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
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 ( 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!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Gulu Town or Bust!

Woo-Hoo I am going to the outskirts of a fairly large town..dare I say in Uganda. I will be 4 hours north of Kampala in the area that until just 5 years ago was ravaged by a 20+ year war and reign of terror. I will be working as a business adviser to a vocational school. I am very excited as this ties in many of my loves. Working with young adults, growing business ideas and income generating activities, working with my hands, and having variety in my daily activities. I hear they have carpentry, electrical, plumbing, brick making, agriculture, animal husbandry etc.... Yes - I will most likely be able to have a garden as they have a program in agriculture :).

Tomorrow I leave for 3 days of language immersion in Gulu Town. There are 13 Acholi speaking language students and we are all being immersed in Gulu Town, a bonus for me and the other 5 volunteers being placed in the Gulu area.  On Sunday I travel a few kilometers to my actual site and will meet my supervisor and local counterpart. Both are women so I am excited to meet these ladies. I spend 3 nights there...cant wait to see where I will be living for the next 2 years.  Then I travel back solo to my home-stay in Wakiso for my last 4 weeks in training.

A fun event is scheduled for Thursday Sept 15th; our entire class of 46 is invited to the US Embassy for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps. I need to find something fancy enough to wear. My Merrill Boots and Chacos wont cut it. I wish my sister Adele could come and dress me up pretty!!! Adele is amazing with fashion, style and class. Guess the Ambassador will have to settle for my fashion-in-ability!

Sorry to make this short - I will write more when I return in a week with lots more info.
Eat a hamburger, a chocolate bar and have a coke over ice for me!!!! Love K