Sunday, December 18, 2011

Birthday Blog, White Christmas, Circumcision(?)



Birthday Blog
Today I am 49 – Funny, since in my head, I still feel 30-ish.  I think my mind stopped aging once I hit my 30s. It can’t deny I am an adult, married, and have 2 great sons, but it seems very talented at forgetting I have aged beyond those milestones! (Unfortunately the mirror seems to know exactly how old I am!)
One of my favorite pics of Me!


A wonderful part of life is that you can never predict where it will take you. Four years ago I was celebrating my “half-way to 90” birthday with my beautiful, fit, and inspiring friend Karen. I could not have guessed in 4 years, I would be typing with the aid of a solar lamp, in my house in Uganda while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  The nice thing is that, somehow, I am feeling very happy and up beat with my present situation.

For my Birthday I have received lots of well wishes from near and far – thanks primarily to Facebook. Closer to home, my supervisor & duplex-mate, gave me a lovely new purse and a wooden plaque for my home.
A lovely sentiment !

My new fashion upgrade!

So I am truly feeling the love that surrounds me. A special shout out to Lynn & Gretchen for the nice emails; and Lisa for sending me two separate birthday cards via snail mail – she sent them before thanksgiving to insure they would arrive in time. Obviously she is very organized!

Yesterday I spent 5 hours working in the “garden” (Think fields!).  Most of you know this makes me very happy – then I bagged up 4 kilos of rice to give as Christmas presents to my local buddies here in Koro. I handmade some cards and decorated the plastic bags with “fall leaves” motif Kleenex that some nice person sent in a care package a month ago!  One must improvise in Uganda!

Bathing                
I am growing fond of my outdoor bathing opportunities – I have experienced sunrise bathing, sunset bathing, midday full sun bathing and of course night bathing under the moon.  Only thing left is rain bathing and I don’t think that sounds appealing enough to me yet. But who knows?!
Poem in Honor of my Outdoor Bathing Room – written December 9, 2011                                                           
Bathing
…outside on a Friday night,
….in the soft gentle twilight,
….in the light of the full moon,
….next to fields of papaya and cabbages,
….under peeping starry skies
….beneath the racing wispy clouds
….while listening to distant African music
….and enjoying far away laughter
…. Smiling that I am here,
 Bathing

A White Christmas on the Bus
Last week I went to Kampala for a Peace Corps Volunteer Advisory Committee Meeting – I am one of 3 reps from my “class”. We are tasked with taking praise and complaints from our classmates to the Peace Corps Staff every 3-4 months. Since we are the freshmen class we basically just attend and share our info while the Junior and senior class reps lead us newbies. However the main point of this section of the blog is to talk about the bus ride I took from Gulu to Kampala.
Public transportation in Uganda is sweaty, crowded, exhausting, and constantly surreal. People transport live chickens, milk, bananas, multiple babies in one seat with mom, and a variety of bus food for the journey.  Music or talk radio is played the entire 6-hour ride, all at the discretion of the driver. Once I watched American music videos from the 1980s play over and over again. I now know that Michael Bolton is revered in Uganda…again who knew?  As is Celine Dion, Phil Collins and other soft rock giants of 3 decades ago. 
However, this bus ride was on December 11 – and it’s Christmas time in Uganda. (Ugandans are VERY religious. All meetings open and close with prayer, Really….no law against that here. ) So our driver popped in a 1 hour CD of American Christmas tunes.  Imagine barreling down Kampala highway – only white person on the bus - listening to White Christmas (it is Sunny & 85 degrees), Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and even Felice Navidad! I have to admit I sang the last one out loud, softly to myself. It was just too funny a situation to remain stoic. I was in the middle seat between 2 Ugandan men – one sleeping and the other talking to a guy in the seat across the aisle. This CD repeated 5 more times over the course of our journey. Now, again, I reiterate – surreal. (Refer back to my earlier blog poem on being in a movie/ documentary/ comedy.)

December 16th was Circumcision Day in Koro
Friday there was a big celebration occurring across the street with loud music, and a public address system. I asked my counterpart if this was a Christmas celebration and she said no – there is a big effort to educate the village about the public health benefits of circumcision and they were having a major celebration while performing them at a reduced rate. We were in the staff room for lunch and this led to a discussion on the pros and cons of getting circumcised. (Refer back to my poem on being in a movie/ documentary/ comedy.) One man vehemently said he was not getting circumcised. His wife was familiar with what he had and she did not want something new to work with. Also he stated that God made him that way, and that way he will stay!  

Update on the Home
My Home is coming along. After 2 months of having no furniture in my sitting room.  I now have a twin sized bed for guests and am expecting a couch/sofa on Monday. Now I will be able to read my kindle in multiple locations and am feeling quite wealthy with my new amenities! Once the furniture is in place my Ugandan Wall Hangings can be hung up and I will be living in high cotton!

Work in Progress
My work is moving along well these days. I have designed a brochure including taking photos of the students & school facilities; I am working with the accountant on next year’s budget; I helped them email the brochure and a new course announcement letter to several hundred NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) to solicit student sponsorship monies, and I am researching potential grants. The school needs to develop other income generating activities because the tuition they charge is approximately 50% of the costs they incur. The challenge is that most don’t seem to worry about this profit & Loss / cash flow challenge. I think this is partially a result of having Aid for the majority of the schools existence. However with the war ending over 5 years ago and the world economy struggling, I don’t think Aid will be available in the same amounts as they have seen in the past.
PLEASE NOTE - I am not interested in getting any monies from my friends, family, or blog stalkers. At this point, I don’t want to be seen as the woman who came with money.  I have explained that I am here as an advisor and to transfer skills and build their capacities. Peace Corps Volunteers don’t bring money – money only lengthens dependency.  However, if the right opportunity arises I will send out a call for your support. Remember I am here until Oct 2013.

****************************************
Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Joyful Divali, Cheerful Kwanza, etc etc
 - whatever works for you I send you my love and support! PEACE - Karla


Saturday, December 3, 2011

“There is no Electricity here – Life is HARD in Uganda”


December 3, 2011
“There is no Electricity here – Life is HARD in Uganda”
I’m Back – Sorry but life here in Africa is non-stop work – as my counterpart said the other day as we sat in our office waiting for electricity to come…which it never did – “There is no Electricity here – Life is HARD in Uganda”. And it is. I cannot adequately convey the challenges people face just to complete the basic tasks of daily life. Nothing can be counted upon, and people have little control over their lives. Water may not be available for days; electricity may or may not come on during any given day – imagine trying to run a business without being able to count on the basics of electricity and water. Then throw in Disease- malaria, AIDS, along with gender inequality and mal nutrition and you will agree - Life is hard here!

Last week our site was out of electricity due to a late electric bill – so even when the power was sporadically available – our school was not able to get on the grid – In addition, salaries here have not been paid since mid-October, and in a staff meeting yesterday the Director said she does not see any hope for funds to pay Nov, Dec and most likely Jan salaries. From what I know of their cash flow projections, I can’t see how they will meet Feb salaries…but this is too far in advance for them to think about now.  Needless to say this adds to the difficulty of the already challenging life of our staff. I feel guilty for receiving my Peace Corps Stipend as they all struggle to feed their families.

