21 December 2010

Blah Blah Blahg

You guys. I know. You're all like, "Danny, you need to blog more. Why are you even in Africa, if you're not going to blog about it. I mean, come on."

I hear you. I hear your italics. Oh, and I'm gonna feed you, baby birds.

So here's a wormy regurgitation of random stories and things out of my journal from the past couple months, from my mouth to yours. Merry Christmas!

(Note: I'm probably going to refer to "the other day" as when most of these stories took place, which could literally mean the other day, or could mean, like, October. Just don't want anyone to think this is all typical of one day here in Ngora.)

Out with my counterpart the other day when an old woman comes up to me asking for money. My counterpart turns to her, says something to her in Ateso. The old woman looks at me, looks back at my counterpart, looks confused, looks skeptical. But then she walks away. My counterpart turns to me, says, "I told her you don't have any money because you're not actually white, you're a Ugandan who lost all the color from his skin and was shunned by his family, and so we have taken you in because we felt sorry for you."

The other day, we were out in one of the villages, parked in the shade of a mango tree. In our maroon Toyota Hilux pickup truck, I was sitting sideways in the passenger seat, idly kicking my feet out the open door, sweating, staring out at nothing but green and tawny colored grasses and mud huts and goats standing on top of anthills. We were waiting for, what?, something, or we were just waiting, sometimes in Africa you just wait, and you don't talk, you all just sit and stare out at nothing, and sometimes I like to chew on grass while staring, but that's beside the point. We had the radio on. A reggae version of a familiar song came on as I was sweating and squinting against the equatorial sun.
"I'm dreaming... of a white Christmas..."
Reggae Jingle Bells came on next.
I squinted a little harder into the sun, felt sweat droplets roll down my spine, tried to process all of those things at once, and my brain exploded a little bit.

"I met a man who bicycled across the country twelve times. His legs are ruined now, but the maps on his wall are dark with Magic Marker lines showing the places he's been."

Oh, so we had a pool party in Mbale the other day. We went to a grocery store for a few things first, and there was a guard outside the door, armed with an old bolt-action rifle. One of the other volunteers I was with asked the guard if he could have his gun. The guard said no. We asked if it actually worked. The guard said yes. And to prove it, he pointed at the pockmarks of two bullet holes, one on the ceiling of the awning, the other ten feet up on the concrete wall, both just a few feet from the store he was guarding. His sheepish grin said those were just for fun, or an accident, or he's a terrible aim, or all three of those.

I got a phone call from Fred, our Safety and Security guy the other day, letting me know that he was sending someone out to inspect my new house. But so the phone rang, and I answered, not recognizing the number.
"Hello?" "Hello, this is Fred with the Peace Corps. You sound weak, are you ok?"
I told Fred I was fine. I didn't think I sounded weak.
Then I hung up with Fred and went for water and had to carry a full 20L jerrycan about 100 yards and I realized he was right.

I ate offals. Offals are the intestines of a cow and/or goat. They weren't bad. I also ate fried termites. They weren't bad either, because they were delicious.

The other night, I waited out a thunderstorm in a hut. We were sitting around outside as the sun dipped to the west and black clouds built up in the east. Then those black clouds rushed overhead and expedited the sunset and fat droplets of rain began to splatter in the dirt and he hurried into the hut. I sat opposite the door way and watched the rain come down in fat droplets and then sheets at a forty-five degree angle and then currents and rivulets across the dirt courtyard, and the wind blew jerrycans away and threw unripe mangoes into the mud, and the lightning flashed so close and lit everything, for just a second, in pale, purple-white light, and then the thunder sounded like someone was cracking the sky in half.
And it was perfect.
But it was so perfect that I couldn't help myself, and I simultaneously felt like I was in an exhibit in a natural history museum -- and I immediately hated every elementary school field trip I'd ever been on -- and like I was listening to one of those white noise machines from Sharper Image -- and I hated every time we'd ever stopped there in the mall. Damn those massage chairs they always had out front.
But, tried to forget those things, and it was still pretty perfect, and I still do love all those elementary school field trips.
Afterward, I walked home in the dark, except when lightning lit everything in white and purple, dodging new ponds and rivers of rainwater, except when I didn't and went ankle-deep in it, and I got back into town and the power was out and it was totally post-apocalyptic with the lightning and the half-constructed buildings and the flickering lanterns and boda boda headlights and people shouting and laughing and running across the street, and they're just silhouettes after sunset if you can even see them at all, and I bought chicken and chapatti from a cardboard box, and made it back, muddy-footed, to the bar, or home, where surly youths sat inside huddled around a lantern, plotting ways to kill Kevin Costner in Waterworld.
It was awesome.

Here's something: I've spent three weeks straight at site now without hanging out with another American. And, as of this month, I've spent a full year total of my life abroad, so I feel good about that. Now, I'm no math doctor, but if I've spent one year abroad out of twenty-five, then that's like 25% of my life that I've spent around. That's pretty cool.

Walking out to my pit latrine the other night, I turn the corner and get hit in the face by a moth with a six-inch wingspan. I freak out a little bit, naturally, and run to the latrine, turn on the light, and unlock the padlock on the door. The moth, being a moth, sees the light and beats me into the latrine. It flaps around insanely for a minute or two, while I stand with the door open hoping it will fly out. Instead it lands on the wall. This gives a chance for an eight-inch lizard to dark out from the shadows and attempt to chomp down on the moth's head which leads the moth to batter the lizard with its dusty moth wings until it escapes and flies out. Godzilla vs Mothra, in my pit latrine.
Two nights later, coming back from the latrine, I walk into my house and get hit in the face by a moth with a six-inch wingspan. This time, when it lands on the wall, I kill it with a flipflop. Thrown tomahawk-style twenty feet across the entire length of both rooms of my house.

