Sunday, March 25, 2012

HEAT, Work Update, You want to Join Peace Corps? , Poetry

March 24, 2012

The hardest challenge this last week is the heat. I keep hearing the rainy season is coming; however, the dry season is hanging on with a vengeance. March has been unbearable. The heat is beginning to make me a little nutty. The temps are not higher than in the southern US, but the lack of reprieve is what makes it hard. Remember there is no air conditioning or refrigerators or ice, so the 95-100 degrees never lets up. Several nights this week I lay in bed practically naked on top of my sheets feeling the sweat trickle down my arms and legs. I fantasize about crushed ice in a large big gulp cup of coca cola or a cherry lime-aid from sonic!! Once the rains come – which I hear are very late this year – lucky me – the temps should drop and become lovely again.

Work Update
Agriculture Students Making seed beds in front of laundry drying on drip irrigation fence
Well – It’s been a while since I talked about my work – so here is a quick update.

I think the most successful thing I have done so far was to set up a “library” at my school. I had the chance to buy a box of “throw away” books from an organization who received some books from Books for Africa. This is a US non-profit that sends books by the shipping container load to Africa – the cost is approximately US $4,000 and that covers the shipping of the container to Kampala. I was offered this leftover box of books for approx. US $4 – it had comic books, 12 books on farming in the Midwest and several story books – none of them best sellers or even noteworthy – except for one book on Mardi Gras that I am keeping myself – It helped me explain the Mardi Gras Dabloons (SP?) sent by my big Bro Kirby along with my Rex pin 2012!!! The book had a picture of Rex himself and some Dabloons! Who knew!

Burning dead grass to kill soil bacteria and then mulching ash into soil
Anyway we catalogued the books – approximately 45 in all - and stamped them with the school stamp – and then told the students and staff about the new program. In one day all the books were checked out – and several were read and returned in the very same day and exchanged for another one. In a school where there are no books, not even textbooks and the only materials are notebooks, getting something to read is a rare treat. I have seen the students reading food wrappers to each other. So I am thrilled to see them reading anything. I think I will organize some kind of book drive at some point because this is a real need and this is capacity building – not just handing out money. However – please wait until I get it planned as I have to pay “taxes” on every package that arrives.

Students Listening to entrepreneur speaker
A second, somewhat success, is my Entrepreneur Speaker Series. An idea I borrowed from my Owen School volunteer work! So far we have hosted one speaker. A graduate of our Carpentry & Joinery program from 1999 who has grown a successful small business and now has Carpentry, Metalwork and Agricultural businesses. He spoke about honesty, hard work, delivering what you promise, quality, and the value of a person’s word. I got goose bumps several times during his talk as this is what these young people need to hear.

Entrepreneur speaker audience

I also organized an HIV/AIDS Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) day at Lukodi Village that occurred on Tuesday. Approximately 10% of the Ugandan population is HIV positive. The women of Lukodi had requested this service so they could test the men of the village. This same program will come to test and educate my village of Koro and my school in June. I partnered with an Italian NGO to come and provide these services…all for free. They prefer to go where the service is requested and organized before they arrive.

I also have someone at Peace Corps trying to locate bulk rolls of treated mosquito netting as I believe the school could become a major net supplier in northern Uganda. Our tailoring dept is not well subscribed
and we lack a strong teacher so we could use the idle machines for income generation.  I am hopeful for this initiative but it must be supported by the school to be successful.

I also am looking into a brick making machine for several purposes: training, building a brick fence around our school, new school building needs, and for income generation. In 2009, 40 machines were given to each district in Northern Uganda. A fellow Peace Corps Volunteer has found the one in Arua was idle and had it donated to his catholic vocational school. I am planning to follow up with our Local Council and district engineer to see if the one for Gulu district is being used.  The machine saves money and time and is more eco-friendly.  Our students can use the machine for training on the new technology and for making new school buildings. We presently need a production showroom as well as a new computer center. Eventually we can request a grant for computers.

I am very hopeful to fund much of this through small investments - either grants or loans. I prefer loans as they teach independence and long term are more sustainable. The school has a good banking relationship and already has a positive loan history. So I hope they are not looking for a free ride.

I have been selected to be a staff member at the upcoming Peace Corps Camp for girls between the ages of 14-18. It is called Camp Glow (Girls Leading Our World) and is the last week of April. I will be teaching 2 sessions on income generation activities (IGA’s) and Business skills. I will also help with organizing and logistics when not teaching. My counterpart was also selected so we will both be there together.

