Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Food Snob, Wonderful Weather, Work, Poetry

I am learning that Peace Corps is not for the faint of heart, nor for the food snob. I am doing OK on the first test, but failing miserably on the second one. Seems my New Orleans upbringing makes me love food more than the average PCV. Not just food, but good, well-seasoned, food – and, it seems, I require variety….silly me!

I say this because I have lost a lot of weight over here – so much so that I went to Peace Corps medical in Kampala for a slew of tests to see what was up. Good news is that I have no worms or parasites or water borne illnesses – I just seem to not like the food enough to eat a lot of it. I definitely try – but almost all my meals necessitate me forcing myself to eat and swallow as nothing taste good to me over hear.  I also saw a therapist in Kampala because the medical team wanted to see if I was depressed….which both the therapist and I believe, I am not.

I am however very isolated and too removed from enough food sources to meet my food snob needs. I have been lucky to have a restaurant (called a Hotel over here) open up across from my school in the trading center.  They have boiled goat, stewed chicken, rice, Do-Do (greens), cabbage and fried eggs. Yesterday when I crossed kampala road I was greeted by a baby monkey tied to the rail of the restaurant. It was just a few weeks old and was kind of cute and kind of scary. They caught it in their garden and decided to keep it as a pet - and most likely marketing gimmick. But I kept imagining it carries rabies so i stayed far away. 

So I am now trying to eat one meal a day at this restaurant at least 5 days a week. So far I have made it 1 week….but the lack of variety is beginning to make me less excited with each passing day. This is big news as there was no place to buy cooked meals in the trading center until they opened.  So now I am getting meat a little more frequently – I am also trying to take it home and doctor it up a little. So far so good – though I can’t say I enjoy the food much. SO THAT’S MY BIGGEST HURDLE in Peace Corps. The minor task of eating is a major effort for me. Who knew? I thought I was pretty low maintenance, but here, I am considered a very picky eater.

I also suffered a big cold after returning from Camp Glow and that inspired my Poem below – it was just a common cold but it still knocked me out. I am now fully recovered so don’t worry. I am out of danger!

The Best Thing About Uganda
A friend asked me the best thing about Uganda and after thinking about it I said - well its not the food....its the weather! Sunny and beautiful everyday. I am getting spoiled with all the sunshine and warmth. Rarely too hot anymore and almost always short sleeve weather - occasionally requiring a long sleeve sweater in the evenings. I have not had a winter since Jan-Feb 2011 - its like endless summer here. Of course the dry season was the worst this year in memory, so I have suffered. But really, it was not that bad. Tennessee summers are more oppressive, as the humidity is tougher to manage. Here its a dry hotness. Which is tolerable. Anyway just want you to know I am not suffering in the weather dept at all! We have rain at least every other day for a couple hours and then it moves on. The storms are fantastically strong and powerful .....and then back to the lovely weather. 

Lately my work has been less than challenging and mostly boring and frustrating. All my ideas are waiting approval from various powers and so I spend much of my time trying to surf the internet - when there is power (see poem below); and thinking of work to do. I redo forms and type up lists of action items. So I presently don't have much to do but write poetry - so today you are inundated with new material. Some is pretty good. Some is probably not. But its here for your enjoyment....and mine. 

The Common Cold                          May 4th, 2012

A dry pinched catch in the upper throat
Still hoping to escape the arrival
Of a full blown cold
Knowing it is rare to fend it off
Once you reach this stage

Spreading soreness
Heralds the coming foe
Stock up on the meds
Emer-gen-C, Sudafed, Benadryl, Ibuprophen
In the mirror your head looks the same
Inside it feels a mile-wide and filled with rocks
Too heavy to hold up
For the entire day

Married to the tissue box
Unable to separate for more than a few seconds
Itchy eyes, scratchy throat, burning nostrils
Every second a momentous effort to breathe
Weak and dizzy with weepy eyes
Leaning against the wall for support
Amazed this is a minor illness
And not a major disease
Retiring to bed to wait it out
Feeling ridiculous for being such a baby
When it is just a common cold

Butterflies          May 15, 2012

Being struck
By the conflicting impression
Of the magnitude of my life
And, at the same time, its inconsequence

Like a butterfly
Trivial in its impact on the world
But still able to captivate
Catch the eye
In her instant of living

Bringing joy to those who take time to watch
Then passing beyond their reach
To the fields just over the fence

Dilemma             May 15th, 2012

Caught in the paralyzing moment
Of holding on ….or letting go
Something enticing
About both

Holding on
Not releasing
Not giving up
The effort will save
The rewards will com
If our grip remains tight


Letting go
Trusting the light
Goodness will protect
Clarity will follow
If we loosen our grip

The hard part is knowing
When to do which?

