Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jan 28, 2012 BOG, Graduation, All-VOL, Africa Burning, Matatus, Poetry

Happy Birthday to my one in a million Niece!

Board Inauguration – My school is governed by a board of governors (BOG) and we have just had a change over to a new board. This requires getting the new members together along with the Gulu District Education Officer (DEO) who must inaugurate the board. The meeting was scheduled to start at 10am – this means I was ready to take the notes at my post at 10am. However the DEO did not arrive until 11:45 and one of our new members did not arrive until 12:30. Therefore we started 2.5 hours late. No one seemed concerned about this so I just kept practicing my new Zen like breathing technique. Something I am mastering over the course of my Peace corps experience. Everyone who spoke – which is most of the 13 people, started and ended with a prayer and a bible verse. This is the way it is done in Uganda – and it still feels weird coming from the US where this is against the law in most business settings. We ended with a meal of rice, goat stew and cabbage which we ate with our fingers – something I am still not very adept at - and the locals frequently laugh at my poor eating talents.

Graduation – I attended my Counterpart’s Graduation party on Saturday last week. She graduated from Gulu University with her Bachelors in Business Administration. She is a married, fulltime working mom of three and has fit in going to school on the weekends for three years. She is truly the best of African women in my book. Anyway she and her husband hosted a party at her home. I rode there with my supervisor and we arrived at 4:30pm. Upon our arrival we were seated just behind the row of major family important people. There is a serious etiquette to where you sit, and I was surprised to be placed so close to the front of the tent. Being the only Munu (White Person), I suppose that makes you something of a dignitary! So then began the 5 hours of speeches. Even I was asked to say a few words. (We did get a break to eat after 2 hours.)
There were family members from her home in West Nile and the most senior member of her clan had a long pole with something like a goat tail on the end of it. During the speeches he would jump up and wave the “scepter” and hoot and holler and incite the crowd.  At 9:30 the dancing started and I was told we were expected to spend the night there as is the custom in Acholi land. Luckily my supervisor also wanted to sleep in her own bed and not dance all night so we quietly excused ourselves.
My Counterpart

Senior relative celebrating!

Northern PC Volunteer All Vol
– I went to Kitgum this last week to listen to various PCV’s speak about projects they have implemented and receive advice on assimilating into our new positions.We met under a Mango tree near a PCV's Hut.  I learned of an NGO here in Uganda implementing alternative forms of discipline (to discourage caning and other abusive practices) as well use positive incentives for behavior change. My Director is interested in learning more about this. I also observed a demonstration on making liquid soap. This soap is for dishes, washing clothes and floors, etc. There is a savings group in my school that is very interested in this skill for an income generating activity – so I have asked the PCV that has been doing this to come train my school and possibly a womens group in another village. My counterpart says she wants to train her mom so she can make soap in west Nile area. I also saw a cool Metal charcoal burning stove that perhaps my school metal working dept can make. So the conference seems to have been very useful. We also learned of several upcoming camps in the Northern region for young men and women – so I plan to volunteer to work those camps in April. I also returned with Moringa  tree seeds that I will plant in the wet season – it is a veritable magical tree with amazing health & nutrition properties.

JoAngel-a friend I made!

Africa Burning – it is the Dry Season – it could also be called the burning season. Every day there is someone nearby burning their fields to clear it for next season. This is called bush burning and it is not good for the environment or for my lungs.  All day little pieces of ash fall from the sky and collect in my bathing area, latrine, in my house, on my desk etc. There are small dark grey smoke columns rising up on the horizon from all directions. Some how they seem to control these fires and keep them from spreading across the landscape, however for the life of me I can’t tell how they are doing it.

-these are van sized taxis that have 5 rows of seats. The front seat has the driver and is supposed to seat three across. The remaining seats are also 3 across but in Matatus, the minimum across is four people. This means on any given ride there will be between 19 and 28 people squeezed into the “taxi”. Recently My friend Nancy and I took a Matatu from Kitgum back to Gulu after attending the Northern Peace corps All-Volunteer Conference. We were in the 3rd row and decided to buy three seats to insure we were not crammed in to the fullest. This is an incredibly spoiled American behavior, but I have some limits on my level of African integration. Our driver accepted our requirement of no more than 3 across our row, but that did not stop him from putting up to 6 people in the rows in front and behind us. We were traveling for 3 hours on an unpaved road. It was actually a pretty drive past villages with mud huts with chickens, cattle and goats wandering about for my entertainment!