So You Think You Want to Join Peace Corps?
This Peace Corps program is still a very challenging adventure…Challenging on more fronts than I can articulate. The cultural divide is wider than I imagined, and the isolation is palpable on a daily basis. Also it is difficult to know if you are making a difference most days…Though I am told I am. According to Peace Corps, our class is presently at the lowest point in the mental health cycle of a PCV. We’ve been here long enough to have the newness wear off (8 months), and we still have a long time to go (19 months). Also we have not seen the fruits of our labors yet – so we can get discouraged. I am working hard to remain upbeat and try to keep a good mental perspective through all of this. But I must warn those who think of joining the Peace Corps that this is a very difficult, lonely journey.  Of my original class of 46 we have lost 3 to medical issues, and 3 to “this is not what I thought it would be”. However, for many it is wonderful. I just attended a good bye dinner for a man in his late 50’s, who is finishing his second Peace Corp service (Mexico for 3 years and Uganda for 2) and he plans to return to the US for 6 months and then rejoin Peace Corps to teach math and science in Jordan for 2 years. So for the right people this is a wonderful life adventure. For me, I am still figuring it out. J
For More on the Ups & Downs visit my friend Nancy’s post from yesterday! She nailed it.

Related to the above challenges, drinking seems to go one way or another…. primarily the younger people drink a lot – maybe as much as, or more as back home; and generally the older PCVs drink less. Of course these are generalizations, and there are old and young who do not follow this trend. For me I have not drank so little alcohol since childhood. I may go 3-4 weeks without anything, and then have one or 2. Drinking for me is a luxury that must have the right environment. Here everything requires so much work, and safety is always on my mind. So, I will plan to have a drink with my buds when I get back on US soil! SO….please keep that bottle of bourbon in your cupboard for me!

Well I have written 34 poems since arriving in Africa. All but the very personal have made it to this blog. This has been a significant part of my personal development and a result of my “Vision Quest”. It has required courage to put on paper my thoughts and feelings as they course through me….Courage to feel them, and listen to them; and then courage to put it on paper; and finally courage to share it. I recognize the themes of what has been on my mind and find them reflecting the person I am. Themes of self-identity, my physical person and the process of aging, the connections of places and friends in my life and my appreciation for them, my joy in nature and in the simple things, and the struggle of all of us as humans to understand our purpose. 

Thanks to those of you who have encouraged me to continue. I have delighted in seeing which ones impact various people. I can post 4 poems and have 4 different people express why different poems resonate with them. So enjoy the ones you like, and leave the rest for others! It’s just a buffet of my thoughts! 
American Skin                   Mar 17, 2012
Sneaking away from the 3rd world
For a bit of respite
Close the curtains
Praise the stars & stripes
Hanging from the ceiling
Of my cement hut
So grateful
For being born an American
Wrapped from birth in this shawl
Of healthy societal institutions
So pervasive
It’s taken for granted
Our layers of protection,
Support, Justice, Freedom
Gift wrapped and delivered
To us, the chosen
Rarely mentioned or noticed
Because it is expected
It is all we have known
Until      …it is gone
The absence is crushing
At times in sub Saharan Africa
Non-existent social services
No garbage collection
No water pipes
No sewage systems
Uncertain judicial processes
Questionable public officials
So grateful for the American wingspan
Reaching - all the way here
Protecting us – Serving us
As we serve
Even here we are privileged
White, Black, Indian, Hispanic, Asian
Wrapped in American Skin
A US Passport
Is our ticket to a place
Where others can only visit
In their dreams
My little slice of America in my home! (Curtains by Walmart!)

Irrational Addiction                         Mar 17, 2012
Warm & Rich
So easy to love
Kick starts the day
Breaks the afternoon
Closes the evening meal
And with friends
Or strangers
This self-indulgent vice
Brings illogical contentment
Reminds me of home
Of happy moments
Of daily routines
With my spouse
My sons
My parents
This humble ritual
This irrational addiction
Delivers so much more
Than a cup of coffee

Envy                      March 4th 2012
So seductive
To see others and be jealous
So easy to point out flaws
Failings of others
To be righteous that they
Don’t Deserve
To believe they are
Unworthy of their Abundance
Of Love
So easy to forget
They struggle
Like you
Like you
Are lost
Like you
Better to Celebrate
Be happy
For Blessings
To pray
Burdens are lessened
To Encourage and Love
Despise Envy
A terrible
Dark facet of our humanness
A direct path to hell
That glitters with temptation
For the weak and lonely
Who cannot see
We are all connected
That Envy is our Enemy