Millions Fetching Water – My Observations
There are millions of people fetching water from down the road, up the hill, across the fields.
Their day begins with outdoor latrines or the bush, then bathing outside with cold water – if there is enough water for bathing. They wash dishes, clothes, themselves – all outside in plastic basins, using the same bar of soap.
They eat one or two staple foods - daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, …for a lifetime…mostly a bland starch with beans. A tomato or carrot is a celebration, a feast to mark a birth or the beginning of the dry season.
Bugs are part of their everyday life – inside, outside, everywhere. They barely notice them unless they are poisonous.
They can’t read, write, drive, or go to a bank.
Disease is everywhere, mal nutrition a given, death part of every week. They have lost parents, children and siblings to disease or war or both. Purchasing a coffin is a common activity.
Justice and fairness are not concepts to reflect on. They know that these notions have no meaning where they live.
They don’t hurry or fret. They are powerless to affect the majority of their lives. If you aren’t born to wealth or privilege it is impossible to attain. Things are as they are, life is what it is.
Waiting is part of life – life is lived in the waiting periods. Laughing, storytelling, gossip, news is shared as people wait for the line to move, the electricity to come, the rains to fall, the sun to rise and set.

Thanksgiving in GULU with PCV’s
Given the observations above, I am truly grateful for all the blessings large and small in my life. So turn on your tap in the kitchen and praise God! ...oh and be thankful for a drain too! I wish I had one in my Ugandan house.

Well, I finally had some real American R&R to help shed some of the stress and drudgery of the above mentioned everyday challenges in Uganda. We were given a 4-day weekend for Thanksgiving and being resourceful talented PCVs we organized quite a fun weekend.
It began with my weekly bike ride to Gulu town. Unfortunately it was drizzling as I left my school and shortly thereafter it picked up strength. So I had to seek shelter in a Boda Stage (think covered motorcycle taxi stand). It was actually a fun cultural experience as I chatted with one Ugandan man who recognized me from our Open Day with the German Ambassador. I practiced my pitiful Acholi language with the Boda Drivers (Motorcycle taxi drivers) and they smiled at my broken 3-year old abilities, but appreciated my effort. Very few foreigners make the effort to speak the language.

When the rain let up I forged ahead and arrived in Gulu with Mud flying everywhere – from my bike tires, from the truck & car tires, …from every direction all I could see was mud – much of it  on me. Good thing I had a backpack with a change of clothes. I went to the bank to withdraw my PC stipend for Dec and had to wait 30 minutes for the machines to come back on. Then off I pedaled to another PCV’s house to cook 3 packages of brownies – my contribution to the feast – thanks to all my supporters in the USofA.  

Baking is a challenge in Uganda – not many ovens – I have not seen one yet – though I hear rich people have them in Kampala. SO I made Stove Top Browning Scramble. Imagine brownie mix continuously scrambled in a skillet until it turns somewhat solid. I scraped the brownie scramble into a pan and then molded it into brownie bricks which could be cut into pieces. Yes – I felt a great sense of Pride for my accomplishment. It took over 2.5 hours by the way! There were people cooking all over Gulu that day. Iwas with a group cooking a turkey on an outdoor stove with a huge pot placed over the turkey – it turned out very well and I, like most of us, was very surprised!

We carted our items to an Ethiopian restaurant that lent us their facilities for the day – not much biz on Thursday afternoon on Thanksgiving in Uganda. I think there were 50-60 people there mostly PCVs but also other Americans that needed a place to celebrate the American Holiday. It was my first away from Family and I missed my parents, sibs, kids, husband and friends very much but this was a good alternative!
Beer Basting the Turkey! Sorry - No pics of my Brownie Bricks!


Murchison Falls Safari
Friday 12 of us woke at 4am for a 3 hour ride to Murchison Falls National Park to see Animals and ride a boat to the falls where the Nile river gets compressed into a narrow  gorge and then plummets down over a cliff to continue its trek towards Egypt. Unfortunately one of our vehicles broke down 1.5 hours into the trip and we sat by the roadside for a couple hours waiting for a replacement – so we missed the morning game drive and our best chance to see lions. However the day turned out wonderfully and we all enjoyed seeing the giraffes, water buffalo, wart hogs, Ugandan Kobs & Crested Cranes, elephants, baboons, monkeys, crocodiles, hippos, and a gazillion birds! The boat ride was relaxing and the falls a nice site – though nothing like Niagara. We all wished we were staying the night a t the Paraa Safari Lodge – it was luxurious with a pool overlooking the Nile and outdoor bar and lovely rooms and dining facilities – nothing like my home in Koro!
On top of our safari vehicle

Its Mister Baboon to you!

Elephants were all around us near the Nile River

Murchison Falls in the background


Perma-gardening Workshop
My site was selected to host the Northern Uganda Peace Corps training for Perma-gardening; which is organic gardening using locally available resources and materials to create long term sustainable family gardens that provide increased yields by planting complimentary plants together and utilizing varying plant heights to get the most out of smaller family plots. The purpose is to help improve nutrition and food security here in Uganda. So 37 people – a volunteer and their counterparts – came to Koro to learn the process over 2 days. We learned some in classroom settings and a whole lot in the fields doing the practical work. (KICKED MY BUTT!) As I love gardening, I really enjoyed it; and now I am caring for the 9 plots and the Keyhole garden constructed near my house over the 2 day workshop! 



Making and animal barriers out of local materials



Farmer Karla

my fellow co-workers digging beds

Keyhole garden - cent3er for kitchen compost which leeches nutrients into beds 

I love and miss all of you guys - the important things get very real here! So - please treasure your family and friends; and harmony in your homes; as your heart will be with what you treasure!
PEACE - Karla

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Big Sky+ Raging Winds = Rainy Season ….and My night buddy, Kindle!
Rainy Season it is! We had amazing amounts of rain the last week – it rains on and off during the day and then in the late afternoon the high winds and heavy rains descend –the sky darkens and the temperature drops to the low 60s, and then it can rain all night. This coupled with lack of electricity in the evening s often leads me to skip my evening outdoor bath – the rain and the unheated water is too uninviting for me to care about my B.O.  I just wash my face in a basin and then cover myself with powder to mask the unpleasant aroma, and I plop right into my mosquito net bed and jump headlong into my Kindle. Rainy Season comes twice a year I am told. This one began in late September and runs through most of December – though I hear the dust is more difficult to manage – I will let you know my preference after living through both seasons here in Koro.

YES – this week I am bragging about my relationship with my electronic buddy who delivers to me the most interesting and exciting adventures – I must also thank my friends the solar lamps that charge all day and then allow me some light at night.   I read Kon Tiki this week along with the Four Agreements (Thanks Chitoka!) I enjoyed them both but the challenges of the 6 men who crossed the Pacific on a raft kept me captivated. The book is like a history lesson / anthropology detective story / adventure novel.  Since it is a true story I found  it that much more interesting.