Growth Measurements                                May 17, 2012

Impossible to quantify growth
With so many dimensions
Never linear
Not just a timeline,
When you must consider
The concepts of Maturity, Development
With countless variations

Trying to review and analyze a life-line
Gets overly complicated
If dissected
Tough to ascertain improvement
An assessment seems warranted
What is the process?
Surely the Divine knows

Peering down innumerable paths
Confusing myself when taking measurements
Gathering data, unsure of the figures
Preferring to believe
I am progressing forward
But inwardly doubting
Am I focused on the right information?

Wishing to be like Siddhartha and other enlightened souls
Will my evolving qualities
Finally converge
In a land of understanding?

Still stranded
 With all my queries and quantifications
Hoping that asking the questions,
At least
Brings me closer

Fickle Gods                        May 13th, 2012

In the African bush
I have a tenuous link
To my former life
My real life

The majority of these days
I exist in a surreal state
Where poverty is palpable
Clean running water is not
Electricity erratic
My bathing room a concrete block
My toilet a latrine

This state is acceptable
As long as I can reach
Across the atmosphere
To my life support system
Attainable through fiber optic threads
When the bandwidth is enough
And the network is up
And my battery is not dead

To connect, I travel to the road
Holding my PC up like an offering
To the Gods of the internet
Hoping they will smile
At my sacrifice
And allow the transmission

Raising my arms above my head
With a prayer
After every click or press of the enter key
That I am worthy
That the data transfer is approved
The request to send and receive is blessed
And communication occurs

While lowering my arms
I hurriedly check for signs of success
Sending out gratitude
Or a curse
To the fickle gods
That hold my sanity
So precariously
Answering my prayer for electronic tonic
As if by whim
Teasing and taunting
With intermittent access
To the far away Heaven of Home

Mothers Day      May 13th,  2012

It astounds me
That a child, a teen
A grown man
Can influence my state of being
With a comment, a note, call or email

Not just any child-teen-man
But my child-teen-man
Why am I under this spell?
How can they so easily control?
This strong intelligent tiger of a woman
That is a kitten in their hands

How grateful to find
They wield this power
With affection and prudence
Knowing my each breath
Depends on their gentleness
Understanding our happiness
Is tightly interwoven

Bus Ride                              May 18th, 2012

A crowd of human cattle
Pressed against each other
For 6 hours
A Ugandan bus ride to Kampala

Squeezed into my seat
Between the large African man
And the mother and baby at the window
Sweating thigh to thigh
Calf to calf
Silently waging
A territorial war of elbows and hips
To maintain space

Stopping intermittently
To receive offerings of African fast food
Raised up to the open windows
Fried pork and goat meat on sticks
Chapatti, green oranges, mangos, pineapples,
Roasted banana, milk, water, Cokes
Commerce at the basic level
Live chickens and plastic milk containers
Stored under the seat

“Short call / long call”
A euphemism for necessary bodily functions
Just 200 shillings
 To access 3 filthy stalls
Of human waste
Holding all your belongings ….and your breath
As you squat

The mood however is unperturbed and resigned
Music videos blare at punishing decibels
Lovely African melodies
Insufferable 1980’s Christian hymns
Vying for attention,
While kids play on the floor
Under the dirty feet
Life is what it is

Each traveler moving
Towards some pressing destination
Job, marriage, funeral, school, lover, hospital
Praying for safe travels
To pass un-hassled by the police check points
And loaded tankers headed for Sudan
Along the narrow ruined road
To the bustling city

Reptilian Emotions                         May 18th, 2012

Part of the anthology
Of our reptilian emotions
The baser side of mankind

Humans slide effortlessly into these
Destructive reactions
It is easier – by some twist of creation
                                                                                    To embrace the evil
Ignoring the divine
Overlooking the rich rewards
That come when electing
The more difficult route

A challenge to convince ourselves
To persevere
To follow the journey of the hero
Deciding to choose
Kindness and compassion
As trusted guides
On the voyage
To a settled soul

