Sunday, August 28, 2011

Yes Indeed - Africa is Different from Nashville

Overall my assimilation into Uganda has gone smoothly since being placed in my Homestay Family in Wakiso Town for the 10\-week Peace Corps Training.  I live with a lovely lady and her 6 year old nephew. My host sister is the first person to take great care of me since I was a child. She heats water twice a day for me to take a bucket bath - which is actually a very sensual and personal experience. I have not spent such quiet relaxing time with myself in a long while. I get home from class - which is an hour hike each way - and I come into my home where there is frequently a fresh Mango waiting for me. I then may go with my 6 year old to the nearby well to haul water to the house. He is a very strong boy because, like most Ugandan children, he must carry approximately 15 liters of water per person to the house each day. I help when I can but this young man does the lion's share for our home of 3 people. 

My host family in front of our home

My sister speaks English very well, so I am lucky to have good communication during my stay. Not everyone is so lucky. She is also a good cook. All drinking water must be boiled and all vegetables cooked or blanched in boiling water and she cooks over charcoal or kerosene. Just getting this all done requires her to rise early and work all day. She is a gracious host and I am very fond of her. Ugandans are also very clean. They bathe twice a day and iron all their clothes - frequently using a charcoal iron...if you can imagine that!!

What is very different in Uganda is the general lack of easy access to water, electricity, and waste disposal. Water is available, but most people must carry it home. Rain collection is very big but usually must be subsidized with carrying from the well in the dry season.  Electricity is somewhat available in the towns - my home is wired for it and we receive it about 3-5 hours per day...but it is inconsistent and not easily predictable, so you can never count on it. 

The worst situation is the waste disposal. There is no collection of waste in almost all locations. My city of Wakiso Town ( has a population of 21,000 has no trash disposal.   Thus people burn or bury their trash....and in the poorer places they leave it on the roadside in front of their homes and stores. There is also no removal of waste water and this facilitates the high disease rates in this country.  Peace Corps does a good job at teaching us how to handle these hygiene challenges and, with diligence, one can navigate through the challenges and remain healthy. My home has a pit latrine ...that is a hole in the ground covered by a cement floor and raised above the "Pit". It is covered when not being used in order to reduce access by flies - this one precaution reduces the incidence of disease by a great percentage. Lucky for me my Yoga teacher Jen helped me get in Pit Latrine shape before I arrived. Thanks Jen for all the squats!!

Another big change is the road system - or lack there of!!. There are a few paved roads in Uganda - only the main roads from the capital to the other large cities are paved -  all the rest are dirt/mud roads. Trucks get stuck daily as the rains create flash floods and gullies and trenches form in the middles of the roads. Thus transportation is unpredictable and traveling 200 miles can easily take 8 or more hours.  

So the big difference is LACK OF INFRASTRUCTURE. Americans are so spoiled with all our public works and systems that we take for granted. Please be thankful for our roads, water, sanitation, electricity and gas. Our level of convenience is unfathomable to the average Ugandan. 

In 2 weeks I get to travel to Gulu town for language immersion and the week after that, I get to tour the site I will be assigned to for the next 2 years. Once I know where I am going to live and what organization I will be assigned to, I think it will really get exciting.

Yesterday we had a recreational day and toured the Entebbe Zoo and Botanical gardens - Robert you would have loved the tropical forests at the botanical gardens!!!!

Karla at the Botanical Gardens! Loved-Loved-Loved it!!!
Our group of 46 is developing strong friendships and we will be great support for one another over the next 2 years.  Stay in touch!!!
Love you all tons! Karla

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I made it!!!!