The other night, I was sitting around a pot of ajon (the local Teso beer, made from fermented millet flour, basically, I think, which is usually drank out of a clay pot, but this time when I say pot, I mean jerrycan with the top cut off) with my friend Martin (or "Martino" as they pronounce it here, because they Italianize names, which is why I am known as "Danielli") and his brothers and a few dudes from town, when a couple kids come up to watch me drinking from one of the communal four-foot straws.
Dude to my right: "They are curious to see how you suck."
Me: "Oh, burn."

There is a village outside of town called Osigiria. In Ateso, this means donkey. It's called Osigiria because there was a white man who lived there around the beginning of the 1900s. He owned one donkey. One night the villagers stole, killed, and ate his donkey. Then they named the village after it. The white man never knew what happened to his donkey.

The other night, under the pale light of a nearly-full moon, around a pot of ajon (I swear, I've only drank at site four times, literally) with twenty (I counted) long straws sticking out, in a clearing of mud huts, with a small white calf with protruding ribs standing off to the side and lowing loudly, bats flitting overhead, the orange glow of a cooking fire radiating from behind one of the huts, with bits of termites stuck between my teeth, without an electric light in site, the faces of the other men becoming indistinguishable in the dark, the older man to my and Martino's right -- the teacher from Ngora High, with the beard flecked with gray, the one who had advised me to take a Ugandan wife, then asked if I was married, then advised me to take a Ugandan wife, again, and had wondered if it were true, as he had heard, that white men fear death but don't fear HIV, but it's not true, because I fear it, and had wondered if it were true, as he had heard, that in America you can't see the moon or the stars and in those Scandinavian countries some days the sun never comes up, and who said that after September 11th, at night, you could see the American fighters flying overhead on their way to Iraq but you couldn't see them during the day because the sun was too bright, and whose eyes seemed clear but whose speech began to drag a little bit but not so much that he couldn't quiet the crowd around the pot -- gave a speech welcoming me to Africa, to Uganda, to Teso, to Ngora, and explained that they drank this way, communally, from one part, because they were communal, a community, and now I was part of the community and I needed an Iteso name and he gave me one. He said that Martino and I were twins, and we had to be called by the names that twins are called by, and he said that Martino was to be Opio, which meant that I was to be Odongo.
We'll see if it sticks.

"Whatever insights I have are fragmentary and fleeting. I am not so much seeking anything as I am allowing the world to come to me, allowing the days to unfold, the dramas of weather and wild creatures, the many different ways the world appears to the human eye -- the colors and shapes constantly shifting."

Ok. That's all for now.

For Christmas, I'm off to meet up with my favorite people here and see Sipi Falls and maybe check out one of the traditional circumcision ceremonies of the local tribes and climb the Rainier-sized Mount Elgon, which definitely sounds like something from Lord of the Rings, and so I'm going to throw something into the fires of it. But a trip like that means pictures, so you can all look forward to seeing those.

Merry Christmas! And happy New Year! I hope it's wonderful for all of you, and for those of you who actually are enjoying a white Christmas, enjoy it.

05 December 2010

Nothing Much

I know it's been a while since I've posted anything. Sorry for that. But it's too hot to go outside right now, so here's a monkey. Happy now?

In other news...

1: I'm going to be moving into another place tomorrow. It will probably only be temporary, since I'm going to keep looking for a house a bit outside of town where I can sit outside and enjoy some sort of a view and maybe see more monkeys. My counterpart told me that people do a lot of construction on houses in December and January since they aren't paying school fees and have more disposable income in those months. So I'll be on the lookout and putting the word out that whitey wants a new home. We'll see what happens. If I can't find anything or if I end up really liking the temporary place, I'll put some work into it and it will definitely be liveable. Either way, I'll miss having a shower and a sink.

2: I had a great Thanksgiving and was reminded of all the things I have to be thankful for both here and back home. There wasn't any turkey or pie, but I ate so much homemade pizza I almost threw up. Which I am also thankful for.

3: Other than that, I've just been trying to keep getting integrated into the community here -- hanging out, wandering around, using more Ateso, and climbing up big rocks -- and trying to figure out what exactly I can do for the next two years in terms of work. The other day I was sort of cat-called by name by about twenty older secondary school girls who were all sitting in the bed of a pickup truck, which was funny and totally inappropriate, but at least people are learning my name.

And that's pretty much it. There are other stories and random stuff, but, again, it's just too hot. So things are just moving at the pace of Africa and they're good and getting better.

21 November 2010


I live in Ngora. I think I might have forgotten to mention that until now. Actually, I live in five different levels of Ngora-ness. In Uganda, the government is broken down into different levels of Local Councils. There are districts, which are the biggest areas, like states at home, then there are counties, sub-counties, parishes, and villages. So I live in Ngora District, County, Sub-County, Parish, and finally in Ngora Town, itself. It's pretty small, there are three main roads in town, each runs east-west, and they're each about a quarter of a mile long, or so. There is the main-main road, and then I live on the third road over. I recently read that there are a little over 43,000 people in Ngora, and although that didn't say Ngora District, specifically, that's what I'm assuming is the case. So it's little, but it's nice. Now that we're a district (up until July of this year, Ngora was part of Kumi District), they tell me that there's going to be a lot more things happening here in the near future. I'm not entirely sure I believe that, but it will be interesting to see. Ngora Town actually used to be very nice, from what I hear, due to a large population of Indian business owners. Idi Amin kicked all Indians out of Uganda, though many have come back, but it's easy to see the effects are still here, most prominently in the run-down Hindu temple in the middle of town, as well as all the well-constructed (at one time, anyway) buildings which are now abandoned and falling down. These buildings though, I'm told, are being rebuilt and reoccupied now, again, because the town is a district headquarters and we're going to be big-time. Anyway. Ngora is part of the Teso Region of Eastern Uganda. It is very, very flat out here, hot and getting hotter, I swear, every single day, but also (although this could change with the dry season coming up, the effects of which are already being seen in the amount of red dust that blows around everywhere now, coating my hair and clothes, without the rain to tamp it down) very green, with tall grass and (mostly) short trees stretching literally as far as you can see. We also have rocks. Lots of them. Giant, hundred-plus-foot gray monoliths that dot the countryside and break up the flatness. I love them. So, the other day, we climbed to the top of the one that marks the beginning of town. And here is what Ngora looks like from there. On the left is part of the main road and the shops there. In the middle, is my (the third) road. You can see my house if you look towards the far end of the road, the electricity pole on the right, where you can see some umbrellas, and the yellowish coloured one is mine. Then on the right is the middle/second road. So that's my little town, where I once found a pineapple, the only one I've seen, in the market. (And, click on the pictures to make them bigger.)