Poisoning Attempt
Well cooking this week was less successful. I actually got a little depressed with some of my attempts to be creative. Seems they were a bit too creative!!!   While I was Thrashing the waist high grass around my home…thrashing is manually cutting your grass with a machete like instrument with its tip sharpened on both sides and the top third bent at a 90 degree angle so it cuts as you swing your arm….I saw this vegetable like bush. I though it looked like a veggie  had seem in the market and later asked my supervisor if it was edible. She said yes – its Otula. So that night I picked three little buggers from the bush and minced them up nicely in my Mexican/taco seasoned beans along with the usual suspects of onions, bell peppers, and okra. Well The new little veggies didn’t taste so great, but I figured they were good for me and just ate a full plate of beans over rice like a good little Peace Corps Volunteer.   The next day my system was slightly out of sorts but I didn’t think much of it as this can occur every few days here. However at work I mentioned to my counterpart that I didn’t like the Otula and she asked where I got it. When I showed her the bush, she said it was a poisonous plant that all parents warn their children about from a young age!  She was surprised I wasn’t sicker. Later at lunch she told the entire staff about my mistake and everyone was incredulous that I was feeling OK. I must not have eaten enough – or perhaps the Taco Seasoning was an antidote!

I was somewhat successful in roasting my first batch of Groundnuts. Groundnuts are actually peanuts. They are the small red ones you sometimes see in the states – not the large ball park peanuts we get at the Titans games. I walked to our local market which is pretty weak in its offerings and saw that a lady was selling raw groundnuts – so I bought a kilo for about 35 cents and took them home and roasted them over my gas flame and then sprinkled them with salted water – the water evaporated and the nuts were covered in a white salty film. I felt very proud of my little nuts!

Latrine Lizards
Well I have never had a phobia about reptiles, and kind of like lizards, as I grew up with the bright green ones in NOLA.  So when I noticed a couple of them moving into my latrine, I thought they are my allies in killing mosquitos and spiders and their buggy cohorts, so I was not worried. However one night I ventured out around 9pm in the pitch black, misty, rainy night carrying my solar lamp and was greeted by 4 lizards in various locations around me in the 3x3 latrine. I decided not to panic as I talked my way down because I knew they were my allies. However, mid-stream the largest one perched above my head decided to leap to the ground next to my foot, and I must admit this scared the piss out of me! J There was nothing I could do – as I was in mid-stream and unable to change the direction of the process, so I just breathed in and out while he scurried under the door into the night.  So we are still friends but I am less excited about sharing my latrine with them now that I know they can jump like that!

The Road to the Cuk Madit
The Cuk Madit (Choook Madeeet) is the large main market in Gulu (It literally means big market).  The road to Gulu is like a never ending trail of people migrating to and from the market to buy and or sell items, while busses, freight containers on 18 wheelers and every other type of motorized and non-motorized vehicle shares the road.  Well my bicycle and I are part of this scene and yesterday I headed into town for my weekly shopping trip. It was a great ride as I left at 8am and enjoyed cool sunny skies the entire way there.  I yell out a greeting to all those I pass which are about every 15 pedals and most people smile and greet me back. We all speak a mixture of bad English and Acholi but the mood is cheery and it makes me feel I am part of the local scene.

My Bike - lettering says "Egg's House" no idea
what this means, but Brand is normal to Ugandans

On arrival I biked to my friend’s home in town and we headed out to shop. It was very productive as I bought some plastic stackable shelving for my kitchen as well as a grater for my ginger root. (I am enjoying drinking fresh ginger in hot water late at night.) Well the Cuk Madit is large - maybe a half mile deep and wide with sections selling various items. It is a veritable Ugandan experience! There is the egg section, beef section, banana section, pepper & onions section, used clothing section, etc. There are also little Dukas (doookas) / Shops selling plastic ware and other household items like brooms etc.  So I loaded up on my usual list of fresh items. The challenge is always packing my bike for the ride home. I really do look ridiculous – but I think it endears me to the locals who carry much greater loads on their heads and backs on a daily basis.  I arrived home today by 9am and have washed my clothes and cleaned my kitchen and set up my new shelves with all my newly acquired vegetable treasures.

My purchases-powdered milk, eggs, plastic shelves, veggies
galore, TP, Napkins, sugar, bread
Green avocado picked from tree at my friend's home
My new plastic shelves with veggies etc
under calendar of favorite photos from home!
My cooking stove and dish washing station - I wash in the
basin and pour dirty water into the bucket on the far right

My Job
The School is in National testing mode this week as our students undergo their exams on the various vocations they are studying. Out term will end in late Nov and then things should quiet down a little until next term starts in February 2012. I am still working on the Agriculture Business Plan and enjoying the research of pricing and costs related to these endeavors here in Uganda. I hope when the financials are run it will actually be a profitable business plan!

Kisses from Uganda to all my friends, relatives and supporters! Karla

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Open Day, Food Successes, Spa Day Poem


November 6th 2011
First of all – Congrats to my husband on completing the Marine Corps Marathon in 3 hours 58 min!      …..woo – hoo that’s an accomplishment!------------------------------------------------------
School Sign and some Staff
3 Weeks at my Vocational School and each day gets a little more comfortable as I figure out how to live here in rural Africa. It’s definitely a world away from anything I have known in the past.
OPEN DAY
My work is 8-5; 5-days a week – which I hear is different than most of my Peace Corps classmates. I share an office with our accountant and primarily have been preparing for the Open Day event that occurred yesterday with a visit by the German Ambassador to Uganda to officially open our new drip irrigation field – funded in large part by the German People. We are a vocational school that has carpentry, tailoring, brick and block laying, metal working, motor vehicle repair and agriculture. The school’s greatest challenge is that it cannot sustain itself on its tuition fees. It is hoped the drip irrigation will serve as both a demonstration/training facility for the region as well as generate income for crops grown – especially during the dry season. My next assignment is to write a business plan with the 2 agriculture staff to get that project jump started. I am also looking for other income generators to help incrementally add cash to the school. I definitely have my work cut out for me – so say a prayer to send me good ideas.

The event yesterday had approximately 300 invited guests and catered lunch – including about 150 people from our school as well as local dignitaries and agricultural educators. We also had a brass marching band, a local primary school perform a traditional local dance, a drama by our students and we finished the day with a football (soccer) match. Unfortunately we lost. But the day was a success!! We also had at least an equal amount of community members – mostly children – come and watch the entire event. There is little entertainment in Uganda so any event draws a crowd of onlookers.  My biggest contribution was a newsletter I produced after interviewing several successful graduates of the school. It was a fun assignment as I traveled to their respective workshops and places of business to learn about their trade and their business successes.


Marching Band

 Director, German Ambassador, RDC, Bishop

Primary School Dancers
 

For Uganda, this place is run fairly tightly. I must sign in and out daily and if I ever arrive late, I will have to sign in the “dreaded late book”. So far I don’t know the consequences of this book, but it is feared by my co-workers. My other PC classmates frequently arrive at their workplaces around 8:30 or 9 and may be the only ones there. I hear one friend’s office reads the papers for the first 3 hours of each day. My place on the other hand also works all day Saturday – which I explained right off the bat – that I will not be working on!

FOOD
I use Saturday to ride into Gulu Town to purchase food stuffs for my livelihood. The only food items I have located in my village are cabbage, bell peppers, onions, eggplant and okra. Luckily my upbringing in NOLA has prepared me to love these veggies and know how to cook them.  However for variety, I peddle 35-40 minutes on a straight and hilly road to purchase things like eggs, flour, tea, coffee, powdered milk, soap, detergent, fresh ginger, avocado, banana, pasta, rice, beans, potatoes and CHOCOLATE! As Uganda was formerly occupied by the British, we have Cadbury Chocolate here! So far, my favorite it the Mint Chocolate bar! 