Posted Thurs Aug 18th....
08/13/2011 - Saturday
 Wow it’s been a strange trip so far and seems so long since I left Philadelphia.  We arrived in Entebbe Uganda on Thursday August 4th close to midnight after approximately 30 hours of travel – it was exhausting but that was just the beginning. Several people’s bags were broken into somewhere between Brussels, Kigali (Rwanda) and Entebbe and we waited as a group for them to file a police report. We arrived at our temporary quarters around 1 am and our bags were unloaded into the pitch black night – none of us had our flashlights and the 46 of us were trying to identify our 4 bags each totaling 100+ pounds.
Needless to say it was chaotic after our drive from Philly to NY and then 3 flights to arrive in Uganda. The big surprise was 20 females – including me - were placed in one large room with bunk beds and one inside bathroom. Of course our luggage couldn’t fit anywhere except under our beds and around the walls in their closed positions. There were two small fluorescent bulbs to light the room, so we did our best to brush our teeth and find something to sleep in. By the time we were all in bed, it was 2:30am and we were told to be dressed and at breakfast at 7am with training starting at 8:30. There were grumblings, but we all felt sure it was going to get better.
The training overall is top notch. Most weeks we train from 8am until 5 pm – so we are lacking in down time. We have medical training and medical kits with supplies for most any situation. We have learned “Survival Lugandan” the language spoken in Central Uganda. We have had security and safety briefings and have phone numbers for all the local police and the US Embassy. Most useful is the cross cultural training where we learn how most Ugandans bathe – using a bucket – and wash clothes –  how they cook - and how to use the pit latrines. These are useful to be able to make it in-country for 27 months. We have mostly local Ugandan trainers who are well educated and have traveled some outside Uganda. They are very hospitable and caring people, like most people I have met here. We also have some currently serving Peace Corps Volunteers who can tell us how they have navigated the process. We have started several series of shots (Hep A & B, Rabies, Meningitis) and our malaria meds – which we will take until 4 weeks after we leave Uganda.
It has been wonderful in many ways, but the hardest part during the first week was the living conditions. Aside from the married couples who received their own bungalows, most people had 5 roommates in a room approximately 12 x 14 feet, while the lucky ones like me shared a room the size of my living room with 19 other people.  These close quarters created the inability to get to our luggage easily and led to challenging sanitary conditions in a country already fairly challenged in that arena.  Add to all this our serious jet lag and the numerous immunizations we receive every few days and our malaria meds and of course you will have people getting sick.  A virus began in our room of 20 and fairly quickly several people were sick. So after 3 nights they moved 8 people out of the big dorm and I was put in a small hut with 5 others, which at this point felt luxurious – but again the access to our things was difficult. We had to keep everything under the beds and closed against the wall. And remember this is Africa – so no hot water – very little running water – and electricity that works on whim.
Official Group Stats
·         16 Males, 36 Females
·         ½ Econ Development Volunteers & ½ Community Health
·         5 Married Couples
·         19 people 22-26 years old
·         12 people 27-32
·         1 person 33-50 (ME)
·         14 people over 50!
·         3 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers – they came back for more!
We spent the first week in a hotel called Banana Village near Entebbe. During that week we started our 10-week training regimen and toured Kampala in groups of 3-4 accompanied by one of our trainers. This was essential as this is not an easy town to navigate without an introduction. Here we purchased cell phones and any items we needed while getting to see the city.
On Thursday Aug 12th we moved to a new training facility located in the town of Wakiso. It is in the same district as Kampala so we are still in the Central part of the country. Here we were all sent to host families to live for the remaining training schedule. Mine is a lovely lady named Florence and she has hosted 3 prior Peace Corps trainees like me – though I am her oldest yet!  She is teaching me how to act like a Ugandan including shopping, cooking and washing clothes their way.
Today (Sat Aug 13) is our first free day since arriving in country and I am recovering from Bacillary Dysentery for the last several days. I am not alone in this joyful experience as this is expected while you adjust to the local “flora & fauna”.  The Medical team put me on Cipro and I am now on the upswing.  I spent the afternoon playing soccer with my 3 year old neighbor who has a shy twin. Our ball was a wad of old plastic shopping bags rolled into a roundish object. She kept giggling and calling me Muzungu – the word for white person. This is shouted as we travel the streets by groups of smiling children waving and saying “bye bye” – which I thing they thinks means “Hi”.
Tonight I went to town with Florence and bought some more airtime minutes for my cell phone as well as peanut butter and 2 rolls of toilet paper…my life essentials these days.  I speak to my husband most nights as he has purchased a calling plan through Skype. I also heard from Number 2 son, who is leaving soon to begin his college career.
I now know the region that I will be serving in – Northern Uganda, and my language - Acholi. This means when you visit me after traveling for close to 24 hours, I will still be approximately 5-8 hours away. Look up the city of Gulu – it is the largest city in the north for some info on the area.
The hardest thing is not having internet access. Now that I am settled, I hope to find a way to get my emails and to post to my blog. I love and miss so many people!!  Know you are with me in spirit and in my thoughts frequently. 
Love K

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Musings on the Eve of Departure

Like Elvis - I have left the building....the city of Nashville....and tomorrow the USA. I have been saying goodbye since March and I frankly am tired of my story and saying goodbye. How wonderful to finally say "HELLO UGANDA"!