And, naturally, kids followed / guided us up and sat, enjoying the view, just like we were, while others below saw us and shouted "Imusugut!" and we could hear their voices but couldn't see where they were coming from, from that high up.

15 November 2010


Remember how I said that my living situation is really awesome? It got more awesomer recently, with the addition of a shower in my bathing area and rumors of a sink to come. The shower doesn't work yet, but it's pretty to look at and I like the fact that I'll probably get a shower before I get a ceiling. And they've been painting and doing a lot of other work on the compound as a whole.

Unfortunately, after that, it got a lot less awesomer.

They're turning the whole place into a guest house. This is fine with me, I think it could be nice to meet people who are coming to stay for a few days or so, though I'm pretty positive tourists don't come to Ngora, so I don't think I'd be meeting anyone.

Actually, let me go back for a second. The compound part, with all the rooms and bathing areas and latrines actually only makes up about two-thirds of the building. The rest is a store-front that opens up onto the street, which, until recently wasn't being used for anything.

So, they're turning the compound part of the building into a guest house. This is fine.
They're turning the store-front part of the building into a bar. This is not fine.

Ugandans really love music. Naturally, then, they play it at an obscene volume. And now there are speakers playing said music at said volume about fifteen feet from my home. I don't mind the Ugandan music, and I actually enjoy a lot of it, but not quite so much when it's louder in my home than my computer speakers can go.

Some Ugandans also really love drinking, sometimes way more than they should. And now there are people drinking, probably more than they should, about seven feet from me. I don't mind drinking, but not quite so much when it's random people drinking next to my front door.

I had originally assumed that the bar would be only in the store-front, and not outside my door, and that there would be a lock on the door between the bar and the compound and that life would go on as usual, maybe slightly louder (but, I have to admit, I hadn't really thought about the music yet). And, you know me, I'll put up with a lot of stuff that I don't want to put up with because I don't know why, I'm either nice or spineless, but let's go with nice.

So I discussed this with a few other volunteers today. One asked if this meant that I was going to become an alcoholic or if it just meant that people should come visit. One told me a story of his neighbor and landlord who came home totally wasted the other night, came into the his side of the house, wouldn't leave for over an hour, then asked him if he wanted to fight, and then kissed him on both cheeks when he said no. One told me that I was the type of person who would put up with a bar in their compound for two years without saying anything (is my lack of a spine, er, my niceness that obvious?) and that that was a bad choice because they'd probably never come visit. Among other reasons.

Needless to say, I'm probably going to have to talk to Peace Corps. Earlier I was saying that I would just talk to my neighbor Peter about putting the tables and chairs in front of the bar, rather than next to my front door. And that I could probably put up with the music after that. But then I was reminded that this is two years, and, as I'm sitting here jamming to Ugandan pop, I'm realizing that next July or December or the year 2012 when they're playing the same songs at the same volume, I will probably have already gone insane. And I just talked this weekend with some PCVs who've been here for a year and a half and they said that being here this long makes you a weirdo anyway, so I don't need to help the process along.

So, that sucks. 1: It sucks to move. 2: My house is really nice. 3: Shower! 4: I really like Peter and it was really quiet here before and I like being right on the outskirts of town.

But, if I were to move, it wouldn't be all bad. 1: I wouldn't be listening to this song anymore, I mean, for the love of God, I think this might be the same song they've been playing for the last six hours. 2: Since I'm already out here, I'd be able to see the other options and choose the best one. 3: Moving would also be a chance to get to know more people and a different part of town.

So, we'll see what happens.

However, I also went on a long walk out of town towards the villages this evening while the sun was setting and it was green and quiet and beautiful and I spoke a lot of Ateso and everyone pointed their homes out to me and asked me to come back and visit and an old woman walking ahead of me turned and saw me and waited for me and we walked together for a good ten minutes until she turned to go home and we talked and it was nice because she just wanted to greet me and didn't ask for anything except that I greet her back and I tried to get a small child named Sylvia to give me her herd of goats but she refused for some reason, probably because she pointed at them and said "Akinei!" meaning "Goats!" and I just pointed at them and said "Akinei ka?" meaning "My goats?" so she said "Mam!" meaning no and she was right, they weren't my goats, but maybe I can still convince her to give me some later, and the whole thing was easily the best experience I've had since being at site.

14 November 2010


Here in Uganda, we've all learned to deal with some pretty intense situations when it comes to the insect life here. Cockroaches the size of your thumb are the norm. I've heard tales of a spider so big you can hear its footsteps while it walks across your room. You hear the sound of wings flapping outside your pit latrine at night and think it's a bat, only to find out it's actually a beetle the size of a baseball. You have a ten-day battle with a three-inch long wasp that lives in your house and chases you from one room to the other and back.

There's not a whole lot you can do. You ignore some of them and hope they go away and/or don't bite you and/or aren't poisonous or carrying disease. You kill others and hope that more don't come to take their place.

So the other night, I was lying in bed, reading with my headlamp on, when I get hit in the face by a praying mantis. I grab an issue of the Economist from spring of 2009, and swat it, sending it bouncing off the wall and under my bed. I roll over and shine the light under the bed to make sure it's dead.

I hadn't looked under my bed since I got it, two and a half weeks ago.

The praying mantis was dead.
And I found an entire colony of ants had built a series of dirt tunnels under my head while I slept.


So I rolled back over and spent a few minutes debating what to do. Get up and deal with it now or go to sleep and hope that it had taken them a while to build that much and that I wouldn't wake up covered in dirt tunnels and ants and deal with in the morning.