Time                      March 3 2012
To wait
To think
To day dream
To let go
To breathe
To listen to your spirit
To be

To remember
To forget
To inspect & evaluate
To meditate
Or not

Like you’ve never taken before
Continues forward
Regardless of you or your plans
Don’t wish the minutes to quicken
Passing like waters of a swollen river
Sink into the seconds
Like a queen surrounded by silken luxury
To be self-indulgent

Masks                   March 3, 2012
Wearing many faces
Playing the parts
That are expected
Woman, Wife, Mother, Parent,
Child, Boss, Employee, Consultant, Expert
All requiring
Bits of my soul
Bits of my time
Pulling me to pieces
Reduced to anonymous titles
My name, myself, my Spirit
My joy
While the masks graft into my skin
Pained and scared
I remove them
Defiant to be unlabeled
The multitudes scream
This challenges the expected order
Threatens those who demand
I remain under the spell
I extricate
The treasure
Of me

Friday, March 16, 2012

Response to Kony2012

Short Blog in Response to Kony2012

OK my 2 cents - In terms of the Kony2012 thing - everyone here thinks its surprising this has come up now, as he has been gone from Uganda for 6 years. However he is a scary evil dude and the world would be better without him - I am working and living in the aftermath of Kony's legacy and yes it was horrible!!! 

An IDP camp (Internally Displaced Persons camp) was across the road from our school. The entire community slept at the camp every night for many years to avoid abduction - they cut the trees down to stop rebels from hiding in them.

However not just kids were abducted and killed - thousands of adults / parents were killed - there are so many orphans and people who lost one parent. These are my students - the orphaned and the returned child soldiers. Most have been returned from the "bush" but all are scarred. The students here have lost siblings just like the kid in the movie - often burned to death in their huts.

I have met people aged 16-30 who escaped but have burns and stab wound scars to prove it. 20 years it went on and we never knew. On top of that AIDS was rampant in the camps as people had little to do but drink and have sex - so there is a huge HIV positive percentage in these communities.

By the way - Invisible Children sponsors several kids at my school. So they are here on the ground helping kids get educated.

I personally like his idea and tactics but its a little after the fact. The biggest problem now however is that 20 years of aid has led to a society of dependency. People don't want to work for school fees when foreign aid will pay for it. Everyone asks me for money because I am white and that is what white people do. A whole generation grew up with food relief so people dont want to farm. There are numerous programs now to jump start the farming process again.

USAID has been very involved here for a while as well - so dont write off the American Govt for not helping. There was no mention of that at all in the movie.

So I like the idea of empowering people to stop a war - I just think its after the fact - but still a good thing to do. Like killing Osama 10 years after 9/11 - a nice closure but not changing a lot. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Night, VAC, ESCAPE!, Beautiful Uganda, ...Poetry

Friday Night
Its March and I have been here 7 months – only 20 left.
In some ways it seems to have gone rather quickly. Though there are days I think to myself – “I still have 1 and ¾ years left.” That overwhelms a bit. However, I continue to be excited to meet the person I will be on the day I return to the USA. So I continue to sharpen the saw, polish the glass, and view the world through a new lens.  

I returned home from work, carried water to my bathing room outside, turned on the drip irrigation for the night and then picked the leaves off of a local green I purchased at the Koro market. This green is called “Bo” (pronounced Beaux) ….they have another green called “Do-Do” (pronounced Deaux Deaux – like the bird). I cook them both like spinach and tonight did a great job making pasta with Bo, onions, garlic, and fresh tomato with olive oil and parmesan cheese.  (Thanks for the Parmesan in my last packages!!) I made Brownies last weekend and am perfecting the baking in a two pots over a gas stove technique) Practice makes perfect…almost! Please know that you are all on my mind constantly and I have a wall of fame to remind me of your affection!
Wall of Fame! 

I just returned from Kampala where I attended a Volunteer Advisory Committee Meeting (VAC).  I rode down on the post bus with my friends Nancy & Michelle.  We stayed at the New City Annex – a popular Peace Corps Hotel/Hostel. The rooms are priced at 20,000 Ugandan Shillings per bed…a little under $10 US.  There are hall bathing rooms and real toilets, and a sink in the middle of the hall for brushing teeth. Feels like a dormitory, but this ranks as luxury to those of us in the villages.

