully the team in Mukono was kind enough to put us all up for a night! On Saturday I brought one of the volunteers, Kyle, into Lugazi to help me conduct house business, since Lauren had to do an unexpected airport run. My heart sank as we arrived at the house close to ten o’clock and saw that there were still no workers here. It was the same mess that we left last night, only tonight it had to be ready for us to move in! I immediately got on the phone and let the German in me come out for heads to roll! It has been so tough always having to be on the case of these construction workers! Ugandan time! Oh and if it rains, everything is put on hold!
Kyle and I got to work and began cleaning what we could. Slowly but surely, workers finally began to show up in the late afternoon. Lauren was trying to stall and entertain our volunteers in Mukono, when finally they all expressed their interest and eagerness to come to Lugazi, roll up their sleeves, and help us get the house ready. When the van pulled up and all 13 of them piled out, dropped their luggage in the garage and began working, I was so happy and relieved that I could have started crying! What could have potentially been a tough and difficult situation turned into a real team building activity. Our volunteers are so amazing! They took a bad situation and made it into a real learning experience! Seeing them work together and help one another amazed us as Country Directors! We are so proud of them and it turned out to be such a great experience in bringing everyone closer together!
On Sunday May 9, we had our first Ugandan home cooked meal! Rose, our cook, was also hired to cook for the 2008 HELP-International, Lugazi, Uganda team. She showed up at 11am to start preparing dinner for that night. It was an extravagant meal with several authentic dishes! Posho, a white corn meal, Matoke, mashed bananas, Chapats, a kind of thick flour tortilla, G-nuts, which stands for ground nuts and is a sauce that tastes somewhat like peanut butter, and many others. Another part of our dinner woke me up this morning as it was crowing just outside my window. Chicken here is a delicacy and is rarely eaten, except on special occasions. We eat it only about once every couple of weeks. I thought the slaughtering of the chickens would have bothered me a little more than it did as I spent the day with them running around the yard cleaning and doing my laundry outside by hand, but it never. In fact a very small part of me was grateful that I wouldn’t have to hear them the next morning:)
Yesterday, May 10, our team met up with Kizza, who is the go to guy for any construction projects and a community leader in his community. He taught our team how to build an adobe stove African style! It was so much different than what I learned in Guatemala… it was better! The frame of the stove is built with bricks and mortar; the inside is filled with a mixture of clay, sawdust, and water; the entranceway, burners, pipes and other openings are molded with banana stalks; and the entire stove is plastered with cement.
To begin the morning, Kizza took us to visit some of the beneficiaries that received the energy saving stoves from the HELP group last year. We spoke with them, asked them questions and checked the conditions of their stoves. I was totally surprised to see how well the stoves have held up over the last year. Of the five we visited, none were cracked and only one stove needed its chimney replaced. I’ve had the opportunity to previously be involved in this project and even teach it in Central America, but going around and meeting and talking with the Ugandan beneficiaries of the stoves from last year was still a growing experience and a source of excitement and motivation for me. It was a really great idea for our team to visit these women and to really gain a firm grasp on the stove project and to have a tangible understanding of how these stoves are involved in the human development process. Kizza’s mom was able to start her own business selling Samosa’s (a fried flour pocket filled with beans or beef), the cooking time of beans has been reduced from 3 hours to 30 min leaving more time for other activities, the stoves use a quarter to an eighth less firewood than an open fire does allowing the beneficiary to allocate more money toward other things, preparation time is significantly less and families are able to eat more than once per day, the extra heat source allows the beneficiaries to sanitize their water for safe drinking through boiling, and of course the chimney provides a smoke free environment.
My favourite part of building the stove is kicking my shoes off and jumping in the mud to help stomp out and mix the clay mixture! It’s fun, dirty and the kids and volunteers love it! While the clay was squishing through our toes, I had the brilliant idea of putting mud across our cheeks like a football player or warrior to make for some fun pictures. Some of the other girls thought it was also a fun idea and followed suit. After decorating some of the African children the same way, we took some pictures and laughed as we showed them to the children. Soon after we began moving the clay up to Kizza for the use of the stove. As I passed by him with a handful of it he said to me “Nicole, you have something on your face, just there” and pointed to my cheek. I laughed and told him that I had put it there on purpose to be like a warrior! He doubled over laughing as he told me that in their culture that was a mark for small male babies who were about to be circumcised! I told the others through a fit of laughter and we all made sure to wash our faces really well before leaving for town!
Tuesday, today, it was my turn to stay with the house as the construction workers were still coming and going, to keep an eye on things and be here for any of their questions, but mostly to put my foot down in order to get things done! The group's activities were done earlier than expected today, so I took some of the volunteers with me to the internet cafe as I had to email some reports to head office. We waited for about 20min before Richard, the owner of the HOPE Internet cafe, came out and told us that the network was going to be down until this evening and asked us to come back then. Of course for our safety we have set a curfew of 7pm, a rule that everyone must abide by to be in before dark. I explained to him that I could come back the next day and thanked him for his time. Before I could leave, he asked me what my plans were for the night. I never quite knew how to respond because I knew exactly what his intentions were. I answered his question with a question and asked him if he wanted to talk business with Lauren and I. Even though I somewhat expected his response, it still surprised me a little. He asked if he could come by this evening to "chat" with me. I handled myself very well and told him that we could talk as friends at his internet cafe. Richard was good friends with the previous volunteers and Country Directors and is completely harmless, but our team now enjoys joking with one another about going for walks and "chatting". I guess there's not much else to do in Uganda when you take someone out on a date!
After this "hot mzungu" left the internet cafe, I had to rush to a meeting with a partner about renting a fridge for the team. After we had come to an agreement, Robert, our partner who is on the board for TYOM and who we will be renting the fridge from, his aunt brought out some ensenene for us to try. Imagine a plate of fried grasshoppers being put out in front of you, all eyes on you waiting for you to try one. They explained to us that you must first pull off all of the legs, the wings are removed in the preparation process, and pop it in your mouth and start chewing. I was totally unsure of this and didn't really know what to think as I was pulling off the legs of my fried grasshopper, but I tried to clear my mind and not think about it as I chewed. Again I was surprised when I decided that it wasn't actually that bad and had several more. I received permission to take some home for the rest of the team to try and it was a riot to watch these girls, some haven't traveled before, trying to figure out how eat our new roommates!