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.
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!

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.
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