Hugs to everyone! Karla
PS I did not get trained as a “victims advocate” last week because the training has been postponed until a final curriculum comes out of Washington DC. So stay tuned on that issue.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Soap, Newsletter, Happy Memory, Camp GLOW, Poetry

Liquid SOAP
PCV Heather teaching us Soap Making
On April 14th I hosted another PCV to come and teach the village savings group at our school how to make Liquid Soap as an income Generating Activity (IGA). This is a fairly widely needed product and can be made at a cheaper price than found in the stores and results in a decent profit to the group. We made a demonstration batch of 50 liters. We sold out 50 liters in one day!   We are hoping to make an ingredient order from Kampala soon to get the supplies needed to start making it in even larger quantities.

Youth Newsletter
A couple Peace Corps volunteers recently started a Uganda-wide Youth newsletter – in Uganda Youth is defined as 14-30 year olds – so my students here can participate. I encouraged one of our students to submit his poem about agriculture and it was selected for the last issue. A copy is below. Just encouraging young people to take risks and be different can make a long lasting impact here. Most education is rote memory and creativity is not considered a good trait by most teachers. So this was a major win for this young man.

Beauty, Natural Beauty
That is true and real
Ugandans have you seen such beauty?
Have the people of Africa seen true beauty?
Beauty that stands the test of time?
Look at the sky
Birds, yes birds
Nature gives us beautiful birds
Chicken, pigeon, dove, guinea fowl, turkeys
All are raised at home
Here on the ground behold the beautiful greens around us
Cabbages, onion, tomatoes, maize, beans,
Name them - All are good for life!
Up on the trees are juicy mangoes, jack fruits, passion fruits, lemons
That are not equaled by artificial beverages
No chemical after effects!
Dear friends, this is all due to agriculture.
The ideal mother who feeds us all.
And she is very committed in helping Mother Nature.
Let’s then be the royal children of Mother Nature
And participate actively in Agriculture!
Oryem Simon Peter :: Age 22
Happy Memory
One of my most favorite moments in Uganda occurred a few weeks back at my local trading center market. This “market” is very small and consists of 10-20 women from the nearby villages coming to sell their small items. Usually they have onions, tomatoes, some local greens, charcoal and occasionally dried fish. (To date I have not bought the fish, but tried it at my supervisor’s home.) I also buy my chapatti from Madam Evelyn there  – chapatti is a local circular flat bread somewhat like a tortilla. It is fried in oil, and when I add cinnamon and sugar it tastes a little like a donut. I also eat one with salt with most meals for calories and carbs, as I am not exactly getting fat over here. Anyway this one afternoon I purchased some chapatti and an old village woman seated on the ground selling greens motioned she would like a chapatti. So I bent down and let her pick one from my bag. She smiled brightly with a toothless grin and began singing to me in Acholi. I had no idea what she was singing, but all the other ladies began clapping, and I began dancing to their song. Afterwards I was told she was singing that more blessings will return to me, the giver, and that I will receive abundantly from God. It was a spontaneous beautiful joyous moment that is forever burned into my memory!

Entire GLOW CAMP - I'm front far right
CAMP GLOW  (Girls Leading Our World) took place last week simultaneously with CAMP BUILD (Boys of Uganda in Leadership Development). The camps are to educate and encourage young people to become leaders in Uganda.  The girls were divided into 10 groups. Each group named after an African Animal….Lions, Zebras, Rhinos, etc. Each group created their own songs and cheers and they were taught songs about ending malaria and becoming leaders.  They learned about Reproductive Health, (including being tested for HIV), Self Esteem, Life Skills, Business Skills, Money Management, Self-defense, and Domestic Violence. They also learned about themselves through an outdoor ropes & challenge course. I was privileged to be a staff member at GLOW. It was a wonderful and exhausting experience and I feel was very successful in its objective of showing young people they do have choices; they can break free; and they can lead the change that is needed in their communities.  (See poem below entitled Transformation)
Purse Making for Money Management session

I co-taught the sessions on business & income generating skills and money management. I led the practical sessions on building sack gardens and liquid fertilizer and am happy to say they were successful. I don’t think my future entails being a teacher, but I think I didn’t suck at it! I had great fun being the slightly silly older counselor…dancing and joking with everyone every chance I got. I hope it was entertaining to them – I sure enjoyed it! I am glad I was not required to assist in the class where the girls were taught how to put a condom on their partners. Imagine being in the room with 6 wooden penises and having these young girls practicing that assignment. I was glad to be an economic development volunteer on that day!
Beautiful Young Ladies

I nominated 3 young men from my school for Boys camp -all but far right 

Me and friend Rashida

Not flattering but shows the work I was doing

Explaining the camp Rules-  Yes - I am a Ham!!!