Today I left my home, my dogs, my husband and my sons and flew to Philly for 24 hours of "staging" - a nice word for are you sure you want to do this and do you understand what's expected of you.

Here are the Core Expectations For Peace Corps Volunteers

In working toward fulfilling the Peace Corps Mission of promoting world peace
and friendship, as a trainee and Volunteer,  you are expected to:
1.  Prepare your personal and professional life to make a commitment to serve abroad for a full term of 27 months
2.  Commit to improving the quality of life of the people with whom you live and work; and, in doing so, share your skills, adapt them, and learn new skills as needed
3.  Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective
4.  Recognize that your successful and sustainable development work is based on the local trust and confidence you build by living in,
and respectfully integrating yourself into, your host community and culture
5.  Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your personal conduct and professional performance
6.  Engage with host country partners in a spirit of cooperation, mutual learning, and respect
7.  Work within the rules and regulations of the Peace Corps and the local and national laws of the country where you serve
8.  Exercise judgment and personal responsibility to protect your health, safety, and well-being and that of others
9.  Recognize that you will be perceived, in your host country and community, as a representative of the people, cultures, values, and
traditions of the United States of America
10.  Represent responsibly the people, cultures, values, and traditions of your host country and community to people in the United States both during and following your service

It was overall a wonderful day. I was accompanied to Philadelphia by my eldest son who was on his way to DC. We left 2 teary eyed men at security in Nashville, and headed out for the final goodbye in the Philadelphia airport.  I cried on the plane several times and smiled to myself as I let the emotions flow through me. I know I am ready, but it is hard to peel yourself out of your life for 27 months.

What I learned Over the last several months

Some friends and family readily support you when you choose to do something that scares most people ....and some just don't get it. Some eventually come around and some most likely never will. That's OK - everyone can only go to places where they know how to get to. I love everyone who has tried to embrace my adventure solely because its important to me. My husband wins the biggest prize for understanding why I need to do this....he said "go for it" the first time I told him about it. He has made the last several weeks wonderful by understanding my stresses and my excitement and helping me navigate the myriad of parties, dinners and lunches. 2nd runner up is a tie for my sons who have found a way to make me feel cherished as a Mom....It hasn't felt this good since they were 8 & 9 and thought I was the most amazing woman ever.

I  learned I really need and adore my girl friends.....thanks for the gifts you share so generously.

I also learned I like change - I have missed it and love not knowing whats coming over the next several months.

A dear friend shared a poem with me that helps express why I am in the Peace Corps...

...I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering; what is it going to be like?And therefore I look upon everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood, and I look upon time as no more  than an idea, and I consider eternity as another possibility, and I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular, and each name a comfortable music in the mouth tending as all music does, toward silence, 
and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth.When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. 
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.When it's over, I don't want to wonder have made of my life something particular, and real. I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
~ Mary Oliver ~

Just the Facts Mam
My "class" has 46 people. There are at least 16 people over 40 - I was at a table of 8 and I was the youngest person.
There are 5 married couples - 3 mature Marriages and 2 younger ones. There are only 2 from the Southeast - including me. Chicago sent the most volunteers.I have a roommate in the hotel in Philly from Missouri - she is such a nice soul and reminds me of my niece. 

We are being bused to NYC in the am and leave JFK at 6:30 for Brussels.  We have a 3 hour layover and then fly to Kigali Rwanda and then finish in Entebbe Uganda at 9:45pm local time (1:45pm CST). We will spend 6 days in a conference center with dormitory housing to get the basics on Uganda survival and get all our shots and malaria meds. Then we go to a training facility near Wakisi where we will be sent to live with host families who do not speak English. We will live there for 9 weeks while we attend classes and assuming we pass the language classes we will be sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers and will be sent to our assigned site. 

We were told that we will not have access to communication for at least the first 2 weeks - so don't expect to hear anything from me for a while.