I went to sleep. And then I didn't get around to the ants for a few days.
I'm gross, I know.

When I went to take care of it today, the tunnels were still there, snaking from the corner over to the box from my stove. I didn't see any ants though. Until I sort of kicked at the box. A thousand ants swarmed out of the box, back into their tunnels, back through the crack they came in. I could hear them. Millions of tiny legs make a surprisingly loud and creepy noise.

Needless to say, I lost a lot of brain cells today from spraying a lot of BOP Insecticide (which, according to the can, has a New Approved Formula, so that's nice). And I'm going to try to stop being a disgusting human being.

(And the picture is sideways for some reason, but you get the point.)

10 November 2010

Pineapple Trees

Obviously I've learned a lot in the three months that I've been here. But this is about the best, and possibly most important fact that I've learned so far.

Pineapples do not grow on trees. I know, right? Who knew?

This goes back to training in Wakiso, when, one Sunday afternoon, my friend Eliza and I took a walk out of town. Wandering down one of the dirt roads, talking about nothing and admiring the view every time we reached the top of hill and being hemmed in by trees on either side when we reached the bottom. From the top of one hill, we saw a compound of buildings on the next rise and, wondering what it was, decided to try to get over to it. We branched off the main road and after another ten or fifteen minutes reached the fence and then the gate of what turned out to be a school and an orphanage.

The kids who lived there were excited to see us, as always, and they brought us inside where we chatted and played with them, my arm growing tired from doing bicep curls with a little girl whose pants gave way to serious plumber's crack every time I picked her up. Eventually they took us on a tour of the compound where we saw all the school and the dorms and the lake and the football field and the pig sty.

As we were walking around the compound, one boy in front of me pointed to a short, spiky plant, which distinctly resembled aloe.

Sweet little orphan, trying to teach the muzungu about Uganda: "This is a pineapple plant."
Me, not wanting him to go through life misinformed about pineapples, I mean, seriously, what are they teaching in the schools here?, poor kid: "No, it's not. Pineapples grow on trees."

I told this to Eliza a little bit later.
Her, laughing, hard: "That probably was a pineapple plant. They don't grow on trees."
Me, skeptical, using a common Ugandan phrase: "Are you sure?"

Needless to say, two months later, I still knew that I was right about pineapple trees.

Until this past weekend, when Eliza mentioned to her counterpart, Tony, that, not only did I think that pineapples grew on trees, but I had also once, out of the goodness of my heart, corrected an adorable orphan boy on the subject. Judging by his reaction and the reactions of the neighbors who'd also heard the story, this was maybe, nope, definitely the funniest thing to ever happen in Uganda.

Me, over their laughter and my own, using another common Ugandan phrase: "Is it not so?"
Tony's neighbor, still laughing: "I have never seen a pineapple that grows on a tree!"
Me, still skeptical: "Well, I have never seen one that doesn't grow on a tree." (Lawyered!)

After that they quickly sent us to the nearby pineapple farm to set me straight.

And pineapples do not grow on trees. I know, right? Crazy.

(Actually, there were no full-size pineapples on any of those "pineapple bushes," only a few apple-sized baby pineapples, so I still haven't seen real pineapples growing on an aloe plant, so, I'm still pretty much one-hundred percent sure that pineapples only, seriously, because how could it be any other way?, grow on trees.)

Then, later that evening:

Me, looking up at a palm tree with round, orangeish fruits hanging from it: "Are those coconuts?"
Eliza, with the confidence of someone who doesn't believe in pineapple trees: "Um, I think so..."
Me, only half-joking: "That's what I thought. But... they look like pumpkins."
Eliza, not believing in pumpkin trees either, and laughing, again: "Wait until Tony hears that."

04 November 2010


If I ever need a reminder of exactly where I'm living (though I don't think I do, or I hope I don't yet, anyway), the newspaper provides some pretty good ones every other day or so.

Like the other day, when I read a short article about a lion loose in Kibaale. It had been heard roaring and had attacked a woman near a water source and several goats had gone missing since it had first been spotted and kids were staying home from school in fear. Yeah. So, we get bears every once in a while in Seattle. But, this is a lion. Loose in a city.

Or today, when I opened the paper to an article about a preacher who had been murdered. It was a really sad story. He was killed with a spear. Yeah. Speared.

So, I realize those are slightly morbid. But still. Sometimes it's nice to be reminded that I really am living in Africa. Where lions and spears could apparently be lurking just around the corner. It's exciting. And I'm counting goats from now on, just so I know when to hide from the lions.

02 November 2010


There's one statistic about Uganda's population that always stuck out to me. I don't remember the exact figure off the top of my head right now, but it's basically this: something insane like 50% of the population here is under 20 years old. In a country of roughly thirty-three million-plus, that's a lot of kids. And with an average fertility rate (number of children per woman of child-bearing age) of 6.7, there are only going to be more.

Which is good and bad. Good because the kids are totally fun and awesome. Bad for lots and lots more crucial reasons.

These last (first) few days at site, I've been going out into surrounding villages with my organization conducting a baseline survey on family planning knowledge and use, looking at things like birth control and spacing the births of the children, etc.

The villages are really remote, most at least an hour's drive down small, rutted dirt roads or, as often as not, down a small footpath (we drive out to the villages, and then walk from house to house), and are just small compounds of round mud huts with grass thatched roofs spread across grassy savannah and scrubby trees with the few taller trees and the leafy mango trees providing shade to meet in. All that goes to say that most of the kids in the villages, and, again, there are a lot of them, have probably never (and at the absolute most, maybe once or twice) seen a white person in, well, person.

So today we went out to one such small, remote village, this one probably the furthest out of town that we had been. My counterpart and I got out of the car at the furthest household, the one on the border between this and the next district. Within five minutes of us sitting down under the shade of the biggest tree in the compound, there was a crowd of (yes, I counted, because I was impressed and slightly taken aback) twenty-nine kids all standing within five feet of where we were sitting. Staring, some glaring, whispering to each other, craning their necks to get a better look, a few of the smaller ones were stark naked while most of the rest were dressed in dirty rags or clothes six sizes too big, swollen bellies and snot-crusted noses and dirty bodies making me fall in love with all of them, even as we asked their parents if they've ever used birth control or family planning or why they didn't.