Follow up to Care International Learning Tour mentioned in previous blog post.
Here is the photo Senator Isakson sent me of our meeting back in April. His staff informed me he is framing the poem “American Skin” and hanging it on the wall of his office. I feel kind of important now! But somehow living in a hut with limited electricity and no running water is keeping me humble. No room for a big head here in Uganda.

I also found out that one of the Chris-es of “Chris Squared” is good friends with my husband’s cousin’s daughter….world’s collide and explode!!!! Shout out to Sully from Gulu District Uganda!  P.S. Please send me a congressional coin like my friend Nancy got at the lunch in Kampala! I feel left out. Ask Terri for my address in Nashville!

I am back at site for 5 days and then on to Kampala to be trained as a victim’s advocate for Peace Corps Volunteers here in Uganda. Hopefully no one will need my new skills, but as part of the New Peace Corps Protection Act sponsored by Senator Isakson, these advocates are required in case something happens. I’ll write more about my training when I return.

Poetry – 1st 2 by girls at Camp Glow, Last 2 by me
Proud Glow Girls
Proud are we the Glow Girls
Beautiful we look, eloquent we speak
The bright zebras! Calm crocodiles!
Elegant giraffes! The humble Ugandan Kobs!
Gallant Rhinos! Cheerful Lions! Assertive Elephants!
Cherished Monkeys! Royal Hippos and the fastest Cheetahs!
All focused to be leaders of Uganda, The Pearl of Africa

Proud are we the Glow Girls
So useful to nations, our communities,
The world at large.

Proud are we the Glow girls
To have our nice and loving counselors, staff and co-directors.
We are proud of you.
Thank you Camp Glow
For teaching us.
by Aete Claudys Komakech
Camp Glow Closing Ceremony  April 29th, 2012

About Domestic Violence
Women! Women! Women!
The mothers of the nation
Beaten and tortured by ruthless men
Whipped and raped by strangers
Crying with the poor child on her back
Digging from Dawn to sunset
With little to earn from the harvest
No food, much work
The ribs seen from a kilometer

Never! Never! Never!
Shall it happen again
You hit me, I take you behind bars
When sad lean on friends

Women! Women! Women!
Suffering no more
No more sorrows
Because we are strong and beautiful
And proud to be a girl
And I am the future leader of my country Uganda,
The Pearl of Africa
Women! Women! Women!
By Dr. Irene and Jacque
Camp Glow Closing Ceremony, April 29th, 2012

Transformation                                                May 1st, 2012
I watched it happen this week
100 shy, nervous, timid African girl-women
Breaking free from expected submission
Through Encouragement, Effort,
Education, Mentoring and Love
They began to see a different path
Began to believe they could be leaders
For their country
Began to grow their courage
And their hearts
In ways they did not know
Was possible….For them
The ordinary young women of Uganda
Were transformed into the Extraordinary

They left us
With heads a little higher
With determination
Behind their glowing smiles
To lead their country to a better place
Where women are allowed to flourish
Attain their fullest potential
To raise
Their heads
Their children
Their country
With dignity

Collecting            May 1st 2012
A blessing given by grace
Is seeing the worth
Of all those
I am privileged to meet

A lifetime of collecting
Friends, extra sons & daughters,
Mentors, advisors, extraordinary people
Has made me wealthy
Resulting in a large, extended
Family of love and learning

Like rare gems
Or seashells
Are unique, interesting, captivating
If you study them carefully
Like art
Taking time to wonder
And appreciate the facets and spirals

All it takes
Is the interest
And a little time
To discover
Their inner light
That shines

Each is perfectly created
Enhanced by life’s voyages
Scratched, Dented, Chipped
Along the journey
Becoming flawlessly human

Intentionally collecting
Those I find especially beautiful
Holding on through the years
   Knowing each has lessons to teach
Gifts to unwrap
At different times
In different places

This glittering collection is definitely
My greatest treasure