As you may recall I have no running water, no drain, no fridge and no oven. My kitchen contains a 2-burner LP gas cooking stove with propane tank, and my new best friend – the electric tea kettle. I use it several times a day when we have electricity - to boil water. I do this for all water I drink as well as for heating water for my bucket bath outside in my bathing room. (This is a 3 foot x 3 foot cement & brick structure with no roof.) It sits next to my pit latrine (Same size but with a roof and a small hole in the floor).
My second best friend is my bottle of Heinz Ketchup, purchased in Kampala, which is the thing that reminds me the most of home. Heinz is an American food icon, and for me, also connects me US football, as it brings memories of seeing the Steelers in Heinz Stadium. The night I made French Fries – called chips here – and opened my bottle of ketchup, I was reading the bottle and realized I had opened it on the exact date it expired – October 28th, 2011. What are the chances of that!?? Of course I will continue eating it until it really goes bad. Your standards drop a good bit here as your options are severely limited.

Success stories in the food department so far, are the baking of a poppy seed muffin mix my mother sent me, and the cooking of beef in a sauce similar to one for grillades in NOLA. Baking is an improvised process where I place a few small broken brick pieces in the bottom of a larger pot and then sit a smaller pot inside it. The small pot has the sides greased and is filled with the said muffin mix. I then cover both pots – with a frying pan – and turn on the gas and heat this set-up until I smell the mixture baking. Surprisingly it turned out pretty well. I also cooked beef I purchased in the market yesterday. The carcass was hanging in the open air and had flies enjoying it – I asked for ½ kilo for 5,000 Ugandan Shillings (About $2). I then peddled this home and had to cook it immediately as we have no refrigeration. Basically the rule of thumb is you can keep cooked food for 24 hours in a dark cool place. However, you must reheat it before eating it again. So I had this beef mixture over rice today for lunch, and will also have it for dinner tonight.

I must admit that my diet is greatly improved by the packages I have received from the US. Most every day I eat oatmeal and use seasoning and soup mixes shipped here. I found that beans cooked in taco mix is really quite tasty – give it a try at home – it’s a nice meal of Mexican beans. I also drink my Starbucks Vias almost daily – my French press is great but the hassle of cleaning coffee grinds with no sink or running water limits my enthusiasm!!! The drink mixes also brighten up the boiled drinking water. So again thanks to all my support group back in the USofA!

Uganda – Noise pollution
One of the biggest challenges here is the noise pollution. Music is played at the ear splitting levels all day and night. I can handle the daytime, but the night time sometimes goes until 7am the next day. I have resorted to wearing earplugs on the nights when the bass beat it so loud I feel the vibrations in my bed. I still wake up frequently but I get some sleep. Therefore it is a blessing when the electricity is not working. So I often hope for the power to go out just about my bedtime, so I sleep more soundly.

Poem from last weekend - Spa Day in Gulu Town     Oct 30th, 2011
3 ladies in a foreign land
Peer expectantly into the box.
A magical Box from 7,000 miles away,
The thrill yet to be seen!

This is my box,
Sent with Love.
Received with grateful awe
& now shared with joy!
Here it is impossible to keep
The glittering prizes to myself!

One item at a time -
We Oooooh, We Aaaaaah!
We nod with approval.
Yes – this was well thought out!
Oh this is frivolous!
This is practical! This is comforting!

Then a green soothing packet
Promises a moment of cool & clean
in the midst of heat & dust.
The smooth crisp cucumber facial wipes- in a packet of 10
are too luxurious to describe!
One lady says – “No, you cannot be that generous – to share;
We can all use the same sheet and extend the miracle”
But I am generous & frivolous
I know that waiting for a better day
To enjoy something is Folly!
The day is now! The moment is perfect!
The cucumber facial wipes will never be a sweet.
So with abandon I pass one to each of us!
I am a magnanimous woman of wealth
Giddy with the thrill!
We caress our faces, necks, arms, hands
we are giggling & smiling
Momentarily transported to our own Spa!
A moment of gratitude for the breath of physical comfort
We realize something has happened that will bind us
Together forever.
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Anyway – right now I am trying to get my bearings and get comfortable with the new routines and faces in my life. I do feel I am on a long personal journey to God only knows where – but I think it will make a difference in my life going forward. It is a real process to become your own best friend and confidant! When you remove all your support structures, you find you must rely on yourself alone. This is both daunting and exhilarating. So keep sending positive energy to me here in Uganda. I do need this kind of support. Visualize me being successful here, and I will continue to try to live up to your visions.
Love your friend and adventurer - Karla

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Poetry week of Oct 24, 2011


Resting  Oct 24th, 2011

Resting
Because there is no light, nowhere to go, nothing else to do…
Here in Africa….at night.
The air seems thin…not hot or cold.
Just air resting on my skin
…as I’m resting in the darkness.

I see my sons in their lives;
in their rooms, in restaurants, libraries, clubs & parks.
They are strong & bold,
but still …my beautiful, vulnerable boys….nonetheless.

I reflect on my life…
an unfinished Journey
confidence, joy, confusion, questions, sadness, love & redemption.
I wonder why I am here …alone ….by choice …or are we always alone?

I don’t understand why I had to do this
…all I know is that I was driven here,
by myself to find myself …I pray
….often.

I think of my heros …MLK, Mandela, Gandhi
and I know my struggles are small.
My pain is small. My impact on the earth is small.
However, to me it all looms large.

So it’s one step, one breath, one good thought at a time,
as I wait for the pieces to fall together,
and, at last, I see the picture of this puzzle
I pray
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Enshrined in Light    October 24, 2011

So – I realized just now – outloud,
what I have known for a very long time…innately…
That I can breathe only because of my friends.

Friendship has kept my madness at bay.
Who they are  …each so unique & precious,
has carried me over rough waters,
& through times of celebration.
One-on-one & in Tag Teams,
my friends mourn, lift, inspire.

I am enshrined in a place that glows with their light.
Can I truly express the magnitude
of the cumulative impact of their deeds,
large & small?
The answer, my friend is No!
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Living in a Movie     Oct 24, 2011

As soon as I landed,
it seemed I was in a movie.
….more like a documentary slash comedy.
The scenery is like nothing I knew from home:
loud, dirty, uncensored, raw, free.

The accents are odd
& the English does not resemble the words I hear.
…though they are speaking my language;
…if it’s really mine to claim, …here.

Mostly I am traveling along as an observer.
Pretending this is normal,
…that I am not an actor,
…in this drama slash documentary slash comedy.

I realize I am a side show, a fleeting focal point,
the odd white woman in a sea of various shades of darkness.
But frequently I am lifted.
when there is music
reminding me this is Africa.

There is no guise.
No time for western concepts,
…of sleek, smooth, polished lines.

My movie slash dark comedy slash drama
 is powerful because the images are so real,
A panoramic landscape of jagged & rough outcroppings.

My fellow actors are naturals.
Genuine natives with rich skin tones,
Bright white smiles, hearty laughs & silent eyes.
…and when the music plays the movie continues.


Sunday, October 16, 2011


Karla the PCV at Swearing In Ceremony

October 16, 2011
Yessirreee -  I passed my language exam! OK I am now settled where I will live for the next two years. Wow what a long strange trip it’s been! …and this is only the beginning.