So I smiled and greeted them in Ateso, "Yoga kere!" with a wave. One may have waved back, a couple may have quietly replied "Yoga noi" but most just kept staring. The man we were interviewing snapped at the kids and they all sat down immediately, plopping down in the dirt, without taking their eyes off of the weirdo with the pasty skin sitting in front of them. It went on like that for a while, as we interviewed several parents, ranging from early twenties to mid-forties with three to five to seven kids, some of the kids in the crowd getting bored of my inactivity and wandering off, others coming to take their place, others, noticing something new and crazy about me, whispering to their friends and pointing.

It was good to see that, when a completely unexpected (I turned and stared until it was out of sight too -- literally the second aircraft I've seen since being here, third if you count the plane we flew in on) low-flying helicopter soared overhead, they were more impressed and intrigued by that then by me.

But when the helicopter was gone (apparently, probably, carrying the president to a campaign speech in the run-up to the elections in February), the kids came back and, yes, I counted again, because I could have sworn they had multiplied again and now there were forty-six. Forty-six kids, just coming to look. That has to be a new personal record.

Slowly though, one word started going around, repeated first as a question, though I'm not sure who asked it first, then as an exclamation, then as a question again, and then, seemingly, as a statement of fact.


That's right. Wayne Rooney, superstar English striker for Manchester United, nursing an injured ankle, had finally arrived. Right here in their village. No wonder they were so excited. Fortunately there wasn't a football around, so I couldn't prove them wrong.

Most of them chased the car until it was out of sight.

Later this evening, I stopped in the market for some food for dinner. Two tomatoes, two onions, two bell peppers, all for less than fifty cents. Walking home from the market, three kids ran up to me from across the street. We exchanged excited greetings in Ateso: "Yoga!" "Yoga noi! Biai bo?" "Etamit!"

Then the little girl, maybe four or five, said something I couldn't quite understand: "Akoto eong something something" which translates as "I want something something." I shrugged, she repeated herself, I shrugged, she repeated herself. Then a woman shouted from a storefront: "Idwe!" -- "Children!" They stopped and stared at her, ready to be reprimanded. "No, it's ok," I explained to her. "I just did not know what she was saying." The woman explained that they were saying they wanted to come with me.

I laughed and looked at the kids. "Ilosi iso!" I shouted. "We go!" And I walked towards home with the sun setting in my eyes and the acrid smell of cooking fires stinging my in nose and an increasing number of kids skipping and running at my side.

Those were today's things-that-make-having-millions-of-kids-in-this-country-awesome.

Then there was tonight.

I had my headphones in while I sat on my concrete floor, washing and cutting up the tomatoes, onions and peppers, stir-frying them in garlic chili oil and mixing them with pasta for the first legitimate dinner I've made for myself since being here. I was texting other volunteer friends and hearing funny stories about their days (like the meeting of the Department of Health in Oyam district where one long-winded doctor drew a detailed diagram to explain the location of hemorrhoids, for some unknown reason). The music was good and the stories were good and my dinner was good. And I washed my dishes in the basin and took my headphones off and went to throw the food scraps and water in the pit outside the compound.

As I walked outside, I heard an intense commotion from a house nearby. Crying, no, not crying, wailing, and screaming, and raised voices. I quickly opened the compound door into the pitch black of the night outside, emptied the basin into the dark, shut and locked the door again, and turned to my neighbor Peter who was sitting under the light outside studying for his exams.

"A baby has just died, in the house of that mzee next door."
Did this happen just now? I ask.
"Yes, they took it for treatment two days ago, but it has just now died."
I'm very sorry to hear that, I say out loud, then think to myself that I'm sorry to hear that another baby has died and I'm sorry that I can hear the family weeping from inside my house and I'm sorry that I feel that way and I feel disrespectful wanting to put my headphones back in to drown out someone's grief over the loss of a child and I text another friend so I'm not listening to it alone and she says that life is hard here and I say I know that and she says she knows that I know that and she also knows that I know that sitting and listening to it and wallowing in it won't change anything and won't help anyone and she knows that I know, but advises me anyway and rightly so, that I should recognize that those things happen every day and recognize the tragedy of it and then put my headphones back in and she's right.

That was today's thing-that-shows-that-these-millions-of-kids-cannot-really-be-cared-for-properly.

Peter says they think it was malaria.

31 October 2010


I'm listening to Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place" and there's a line in the song that goes "Home -- is where I want to be, but I guess I'm already there ... If anyone asks, this is where I'll be, where I'll be."

So, that's fitting.

Because this is my new home, as of week one. My kitchen/living room/entry way and my bedroom and the whole compound too.

Both rooms are maybe 10x10, so it's pretty cozy, but it'd be a great find in New York City, or even in Seattle really. You can kind of tell from the picture of the bedroom that there's no ceiling (as of yet, or maybe never, who knows?). I mean, the exposed bricks and rafters are kind of a cool look to offset the kind of intense baby blue walls, but it gets a little warm with just a tin roof.

In the picture of the kitchen, we've got my basins for washing dishes and clothes, my little gas cooker (which I've used three times now without it blowing up in flames, so I'm feeling good about that), and my chairs. So, you're all welcome for a dinner party if you don't mind sitting on the concrete.

I'm also having some shelving units made by a carpenter in town, so everything won't be on the floor, but those are still a couple weeks away right now. Looking forward to that though. Then I can actually unpack completely.

But there's only one other couple living in the compound, so it's nice and quiet, and they seem cool, so that's a definite plus.

I've spared you pictures of my pit latrine, but that and the bathing area are just outside, still in the compound, along with a tap for water, so there's really nothing to complain about. I'm right in town, so like a two minute walk to the market or the shops for food or airtime for my phone or whatever (not really whatever, supplies are a bit limited, but I bought a pineapple in the market the other day, so, score).