Bone Tired                                                           Dec 14,  2011
Tired in a way that Sleep won’t heal
A boxer depleted on the mat
Trying to will himself back on his feet
Though not sure he wants to try
Afraid he will have the wind knocked out once again
Yet more afraid to give up
An exhausted spirit
With a small intense flame
Hopes to re-ignite a raging fire
Yet also praying for an illness
To surrender into
To justify not continuing to try
For all he feels is
Bone Tired

Just a Long Walk                                              Jan 19th 2012
I keep reminding myself
It’s just a long walk
It doesn’t take more than one step at a time
One foot, then the other
Really that is not hard
If you take it in small pieces
Breaking it up
So that the magnitude does not overwhelm
So my coming to Africa for 2 years
Is like a long walk
And the only way to eat an African Elephant
Is one bite at a time J

Magic                                                                  Jan 19th, 2012
Sing praise for the magical powers it has
Beloved by man, and unable to be dissected by science
All races revere, practice, and celebrate it
In it, Babies and elders delight
Youth carry it like armor and fling it at the world
Sad and happy people employ it
Milestones, rites of passage, and years are marked with it
As well as small daily increments
The sun is brighter
The wind softer
The night darker
The run easier
The touch of a lover more loving
All because of the magic of Music

Standing Still                                                  Jan 19th, 2012
Standing Still, For longer than you imagined
So still, so you can hear your breath, your heartbeat, the world turning
So long that you are off balance, disoriented
 So quiet that you might disappear

You stand, still listening, for answers
Not fully knowing your questions
Hoping both are revealed in time

You left
Searching for clues, signs, smoke signals
To gain perspective, To find meaning
So you stand still, forgetting to breathe
Wondering, Waiting, Watching
Not ready to move just yet
Hoping Goodness and Mercy shall follow
The Stillness

Joy of Running to Water                           Jan 22, 2012
Late afternoon
In the dry season
Tethered to a tree
For hours
Full on Grass
Parched & Dry
Demanding release
Bellowing to anyone
Excitement as a farm attendant arrives
Bringing Freedom

Heels kicking
Frolicking with anticipation
Across the football pitch
Over the path
Giddy with happiness
Eyes Singing
Nose plunges into Coolness
Cow Heaven!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Uganda Routine, Chickens as a sign of Respect & Friendship, Bountiful Blessings from USA

Uganda Routine
I am fully settled in at my site. My 3 room home is really comfortable and I am enjoying so much time with myself. I hope I won’t be too boring after all this down time. My days are busy – during the week I rise at 6 have a Starbucks Via and am outside turning on the drip irrigation at 6:30 and then watering my little vegetable garden – since it’s the dry season there is never any rain and it’s hot and sunny all day. Watering requires me to carry 2 5-gallon watering cans back & forth for almost 45 minutes each morning and evening. I estimate I carry 20-24 cans twice a day. So – to my friend Jen, the Goddess of Fitness, my arms are getting very strong.

I try to get to the internet at 7:45 which entails carrying my computer close to the main road to pick up a signal, and am at work by 8. (No internet in my office-BUMMER) Then I work in an office with our accountant and the school director – mostly giving advice and trying to keep the team organized and thinking strategically. I make lots of lists and review them all the time.  I also help them with proposals and grant applications. I share Microsoft Office tips and try to help them increase their productivity. I also spend time coaching the Director on leadership skills and management issues. The group is nice and appreciates my input.

Since I live on the school grounds, I walk home for lunch – almost always a blend of Ugandan Chapati (flat fried bread) – and something from America. I usually read for ½ and hour and then it’s back to the office. I generally leave around 5:30 and get on the internet again and frequently skype the hubby, and then walk to my house and change into my garden clothes. I again run the drip irrigation system and water my vegetables. Around 7pm I bath and then come inside to cook dinner. I have fresh milk every day from our school cows. I must boil it and have become quite addicted to my warm milk with cinnamon before bedtime. I usually save a little for my coffee in the am.

Weekends are filled with chores: clothes washing, weeding, cleaning house and more rigorous garden work. I also go to town when I need to, but have now enlisted my co-workers into shopping for me, so I can skip the bike ride to Gulu Town most weekends. This does mean I don’t have a lot of interaction with non-Ugandans. But so far this has been OK. I do have a week-long training in March with my Peace Corps class – and I am looking forward to that.

Seems Chickens are a very popular way to tell someone you respect them and appreciate their friendship. Twice this week I have had to explain that I really don’t want a live chicken, and I would rather they kill it and cook it, and then share the meal with me. One woman said she understands that I don’t know what to do with a live chicken, so she wants to give me a sack of charcoal. Since I use a gas stove,  I also had to turn down this generous gift. SO I am hoping that I have not insulted anyone. I assume they think I am a strange and weak American and give me some slack for my lack of chicken slaughtering skills.