Swearing In
I am in my half of a 30 foot round brick & cement house with 3 rooms, a kitchen, a sitting room and a bedroom. I arrived on Friday Oct 14th after being sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer on Thursday October 13th at the home of the Deputy Ambassador to Uganda, Virginia Blaser. She shared with us that she applied to the Peace Corps just after college and was rejected for not having enough skills. So instead she entered the Foreign Service and has spent her career serving there. Given her opulent house in Uganda and then looking at mine, I think she has done very well for herself despite the rejection from Peace Corps!! In preparation of Swearing In I shaved my legs and colored my hair for the first time since leaving the States as we were staying in a hotel with toilets and real showers! It was nice to see my legs looking like mine and not like my brothers legs!! (No offense Kirby, Bronson & Robert but I want to be more feminine than you guys!) 
Deputy Ambassador Virginia Blaser
Swearing in was very moving and I didn't expect it to be…but in true Karla form, I cried several times. They read parts of JFK’s speech creating the Peace Corps in 1961 and they talked about the friends, family and careers we put on hold to come here. This really got to me because I feel so much support across the ocean over here in Africa. I really do appreciate all of you who are cheering for me and touching me across the world.  Several of the young and inspiring PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) gave speeches and I was glad to be in the present of a younger and committed group.  I think I have gravitated towards these young adults here and in the US because they remind me of my idealistic side that can get a little jaded over the course of a lifetime.
Host Organization Supervisors-mine is the lady in blue

Well as you know I had an African Kitenge (traditional dress) made with fabric from my host mom. She designed the outfit which has trousers worn under a tunic. I wore this to swearing in and felt really good in my ensemble. It really seemed to reflect my style. There were several of us who wore traditional African attire and we enjoyed ourselves immensely. 
Me and the other PCVs in African attire
Modeling - my next career?

Leaving Homestay in Wakiso
Leaving my host mom and brother was very hard for me. I think they were the only reason Pre-Service Training didn’t beat me; there were time I was just hanging on. Their home was my sanctuary – I am a little apprehensive about making it on my own here in Gulu District. Hopefully my new home will also deliver some wonderful people to support me in the process. I think my supervisor and my counterpart have great potential. We really enjoyed the last few days together. I learned how to cook pork like my host mom and I taught her how to make spaghetti American style. We also killed and plucked a chicken (actually I just watched) – I decided I won’t be able to do this on my own – so I will buy chickens already prepped & cleaned when I get the courage to cook meat.
I gave my host mom a gas cook stove as a thank you gift so she won’t have to cook over charcoal. The gas stove is actually less expensive, but many Ugandans can never save enough for the stove (approximately $42). She fell on her knees and thanked Jesus when I presented her with it.
The chicken after plucking and cleaning!

My wonderful host brother!

The best was to come, when I told her I had found a school sponsor for my 6 year old host brother. A wonderful and generous family in Nashville has offered to sponsor his school fees for the next 3 years. The total is approximately $75/ year with another $25/year for books, uniforms and miscellaneous supplies. Because I have lived there, I know this family’s values and the importance they place on education. Since my brother was born “disabled”, he was given up by his mom at 3 months. My bother has now fully recovered except for a stutter. This difference will cause him much trouble in Africa where any abnormality is treated as a curse and often results in ostracism.  I know his education, which he is working on very hard for a little 6 year old, is his chance at a better life. This is one reason I am here – to make a small difference one person at a time.

Traveling to Site
So because I had 10 large bags by now – having bought a portable gas stove, pots, pans, a set of dishes, utensils, numerous food stuffs, and African Crafts for gifts and for decorating my home;  I chose not to commute to Northern Uganda on Public Transport per Peace Corps recommendation. It would have involved several vehicle changes and would have taken all day – where in the confusion and stress I either would have lost some items or been robbed. This cost me and another volunteer who was sharing the ride $116 each ($232 total). This is more than most Ugandans make in a month. The Peace Corps supposedly only reimburses us for the cost of public transport which is approximately $17 each even if we bought two bus tickets each. I have a real bone to pick over this issue. Luckily I had the means to access my US account and withdraw some of my resources. After 10 weeks of physical and emotional boot camp where we were all at our wits end, it feels like abuse to have to make that journey alone on public transport which is notorious for pick pockets and baggage thieves.  (Seems inconsistent with the Peace Corps statement of placing our safety and security first.)
So we left at 7am and arrived at my site at 1pm to drop my bags. Then we went to drop my travel mate’s items off and headed out with our driver to located mattresses and an LP gas canister to power my stove. I also located a used mountain bike that I asked the shopkeeper to hold for me until the next day. We also bought jerry cans to carry our water and some plastic basins for washing clothes and dishes. Then we each were dropped at our sites. Hers is in Gulu Town, and mine is 8 kilometers south in a more rural village setting.

Village Savings & Loans
I arrived at School at exactly the time the staff Village Savings & Loan (VSL) meeting was beginning – and my supervisor ferried me in to watch the process. This is a system that we have been trained on that is used in developing countries to help people save and receive loans. Most people have no access to traditional banking systems, so this new process has slowly gained traction here in Uganda. Many of us PCVs will work at establishing these while at our sites. The concept is that even if they cannot read or write, small groups of people can meet in public and each put in whatever amount they have saved that week - all under the watchful eyes of the members - and the totals are tallied in a ledger by a secretary that can read. Several people must agree on the total amount per person and for the group as a whole. Then from the monies that are collected, people can receive loans that are due in 2-3 months. These loans can help with medical bills, school fees for kids, or help them get pigs or bee hives etc. These VS&Ls can really be the difference between raising ones standard of living and falling further into poverty.

Saturday 10-15-2011 Home Set Up Day
I forgot to mention it, but my supervisor is supposed to have the other side of my circular structure as her home. Of course it’s not ready yet, so she has been staying with me on my sitting room floor to make sure I am comfortable and taken care of in my new surroundings. It might sound awkward but it’s been nice, as I would otherwise have very few people to talk to since arrival. So yesterday I got up and rode my counterparts bicycle to Gulu Town. There are 3-4 big hills that are hard to climb and fun to coast down between here and there. It took me just over 30 minutes going at it pretty hard. I went immediately to the place where I had reserved my own bicycle and had them affix a basket and a mud flap to my bike.  It seems there is more mud here than all of the rest of the world!!  

I left my counterpart’s bike with the shopkeeper man since she can take a Boda-Boda (AKA motorcycle taxi) to retrieve it. I am forbidden to ride Boda-Bodas by Peace Corps which aside from a bicycle, is the only public means of transport to my site. I then went to visit the Peace Corps Volunteer in charge of the Gulu PO Box and she invited me in for tea…Very civilized. She is a German born woman who married an American (shout out to Eva & Jim!) and has lived stateside for many years. This is her second trip to Uganda as a PCV. She is working in a teacher’s college. We then went for lunch and I purchased some nails, a hammer, some produce and climbed on my bike with 6 packages and all the aforementioned items. Needless to say the trip back was much harder. It was hot, I was carrying an extra 25-30 pounds and I was tired from the morning ride in. My new bike was great but I was running out of steam so I ended up walking the uphill parts. This was not unusual as 95% of Ugandans walk their bike up hills. So I didn’t feel like a total loser. Upon my return home I drank lots of water and began hanging my mosquito net and curtains. I unpacked all my things and cleaned and set up house. I went to bed with my supervisor in the next room and slept from 9:30pm until 7:45am – whew that felt great!!!