Oh, and now that it's raining, I have to admit that I love the sound of the rain on the tin roof. It gets pretty loud.

And yeah, if anyone asks, this is where I'll be (after dark).

(And, by the way, you can click on the picture to make it bigger, I think.)

28 October 2010

New Address!

I have a new address. Send me things. But I have no idea how long they'll take to get here, so don't send any puppies. Check the sidebar to your right! >>>

Block Quote!

One great and not-so-great thing about being in the Peace Corps is the downtime. To be honest, there wasn’t much during training, but there was some, and now that I’m at site, there is going to be a lot more (because that's what happens when you're in your house by dark, also known as 7pm, and there's no TV or anything else going on). And one thing a lot of downtime means is a lot of reading. Naturally, I’m looking forward to that. I’m a little concerned about the fact that I sat down and read Let the Great World Spin, which was excellent, in just over one day. If I do that too often, I’ll be really sad when I run out of books and am six or seven hours from the bookstore in Kampala.
I also just recently finished reading A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz, which was also really good and since, instead of writing my own blog post, I can quote other people who say better things than I ever will, here:
The sky a vast foreign country. The setting sun in my eyes but too happy to blink.
This was the life I wanted, blowing around like a leaf with appetites.
I was experiencing one of those horriblebeautifulterrifyingdisgustingwondrousinsaneunprecedentedeuphoricsensationaldisturbingthrillinghideoussublimenauseatingexceptional feelings that’s quite hard to describe unless you happen to chance upon the right word.
There’s always a fire, always houses lost, lives misplaced. But nobody packs up and moves to safer pastures. They just wipe their tears and bury their dead and make more children and dig in their heels.
And, ok, last one:
He somehow became dreamy and positive and took sunsets dead seriously, as though the outcome of the event might not always be that the sun sets but that it might freeze just above the horizon and start going up again.
Those are some of the ways that I’ve felt in Uganda. Better said than I could have.

23 October 2010

I have the what? The internet.

There is an awesome quirk to Ugandan English where someone will be telling you something and they will say "...the what?" and then answer that question themselves. It still makes me laugh.

I now have a mobile internet stick modem thing, and am at site, in my very own home, so blogging should be more frequent (though not necessarily any more entertaining; consider yourselves warned) from here on.

Starting here, with the long post I wrote almost two months ago. I didn't re-read it, or proof-read it, so I don't know if I've told some of the stories already, or if it makes any sense at all, but what are you going to do about it?

More updated stories to come, but here you go:

I left Seattle two weeks ago Sunday night and I've been in Africa for almost two weeks now and it seems unbelieveable that it's only been that long. It feels like months already but that's not a bad thing because Africa is fantastic and Uganda is fantastic and everyone else here is fantastic and, as if you couldn't tell from that, I am happy here. Don't get me wrong, I love home and I love Seattle and I love everyone there and I've felt homesick and disconnected for moments here and there, but this is different and exciting and fun and energizing and tiring and it was busy and hectic and long and going by so, so quickly that it's already becoming comfortable so that I feel like I can thrive here and I think there's been something new everyday to remind me where I am and how lucky I am to be here at this time and with all of these people who are all going through the same things as I am, except the other volunteers we've met who've been here for a while and are happy, most of the time, and encouraging, all of the time, and still energized and glad to be here too, although they've not been afraid to share the fact that sometimes it's been hard and challenging and there have been down times, they're still here, and some are staying longer than the 27 months, and that is good.

So here are a few quick updates and a few quick stories.

I've started into my language training. I'm learning to speak Ateso, which is spoken in the Teso region of Uganda (if I've understood everything correctly so far...). The Teso region is out in Eastern Uganda, over towards Kenya, so that's where I'll be headed after we swear in on October 21st. I'm excited to know that much, and we'll find out our actual sites in like six weeks or so, but for now that's all I know.

Training can be long (8am - 5pm, five and a half days a week) and sometimes boring, but it's going well and I think I'm catching on to the language pretty well, or at least as well as I could hope.

I'm a little over a week into my homestay and things are going well. I live with a family in the village of Kisimbiri in the Wakiso district, about 20km northeast of Kampala. I have a host mom, grandmother (who doesn't speak English, only Luganda, which I only speak several words of, obviously), a 15 year-old brother named Sula, and a 13 year-old sister named Labiba (although she went back to boarding school in Kampala on Sunday, so I won't see here again, until/unless I come back to visit later), and I'm their first homestay. They are a really great family. Sula wants to be a doctor or psychologist and Labiba wants to be a lawyer/astronaut and I like this. And I have a really nice living situation, complete with a sit-down flush toilet, which all of my fellow PCTs are totally jealous of. We don't have electricity, but some nights we sit around the kerosene lantern and play board games (it gets dark here around seven and gets dark quickly, but it starts getting light again around seven; twelve hours of light, twelve months of the year, thanks to the equator), and the food is pretty good, although if I never saw matooke (the Ugandan staple food of mashed and steamed raw plantains) again I'd be pretty thrilled. I learned how to handwash my clothes this last weekend, or, at least, I learned that when I get to site I'm paying someone to do it for me. Call me a muzungu if you must. You'd only be about the one millionth tiny, adorable child to do so. I do an ice-cold bucket bath every morning, and sometimes at night, and it's an abrupt way to greet 6:15am, but no more abrupt than being woken several times at night by dog fights right outside the window (although those don't compare to the dog-vs-monkey fights we heard the first week when we were staying at a church compound south of Kampala). All in all, it's a pretty good sitch, though the whole be-home-before-dark deal can get tedious at times. I walked another PCT home the other night so she wasn't wandering in the dark alone and got home around eight and was promptly reprimanded in Luganda by my host grandmother, translated thanks to my brother, Sula. It's nice to know they care about their muzungu though.

Actually, here's a story about that.