We usually get a triple room and the 3 VAC members (Me, Alia, Michelle) stay together and catch up on each other’s PC adventures. We also provide support and a listening ear for the numerous challenges faced in the field. It’s amazing how much this camaraderie helps us keep perspective and allows us to share ideas for coping with the constant stress of living like a local in Africa. The hotel room with 3 women feels a lot like sleepovers from my youth….Especially since I am almost twice the age of Alia and Michelle.

We are feeling a bit down – the 7 month slump – as we realize we have a long time remaining and we don’t yet feel like we are hitting full stride in our projects. We hear this is normal for a PCV – so we just wait for the next wave to overtake us…the thrill of feeling like we are making a real impact.

Escape for Mental Health!
So to escape our present reality, we went to a movie theater and saw “This Means War” – I really enjoyed it, especially watching Reese Whitherspoon and the 2 hunky men. It truly was a great escape – seeing cities with traffic rules and a semblance of order, functioning appliances, sidewalks etc...  I forgot for a minute I was in Uganda….until the projector broke, and we sat in the theatre waiting for the thing to be fixed. Since it was a Tuesday at 2pm, we were the only people in the theatre. The good news was the projector was repaired – otherwise I think I would have “blown a gasket”. We also ate pizza (not like US pizza but a girl can pretend) and had Chinese food that actually tasted like Chinese food! Miracles in Kampala do exist.

Sunny and Beautiful Uganda

I keep being bowled over by the lovely vegetation they have here. The trees and flowers are breath taking and I seem to be the only one who notices them. I have never lived in California, but I think the weather is similar – they just have more rain. So it’s naturally green – not green by design. (Shout out to Bro Robert, Landscape Guru in LA).  We are starting to get excited here for the rainy season. This means we will be planting crops in our gardens soon. I am hiring several students to clear the land and create the beds for me. So I get to have all the fun. I brought tons of seeds and can’t wait to get them in the ground!

Classes are in full swing. We have 4 Metal Working/Motor Vehicle Mechanics Classes; one Driving class; 1 Tailoring class; 4 Building & Concrete Practice classes,1 Agriculture class and 2 carpentry classes. The Sponsored Program from GUSCO that I wrote about previously has begun. They chose to sponsor 51 students and we are providing 3 month vocational courses to this group. This helps the school with its finances and makes a big difference to those in the community.  I learned it is funded by UNICEF – so thanks to those fine people!

Poetry (A little carried away with my physical self this month!)

The Illusion Youth            Feb 02, 2012
The illusion of youth is certainty
Being so sure of what is
Indignant at those who question
Knowing what is right all the time

Now a bit envious of those times
Not for the physical indications of youth
But for its solace of sureness
Missing that feeling of confident righteous certainty
The ease of moving through time and space
Self-assured, easy

Though knowing it was illusion
We cannot return there
So we travel more timidly
With understanding & forgiveness
Through the uncertain terrain
Blessing the broken, weak & struggling
Realizing our shared humanity
Connects us all

Only certain now that grey consumes Black & White

Ode to my Choppers                      Feb 13, 2012
I am one of THOSE people
A Flosser
I love my teeth
The never ending delight they bring

Crunching Ice
Slicing Steak
Popping Cherry Tomatoes

So glad to have healthy teeth
Flashing a bright smile
Showing the world
They are not ignored
Not taken for granted
These Teeth are cherished!

Moderation                        Feb 2012

Not too much
Not too little
Somewhere in the middle

Avoiding extremes
Keeping perspective
Remaining in check
Sidestepping destruction
And burnt fingers

Finding pleasure
In the subtle & sublime
Relinquishing the adrenaline euphoria
For a richer calmer bliss

Aging Friend                       March 2, 2012

She’s been there through it all
A friend for life – literally
Always near & usually cooperative of my plans

As a young girl I hardly noticed her
Took her for granted
Assumed she would forever rise to the occasion

I couldn’t complain
She is active, athletic, rarely sick
Through the birth of my children
She performed admirably
There was no doubting her abilities

Around 30 I noticed a few blemishes:
Stretch marks, smile lines
A slight slackening of the skin
At 35 the grey began to peek through
Small silver rivers, mostly hidden

At 45 she couldn’t pretend
She was a young thing anymore
Too much evidence to the contrary
The appalling age spots
Protruding veins
Loose skin at the neck

Seeing her in full bright light
I realized my friend was aging
I suppose I saw it coming
But didn’t notice the years piling up
Natural forces taking their toll

Again – no complaints
She continues to do as she is asked
Though now I pay her more attention
Listen when she is tired
Grateful she can participate in my activities
She really is terrific
This aging friend & partner
My amazing body