Sunday Afternoon 10-16-2011 Relaxing in My Home
So here I am – catching up on my blog and thinking of all those at home.  I heard from my youngest son just before Swearing In. He is doing well and seems to be enjoying his freshman year. He just finished mid-term exams and spent his fall break in DC with his brother.  I hear from my husband – whom I talk to almost daily – that my oldest son is also enjoying his junior year and doing well socially and academically. I love & miss my sons so very much and know they are becoming the great men they are destined to be.  My husband, who is still training for the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October despite a hip injury, is skydiving this weekend with a friend from Louisville KY. Seems not much can hold him back. I am proud of him and of how he is handling this challenge of separation. He has an amazing internal core strength that assures me things will be fine. When we talk via Skype I also get to see my dogs. Cayenne is looking as beautiful as ever and I hear is enjoying running at the river campus. She will be 2 in December and is feeling strong.
I also think of my parents, sibs, in-laws and all my girlfriends and their husbands who are so important to my mental health. The amazing ladies of my life have sent me packages that were here when I arrived. They have also gotten together and sent packages to my sons at college since I cannot be there to do that myself.  I cry happy tears when I think of you all. I am even more thrilled that my friends are planning Easter in New Orleans with my Family. This means so much to me that all my special connections are carrying on as a big family - even when I am not on the same continent.

It’s a wonderful feeling to finally unpack my things and find the small surprises that awaited me in my luggage. I located my IPhone and hooked it up to my speakers and am listening to music from America for the first time in 3 months. It’s amazing what memories music can trigger. I have also used my REI French press for the first time today – THANKS to Meg for that parting gift!!! NOTHING like real coffee. Though the Starbucks Vias are much easier to clean up after, given I have to haul water for all washing and bathing.  Speaking of living a different life – my pit latrine and bathing area are still under construction. They should be ready in a day or two, so I have been using the Girls dormitory facilities.  Good thing my house was ready, along with my full size bed (waiting on you Hubby), and my wardrobe (though the bed and wardrobe was still sticky from the varnish).  I also received a kitchen table that won’t fit through my kitchen door…a little Ugandan planning challenge!  I am still waiting to receive my kitchen cupboard, my peg boards for hanging things and my pit latrine chair!! Yes, I asked the carpentry dept. to make me a chair that I can set over my latrine so I can feel like an American when I am taking care of business!! Some things a girl just can’t give up!!!

Now that I am living on 20 acres in the rural Ugandan country side I am receiving fresh milk each day from the cows located at the school. A half liter a day is approximately 18 cents! So I will have some in my coffee in the am and a cup of hot chocolate in the evening. The men arrived this afternoon with my first delivery. They said they will be by to deliver it daily at 8 am. Of Course I have to boil it and drink it within a 24 hour period because of no refrigeration – but I still feel luxurious with this amenity!! Not to mention I have electricity in every room of my home – so I can keep my PC and electronics charged as long as the service is working. J
I also unpacked my American Flag – courtesy of Wal-Mart. It is hanging on my door to my kitchen and I feel my home is my little American outpost. I have boiled my water and have a pitcher with drinking water and a thermos for hot water or milk. Ironically my thermos was made by a company in Nashville TN called Megatrade International Inc. They sell thermoses in 84 countries. See http://www.megavacuumflask.com/ their zip code is 37204 – same as my house in Nashville – WEIRD as my Worlds Collide!!!

Note on Packages & Gifts
I no longer need feminine products, rubber bands, taco mix, brownies, or coffee – so please hold off on them and only send things that you feel I might need. (A letter is nice too!) I don’t think I will need anything else for a long time. I also have deodorant, sunscreen, pens, soup and oatmeal/grits to last me a long while…and I am pretty sure there are still more in transit. Thanks to Lisa, Mary and Margo for the ones waiting for me when I arrived in Gulu.  I have to admit it’s nice to know I have a team that can mobilize in a minute when I call on you all!!! I will definitely let you know when I receive your packages…so don’t fret – one PCV waited over a year for his package to get to him in Uganda. I think it went to Asia first! So that’s all for now – My next challenge is getting into my new work environment. I am ready to start doing things instead of training. Keep me in your thoughts and prayers! Love Karla

Monday, October 3, 2011


Technical Immersion, Final Training Weeks, African Observations

On Tech Immersion in Kasese District
OK I am convinced Peace Corps has a hidden agenda to make training so grueling and so stressful that by the time you find yourself alone in a remote village you think its bliss. My 10-week Training has alternately been exhausting (we go all day Mon-Sat, walk an hour each way to get to class, live in Ugandan homes without indoor plumbing, and are expected to do homework and hand-wash our clothes in buckets, - basically borderline abusive) and then exhilarating.  The exhilarating parts come in fits and spurts and mostly it’s a grind to attend hour after hour of classes. I admit the classes have me prepared to live here for 2 years. If I had been placed in the field without training, I would have never made it. So yes the content is valuable – I just think it could be consolidated and delivered more efficiently so as to get both Saturday and Sunday off. Maybe it’s an age thing…but in my defense the 20-somethings look tired too!

Technical Immersion
Kids & Coffee Beans
So the exhilarating parts come when we actually get to interact with Ugandans in the field. I have visited really interesting places and love getting to see the real deal. Classroom theory can only hold your attention so long.  I returned last Friday from western Uganda where a group of 10 of us visited a coffee cooperative in the highlands outside of Kasese…not far from the Congo border.  The most amazing thing is that in this remote area that has no electric power and only 2% of the people can read, the entire culture is being changed by a coffee cooperative. The cooperative does typical things like educating farmers on ways to improve their crop yield, but they also deliver comprehensive social services by sending trainers up into the mountains to talk about gender equality, rights of women and children, domestic violence, and addiction. They teach all people to draw their vision of a better life and then draw the steps they need to take to get there. They also draw pictures of the opportunities and threats that might arise along the way. It was phenomenal to see every peasant we met take out their notebooks to show us their drawings.  The cooperative has 3,500 farmers and its own micro finance organization. (http://bukonzocoop.com/index.html)

Highlands of Western Uganda
Ok, did I mention that the western region of Uganda is the area with more tourist attractions like game preserves and also one of the most picturesque! We passed through Fort Portal which is known for its tea estates – we saw miles of green tea fields – it was something to see. http://pearlsofuganda.org/  http://www.visituganda.com/ 

Final Training Weeks
Alright – On to my final weeks of training – We had a mock language proficiency interview to prepare us for the actual test coming at the end of this week. I am not going to win any awards in speaking Acholi, but I plan to pass by the skin of my teeth. So keep your fingers crossed for me!!! We also had a round robin verbal exam where we moved from one table to another answering question regarding things such as safety, community development, HIV Aids, malaria, cross cultural issues, personal medical topics, economic development principles, etc  - basically all we learned over the last 9 weeks. It was empowering to see how much we have covered, and that I have retained a great deal of it.  


This week we will say goodbye to our host families with an event on Saturday Oct 8th. We will have American picnic games for the kids as well as a demonstration on how to make American Pizza. We will also have a lunch with traditional Ugandan and American meals. Vegetable Spaghetti will be the American fare. I helped do the research on locating tomato paste – like almost everything here it comes from China!!! African Fare will be Matooke (green bananas steamed or boiled and then mashed) Posho (some kind of corn based starch with the consistency of very hard mashed potatoes), G-nut sauce (a peanut sauce they put over the Matooke and Posho), meat cooked in a sauce to put over rice, and most likely avocados and pineapple which grow everywhere here.