It was pouring rain on the walk home the other day without a rain jacket and the rain turned Uganda's red dirt in darker rust puddles and ruts and rivulets in the road with the sun breaking through clouds in the distance while banana trees steamed and wonderfully scented the air and we walked through the village with smiling, waving, muzungu-yelling, beautiful kids and shop-fronts and boda bodas and the red clay leading onto pot-holed pavement and back to clay and we stopped for bottles of cold-ish (or warm-ish -- it's all in your perspective) Nile beer to the tune of Celine Dion and Michael Bolton videos that they turned up the volume on just for us and then the two of us cut across the main road dodging bodas and taxis and bicycles as the sun was going down in broad, vibrant strokes of orange and pink against rain-cloud gray and it quickly got darker and I turned up the path that I was sure was my path home and waved to more muzungu-yellers and quickly realized it wasn't my path and it was getting dark-dark and I felt a bit of nerves as lantern flames began to flicker and then Sula rode up on his bike looking for me and I lied and said I wasn't lost, only a half-lie really, and we went home and he said "Now you are home" and I had people, a family, who were glad to see me and worried about me and it seemed like a bonding moment and we talked and joked and played board games and ate posho-matooke-gnut sauce-cassava and cabbage and carrots and I choked down, somehow, a plateful of avocado because, good Lord, I can't do anymore starch, and it was ok and I felt wanted and was happy to be here and doing this and not anything else even though I missed home earlier and wanted to talk to you but I am glad to be here and it did feel like home, and, good Lord, yes, again, it is beautiful and fascinating and vibrant and humming with life here and I'm here and that is good.


My host mom corrected people in the market the other day: "His name is not 'Muzungu!'"

Bananas, pineapple, passionfruit, jackfruit, papaya all grow here and readily and I'm happy about all of that. And milk tea with sugar is my friend too (although it started out with three tea-times a day and they've weaned us to two, and if they take another one away, I think nerves will start to go).

And even though I'm eating pretty well, if it weren't for the Nile, I'd definitely have lost weight. Beer is good. The 45-minute-each-way walk to the training center burns it all off.

Everyone loves Obama here and I've been asked several times, as if we were friends, how he's doing. I say he's probably stressed. In Kampala the other day I saw a poster with pictures of all of the current African leaders and in the center was a giant picture of Barack, so, who knows?, maybe his birth certificate is right next door after all.

The other day --  Sula, to me: "One of your friends walked by here earlier, a girl." Me: "Oh really, who was it? I mean, what did she look like?" Sula: "I don't know... The fat one?" Good times.

It's pretty funny to me how many of the conversations between us PCTs revolve around poop, pooping, not pooping, pooping in a bucket, pooping in a pit latrine, pooping in your pants, explosive pooping, who's going to start dating who, and matooke.

The soaps. I've had two brief experiences with these horribly-dubbed-into-English-so-everyone's-voices-are-grating-and-they-sound-like-they're-shouting-all-the-time Mexican or Brazilian or, apparently, Japanese and/or Filipino soap operas that are really unbelieveably popular here (or so I hear from people who are staying with families with electricity and tvs). But consider my mind blown. The one I saw was called Untamed Beauties, and I believe it's Mexican, and it was awful. And awesome.

Oh, man. Pretty much my favorite thing that's happened so far (or ever): At dinner last night, my host mom and brother told me that I was already changing color (as in getting tan). And they decided that, in a year or two, I'm going to look just like them. I'm going to be an African. And they're African, so I'm pretty sure they're experts on the subject.

Actually, Greatest Moment is a tie between that and this: During the first week here, I spent one awesome afternoon and I played football with about 50 beautiful orphans between the ages of probably three and eleven and I scored twice, heading in a corner kick and chipping a shot over the keeper, and then I ran, arms out like an airplane, windmilling across the field as the kids chased me down screaming and laughing and it was sunny and warm and the sky was a perfect blue as the sun leaned towards the west, towards home, and it was loud and happy and heartbreaking and Africa and beautiful and amazing and something I'll remember forever with a full heart and knowing that, if nothing else, I have that moment, here, in the pearl of Africa and here, where I really feel like, right now, I'm supposed to be.

And you deserve some sort of medal if you've read all this nonsense this far, so pat yourselves (-self, if only one of you makes it) on the back.

16 September 2010

One More Really Quickly

And then I swear I'll put up the big one that's sitting on my laptop at home.

In the tiny town of Pader in northern Uganda right now, just on the internet for a few minutes, as usual. I'm here with Eliza (who's another PCT) and we're visiting Sandi who's been here for a year. She works at a secondary school for girls who were orphaned/abducted by the LRA, helping (among other things) to teach life skills to girls who haven't lived normal lives in years or ever and so we're going over there in a bit. It sounds really intense, but also really awesome.

Five hour bus from Kampala to Gulu on Tuesday, saw Jamie Roach's (for those of you on Mom's side of the family) picture on the wall of the cafe there that he helped start with IC, then yesterday we took a 3.5 hour matatu (shared minibus taxi with 12 other people) out here. Really awesome. Eliza and I were sitting there, hot and dirty, as Peace Corps kids sharing a car with 12 Ugandans on a middle-of-nowhere red dirt road dodging pond-sized potholes and lorries and white NGO Land Cruisers that drive straight at you until the last minute (so don't stick your hand out the window) and goats and kids and bicyclers, passing concrete schools with uniformed kids playing football in the field outside and round mud huts with grass-thatched roofs listening to Bob Marley on her iPod. Stereotypes.

But it is good to be here. Good to be out of Wakiso. Good to be away from lots of other white people (not in a bad way) (except in Gulu, which was nice, but was also NGO-Central, which actually was a lot more noticeable than I thought it would be, not only with the logo-ed Land Cruisers and white people, but also infrastructure-wise as far as roads and cleanliness and all that; but that's a whole other story) and good to travel somewhere and sit in a bus and a taxi and look out the window and see somewhere new. All that goes to say that I'm really excited to be here. Which is why we're getting off the internet in a few.