Bountiful Blessings
So far I have received 25 packages and 28 hand written letters since October. I doubt there is another person in the history of Peace Corps who has received more in just 3.5 months at site. I am actually now embarrassed to bring home another package from the post office.  The cost of mailing me one package is equal to the monthly salaries of our 3 farm attendants combined. This doesn’t even count the value of the contents inside. So while I am enjoying tuna, dried fruit, M&Ms, short bread cookies, Crystal Light, iced tea, Almond Roca, etc; my co-workers are eating posho (a white starchy concoction) and beans and drinking water. I burn all the packages and wrappers to hide the evidence. To be fair, I do share some of my gifts – the candies, cookies, drink mixes, etc. but I am still slightly bothered by my immense food supply. My wealth overwhelms me at times!

The message to you is please don’t send me anything else….unless I beg J I have more than enough to last a year or two.

The message to me is I am the most blessed and supported Peace Corps volunteer in the history of the organization. 
In Acholi I say – Apwoyo Matek! (Thank you very much!)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sister Love, New Year Poems, Webmaster (NOT!)

Happy New Year - I am having a great holiday season and wish you one as well!
My big Sis Gretchen  - an international ballet star - turned 50 on 12-27-2011 - so you will get her poems first.

I have been prolific today - So grab a Coffee - or Tea! Send back your radiant love, and I will catch it off the breeze!

Gretchen, Karla, Grace, Kirby

My Sister
Joy & Power entwined with love envelop you when she enters
Her energy & fitness are palpable
She is the dancer….and the music
There is no separation
Her heart, spirit & body are always on center stage
She is busy creating, designing, choreographing
All the while she is able to encourage, laugh and shine her light 
on all who are blessed to know her
She is my sister, Gretchen!
Gretchen, Kirby, Karla

Karla, Gretchen

Karla top left; Gretchen, Our Dancer, seated right of teacher

Our Dancer, Gretchen
A joyful enthusiastic participant in all she does
A fiery spirit that pierces you with intensity
A protective & gentle mother, lover, wife
A spitfire of movement and grace
A generous heart that shares all
A positive sister & friend
A teacher of dance & life
A rich complex soul
Our Dancer,

New Day-New Year- New Decade …..for me
2012 brings my 5th decade – quite a Surprise to me
When I say it out loud; in my mosquito net, to myself
So what is this year to bring? What does it herald?
None of us ever knows –So, I am resolved to be joyful and open
Not to fear or fret – it has taken me 50 years to learn this lesson
What comes, will come; regardless of my concerns and worries
So I have sent my worries a’ packing!
I live in the present – for today
Placing my future in my faith in God, in the universe, in the goodness of my fellow time travelers
I wish peace, happiness, and freedom from suffering to all earths creatures this Year
What a gift to have the perspective from a different continent
The light is clearer from here.

The New Year is here – I shared it with Dolly Parton. Africa never ceases to surprise me.
Sitting alone – waiting for New Year’s eve to pass
as I am alone, frequently, with myself, my best friend.
Dolly began singing on a nearby breeze. REALLY – wafting across the fields to me.
Dolly – from Nashville – Tennessee – USA from 20 years ago – was singing in Uganda
And no one felt the magnitude of it but me
It made my eyes well up with longing for home. 
I knew all the words.
She will always love me – in her coat of many colors – from nine to five!
REALLY an entire Dolly Album brought me home for almost an hour
So after all it is a happy New Year for me!

African Safari                  
I am on an African Safari – for 27 months – it will change me forever
I pray, for the better – but there are no guarantees
Safari means Journey – for me, a walk about – a vision quest
A chance to connect, To Myself – To Others – To the Universe
I feel it working – I think
I try to think less and feel more
I feel like an observer
Here, but disconnected
Awaiting the outcome
No hints, no cheat sheets
I might as well enjoy the ride
and wait for the results with everyone else

Tree Hugger     (Shout out to my Bro Bar-B-Q on this one!)                                                                                                            
So be it – you are a tree hugger
Yep – you love trees
You feel them – Alive, Breathing, Strong, Peaceful
They stand their ground
They watch over you …and all who pass
And you are so grateful for their unbending love
You are in awe of their steadfast presence
Their commitment to their place
Their slow and steady personal growth
As Protector and Guardian
They provide shelter, shade, safety so many
You relish their diversity – rough, smooth, tall, dwarf, bushy, spear-shaped
Large leafed, needle leafed, fragrant, sticky – all magnificent
Of course you cannot help
But hug trees

...With Optimism for the coming year - Karla