Me carrying water for bathing, cooking, washing
I of course will greatly miss my host sister and brother. We have become a close family. They have taken care of me and I have tried to reciprocate in ways that I can. Today Florence surprised me with a bolt of Congolese made Kitende fabric and then escorted me to a tailor to have a custom African dress made for me. I plan to wear it on Saturday to the host family thank you event.  I will post pictures later of my incredible fashion moment!

My Brother filling water at spring nearby
On Tuesday Oct 11, we will move to Kampala for 3 days of PC policy and safety training. We will be joined by our assigned organization supervisors and we will jointly plan what each Peace Corps Volunteer will focus on over the next couple of years. Basically this is to help educate our host organizations on what they can expect from us and to reiterate what is required from them. On Thursday Oct 13, we will sworn-in as official Peace Corps Volunteers and will drop the word “trainee” from our titles. Basically its graduation from bootcamp! Then there is a celebration before we leave the next am for our various sites.  Each person now has all the luggage they flew over with plus what they accumulated from 10 weeks of various Ugandan shopping experiences. Imagine the Beverly Hill Billies moving out across Uganda.

African Observations
Yes it sounds like Africa here. There are more exotic birds squawking everywhere you go, than you would imagine. There are hug storks and large yelling birds and gentle lovely little songbirds. Some birds make you think you are in a Jurassic Park movie – they resemble pterodactyls.  There are roosters, hens, pigs, cows and goats everywhere. In my homestay we have 10 plus chickens, roosters and chicks that are kept inside at night next to our kitchen. We also have 5 piglets that are rapidly becoming fat pigs. They shriek when it’s feeding time. You would be amazed at the ruckus they create.  Much of the sounds of Africa are man-made. Ugandans like all media played on high volume. So you can hear everyone’s TVs, radios, church service etc. If the electricity is on, the entire neighborhood is competing to burst your eardrums!! Makes it a blessing when the electricity goes out!!

Whats really surprising to me is how well dressed many Ugandans are every day. The ladies wear skirts and professional blouses and the men wear trousers and nice shirts. Whereas we Americans often look like hippies or just barely presentable in comparison.  
What is also amusing is that all the used clothing from the US and Europe ends up here. I even saw a Tennessee Titans sweatshirt walking down the streets of Wakiso a couple weeks back. All our t-shirts for family reunions and bank openings are alive and well in a Ugandan home.  My host mom uses a 3XL Penn State Nittany Lion t-shirt as our bathing room floor mat. I am sure my in-laws would be surprised at this situation. (Yes its typical to use old clothing as an area rug or door mat.) My host brother broke out a European Ski team jacket yesrday when the temperature fell to about 60 degrees. That’s really cold here and therefore necessitates a parka! However fairly often you can see an African woman wearing a shiny sequined prom dress or ball gown; and though we think it’s rather funny, they are considered very stylish and smart looking.  
Boys with homemade pool table

Another Ugandan custom is that men can have multiple wives and have even more mistresses on the side…they are called side-dishes. Most American men I know would not want that many women, but maybe it’s because US women have rights and opinions.  Here it is very unusual for women to own property and men can divorce you if you become “stubborn”. I am pretty sure I would not have made it to my 1st year anniversary if I had married a Ugandan.  Where I come from “stubborn women” are revered J.  Also if a Ugandan man divorces his wife, he keeps the children. They are considered his property.  This makes it very hard for women to complain or to fight back against mental or physical abuse. Needless to say this is not Kansas anymore Toto!!

A BIG Thanks
So that’s my latest update on my Ugandan Vision Quest. I am still glad to be here and happy to report my husband is still very supportive of my journey to Africa to find myself. We talk every other day and are enjoying learning of the other’s daily activities. I hear my sons and dogs are also well, so I am secure in knowing we are all growing into ourselves very nicely.

Finally thanks to my friends and family for the numerous packages that are waiting for me when I leave the comfort of my training class and venture out alone to my 3 room hut at School in Koro Abili in Gulu District.  Feel free to send your own list of items, as surprises are also fun. Also keep sending me emails and letters – I don’t want to be forgotten while I am scampering across Uganda.  Peace to you all - Karla

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Packages, Immersion, Site Visit, Embassy Party




Me in My Wakiso Home Front Yard
 Yes! You can send me Stuff
"My Name"
Peace Corps Volunteer-Uganda
PO Box 914
Gulu Town, UGANDA - AFRICA
You might want to write God Bless this Package and put a cross or religious icon on it to help insure it gets to me. If you have religious stickers I hear those work well. Send padded envelopes or small boxes, I hear it’s expensive, so pick a few items from the list below and be prepared to pay Mr. Postman! Remove things from boxes and put them in Ziploc bags – this reduces size and weight and I will reuse the Ziplocs J

Items I would like are: Brownie Mix, Individual Oatmeal Packets, Taco Seasoning, Kool Aid/Crystal Light, McCormick Seasonings, Cheese Packets from Mac n Cheese (remove the macaroni – I can get that here), rubber bands, TAMPONS – not one in the whole country (I think it’s due to religious beliefs), Starbucks Via instant coffee, hand sanitizer, pens…and a personal note and a surprise or two! I will send you an email once it arrives!

Language Immersion
Whew – what a busy and sometimes exhausting week and a half! 13 of us left at 6:15 am on Thursday Sept 8th with our 3 language instructors to travel to Gulu for our 3 Days of language immersion. The trip involved a 45 minute van ride to Kampala and then a 5.5 hour bus ride to Gulu via the Post Office Bus. This bus is considered safer and doesn’t require one to go to the busier bus parks. (Bus Parks and Taxi Parks are where you go to get a ride via bus or taxi). However the Post Bus is the vehicle transporting mail and ….as it turns out ….milk! So it takes a longer time but it doesn’t travel at the same deathly speeds as other buses travel.

We arrived in Gulu around 2 pm and were met by several PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) already stationed in the surrounding areas. We went immediately to an American style coffee house and I had good coffee for the first time in 6 weeks. All I can get in Wakiso is instant coffee. Yes this is the first major drawback of being in the Peace Corps! We also ordered cheese burgers and chicken avocado croissants – these are also not available in 99.9% of Uganda!

We traveled by 4-wheel SUV to the Golden Peace Hotel and were delighted we each had our own private bedrooms and better yet – private indoor flush toilet and shower. Things were looking up!  How nice to have some privacy and amenities after the last month and a half.  That night it was great fun to share a beverage, eat pizza and talk about our experiences into the night without worrying about being home before dark.

On Friday we went to the USAID (US Agency for International Development) Northern Uganda Field office and were educated on their operations and initiatives in the region. We then visited the Gulu Local Council 5 (LC5) District Chairman’s office and were updated on their plans for the Gulu District. This is the highest level Official in the Gulu District. I was interested in their plans for recovery and reconciliation after the 20+ year was with the LRA. One thing Gulu has going for it is the town’s location. Its proximity to South Sudan, the Congo and the West Nile Region of Uganda means it will continue growing as a regional distribution hub. Any goods traveling to these areas must past through Gulu. There are no other paved roads. While at the LC5’s office we shared the names of the organizations where we will be serving. The LC5’s technical advisor invited me to sit in on the Entrepreneur and IGA (Income Generating Activities) meetings once I am back to Gulu and working at the Vocational School.

After these meetings we broke into small groups and went to eat some local foods and practice our Acholi. I have learned a great number of nouns and verbs, but still struggle putting sentences together and getting the tenses out correctly. I can communicate – just at a 4 year old level.  We were tasked with asking directions and finding our way to several landmarks, grocery stores and the main market. By 5pm we were beat and headed back to our hotel for dinner there. Most of us had fish & chips and it was very good. The next day we were sent back to Gulu for more interaction with the locals. I did a little shopping and practiced my language, but we find most people in Gulu can communicate in English at some level – so we could always get by.  In the afternoon we went to an American style restaurant owned by a couple from Minnesota. I had a coffee milkshake and a burger and was very happy. Then it was off to see an Acholi Dance performance by a youth group that a PCV has worked with for the last 2 years. It was great fun and I think I made many new friends with my enthusiastic attempts to learn parts of the dance! We finished the night at an Ethiopian Restaurant that the local PCVs use as a gathering place every Saturday night.

Staff Hut and Admin Bldgs
Future Assignment Site Visit
Sunday September 11, 2011 – exactly ten years after the Sept 11th terrorist attacks – I set off to visit my host Organization, the Vocational School. I was met by my Counterpart – the accountant, and we traveled to the school. The School is located 8 kilometers south of Gulu on 20 acres and was started by a Reverend (now a Bishop) over 20 years ago, shortly after the war began in Northern Uganda. It has received aid money from the Danish, Germans and Australians (and others) to build dormitories, livestock pens, areas for vocational workshops, and classrooms. It also has working agricultural fields and a mill for grinding grains and maize. Presently they teach tailoring, brick making and concrete work, carpentry & joinery, motor vehicle repair & metal working, and agriculture.  

Administrative Bldgs
Everyone learns the agricultural skills as almost every Ugandan has small gardens/farms for feeding themselves. The school is in process of building an irrigation system to irrigate ¼ acre to insure production through the dry season. In addition to agriculture, all students are required to study English and Entrepreneurial Skills courses. Presently the enrollment is down to 118 from a high of 300 students. This is due to the downturn in the global economy reducing aid budgets as well as funding leaving the area since the war ended. Most students are trying to pay their school fees from their family & friends or from some work they do on the side. Given the desperate nature of this population of youths, many will not attend or finish if they start.

Mission Statement: To provide quality practical skills to orphans, the destitute, formerly abducted youth and school dropouts caught in the insurgency in the Acholi sub-region as well as those affected by the HIV/AIDS scourge to become economically self-supporting and employed.

After touring the school and learning about it from Beatrice, I was taken to a roadside guest house across the main highway for my next 3 nights’ accommodations.  This consisted of several concrete block rooms built in a U-shape that created a concrete courtyard in the center.  The people were very friendly and I felt safe and welcomed. I was informed the next day that I was the first white person to ever stay in their hotel.
My Future Home - I get the Left Side!

I was disappointed my home was not ready but was glad to see construction was in progress. They have commandeered a former student reading room and are making it into 2 small apartments; one for me, and one for our School Director, Diana. It is a round structure approximately 30 feet in diameter. We will each have half of the circular building, each half has 3 rooms, 3 glass windows with decorative metal security bars, and large entry double-doors made of glass with decorative metal security bars. Outside we will share a garden; a pit latrine and a bathing structure….all 3 outside structures are yet to be built. I hope it will be ready by October 14th when I arrive. The good news is there are several mango and Guava Trees on the path to my home!!!
Staff Break Hut
On Monday my supervisor arrived back from her niece’s wedding in Kampala and we hit the ground running at 8am. She reviewed the org history, structure and staff. She also stayed with me the next two nights at the guest house to insure I felt safe and was taken care of properly. We ate our meals there together in the am and pm and enjoyed the chance to get to know each other.
So I now know where I will live and to some extent what I will be working on for the next 2 years. I am excited and a little anxious. I have so many ideas going through my head and hope they will settle into a plan once I start working with my colleagues.  I placed an order for furniture with the Carpentry shop so I hope to have the basics when I arrive. The biggest challenges I see off the bat is that I can only get to Gulu via bicycle, so I will have to purchase one when I arrive; and there is no market or store in my little town of Koro Abili so I will need to go to Gulu often to fetch supplies on my bike. One upside is I think I will have fresh cow’s milk daily since there are milk cows on the school grounds.

50th Anniversary Party for USAID & Peace Corps  
Program & Flowers
I am sure you are all wondering how the big embassy party for the 50th Anniversary of USAID and Peace Corps turned out. Well it was absolutely wonderful on many levels. My fashion-inability did not keep me from having a magnificent time. (I think I looked swell in my Hudson’s Treasure hunt skirt and shirts.) So the embassy is a huge concrete structure covering a large area surrounded by high walls, barbed wire, German shepherds and guards. The guards outside look like Ugandan natives and inside the guards are Marines. So it was like entering a fortress - including metal detectors and security checks. We had to show our Peace Corps IDs and our Printed Invitations with our names on them along with our passports. Getting in was a big deal, no average US pedestrian was getting access to this gala event!

Our crew of approximately 50 people arrived over an hour early – you have to count on bad traffic in order to be assured you make an event in Kampala. Luckily traffic was not too bad and we made really good time. So when we arrived the set up was in its final stages – three large tents had 3 large bars preparing to serve beer & wine and soft drinks. Each tent had numerous tables with beautiful red, white & blue floral arrangements with Ugandan and US flags in them. (At the end of the night I was allowed to take one home to my homestay sister Florence!) There were also many potters showing USAID programs and old Peace Corps recruiting posters. I took a million pictures during the event. So being early we went to the bar on the back grounds of the embassy where Marines were serving hot dogs and there was a bar with – can you imagine my delight – Real US Bourbon and safe ICE.  So being starved for anything from home, we all began eating and drinking the taste of the good old USA. There were people from other Peace Corps Uganda classes and many people from USAID, as well as many Ugandans.
Me in front of PC Recruiting Advertisement

Cultural Dancer
The event had Ugandan drummers and native dancing by girls from an orphanage where a Peace Corps Volunteers is assigned (childrenofuganda.org). The Ambassador Jerry P Lanier (a UNC grad) spoke 1st followed by the Ugandan National Anthem and the US National Anthem. Then Professor Ephraim Kamuntu, the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities spoke. He was a perfect person to talk about the impact USAID and Peace Corps has had on Uganda, as he had a Chemistry teacher from Peace corps and won a scholarship to study in the US from USAID. Afterwards two cakes were cut – one by the Peace Corps Country Director and one by the USAID Mission Director in Uganda.

Well – our group was having a great time. It was nice to hear how appreciative Uganda is for the US support from our 2 organizations and we were all reminded why we joined the Peace Corps in the first place. So when a great band started playing US, Ugandan, and Hispanic tunes, everyone began to dance – including the ambassador and his wife, the Peace Corps country director and many of the volunteers, our trainers and other Ugandans in attendance.
Hot Peace Corps Babes at the Embassy! 
PC Country Director Lucine and Laura Cutting Cake

So now I am in my bed in Wakiso town after just eating a late lunch of fried fish, fried potatoes, fruit salad and sautéed cabbage with vegetables feeling glad to be where I’m at!