But, one more story. Yesterday we saw an older man who was sitting outside leaning against his hut and when we walked by, he went to wave at us, we realized he had no hands and no feet, and it took me a beat to realize that he was not born like that, and that he had hands and feet at one point, and they were savagely taken away from him. So that's what it's like up here, I guess. Just constant small reminders that they've been in a war for 20+ years that no one is unaffected by, even if it isn't as obvious as with that smiling, happy-looking man who's obviously been through things that would keep most people from smiling again.

That's all. It's intense. But it's good. I'm happy to be here -- Pader-here and Uganda-in-general-here, I mean.

(Also, we crossed the Nile on the way to Gulu, so now I've seen it right near it's source and it's mouth, and I thought that was neat.)

28 August 2010

Really quickly!

Oh hey. I only have a couple minutes on the internet here in Kampala, so this is just a quick update. I have another blog post typed up on my laptop to post at some point, hopefully sometime next week. But everything is going really, really well, and I'm loving Africa as much as the last time, although I can't believe it's been two and a half weeks already and I can't believe it's only been two and a half weeks so far. I'm learning to speak Ateso, which is spoken out in eastern Uganda, so that's where I'll be headed in about eight weeks or so when we all split up and head to site (and I'll know specifically where my site is in like six weeks or so). And I'm living with a Ugandan family and the other night they told me that I'm already starting to change color and that in one year I'll look just like them and I'll be African. And they're African so I feel like they know what they're talking about. I walk 45 minutes to and from training each day and have at least fifty kids yelling "See you, muzungu!" and waving the whole time but they're adorable so you can't get mad about it and the walk is nice too, over rolling hills through banana trees and fields of cattle once you get out of town and stop having to dodge the boda bodas and taxis that kick up the red dust that covers everything here.

I don't know if that makes it sound nice or not, but I am loving it. Being back in Africa makes my heart happy.

More later this week (hopefully).

08 August 2010

Pack It Up, the Third

Adding one more thing to the packing list: this guy.

He shoots mini-Polaroids and is seriously awesome and I can't wait to be able to give the pictures out and/or hang them on my walls.

(Much thanks to Whit...)

07 August 2010


I'm also going to miss: Concerts at Neumos / the Showbox / the Crocodile / the everywhere else. The free concerts at the Mural, and Block Party. Lying in the grass and reading in Cal Anderson Park on sunny afternoons. Judging hipsters in Cal Anderson Park at all times and in all weather-systems. Monday nights. Jeopardy-time. Elliott Bay (the bookstore and the body of water). The chants at the Sounders games and at the George and Dragon. Trivia. Paseo (but I said that already) and, along those same lines, Serious Pie / Red Mill / Mr Gyro's / Hopvine / the Taco Hut / Molly Moon's / all those other places we love to eat. Nighttime bike rides. Angry Birds. Snow days. Fremont Oktoberfest. Fremont Solstice Parade. Fremont. Capitol Hill. Ballard. GChat. Those two cats in the mix. Alki and its bonfires and sunsets and frisbee and pizza and beer. KEXP and KUOW. HIMYM and LOST. Maybe even the Jersey Shore. The purple Bandit. Rock-climbing off Exit 34. Hiking and snowboarding. Sunriver. Leaving and coming back and the feeling, when you get back, of being home. The Olympic Peninsula and when you could see the mountains from the deck. Apple cider whiskey on the deck with a winter sunset when it's icy cold out. BBQing on the deck with a summer sunset when it's sticky hot inside the apartment. Walking around the city when you come around the corner of a building or to the top of a hill and you see the Space Needle sticking up into a sunny blue-orange-pink-purple or cloudy gray-gray-gray or a Blue-Scholars-inkwell of a starry night sky, reminding you where you are and how lucky you are to be here in this city and with these people during these -- the best, the best, the best -- years of our lives and your heart swells to fuller than full so that you never want to leave even when you do want to leave, so you can't leave, not really, because you're taking so much of it with you, in your head and your heart, and all you hear as you look out at your home, at your city, is that one distinctive voice, giddy and truly happy, reminding you, as if you could ever, ever, ever forget, saying, "We live here."

06 August 2010

Seattle Things

One of the best things about leaving is being motivated to do things around Seattle that I love doing or have always wanted to do but haven't gotten around to yet.

So, late on Tuesday night, Ryan, his friend Michael, and I hiked up to Camp Muir on the south side of Mt. Rainier. We started on the trail at 2:30am, brought our snowboards along, and just as the sun was brushing orange and pink across the summit, we were strapping in and coasting down, looking out on a jagged range of peaks across the valley while fog nestled in around their foothills.

It was stupidly gorgeous. I got a chance to sit in the snow and shiver and I don't know how long it will be until I am cold and surrounded by snow again. It was one of those things that I wish I had done earlier so I could have done it again. It was a great way to spend one of my last nights here.

(And when you include the fact that, before heading up to the mountain, I went to Paseo for dinner, it gets even harder to top this.)

(Also, just FYI, you can click on the picture to get the full size. It's pretty awesome.)

05 August 2010

Pack It Up, Again

Some of those various miscellaneous things I was forgetting last night:
  • Maps: Detailed map of Uganda / World map (to show everyone Seattle).
  • Tapatio! (Hot sauce) (To make the starchy banana-mash staple food more palatable.)
  • Gifts for my Host Family: Something small / Seattle-related (postcards or a calendar) to go with what I'll get them when I get there and actually meet them and see what they'd want/need.
  • Power Strip (for charging multiple things at once).
  • Pot Holders (which apparently are not available in Uganda).
  • Superglue (because, if you've seen my sunglasses..).
  • Bungee Cords.
  • Small sewing kit (for replacing buttons, stitching up wounds sustained while wrestling lions, etc).
  • Passport-sized Photos for official documents / copies of all important documents.
  • Aloe Vera (for my lily-white skin).
  • Seeds (in case I want to supplement my diet by growing a green thumb).
  • Addresses of friends and family.
And, again, I'm sure there's plenty of stuff that I'm missing. But, hopefully, I'll remember it all before Sunday.

04 August 2010

Pack It Up, Pack It In

At some point in every conversation I've had about going to Uganda, someone's asked me, "What, exactly, are you bringing with you?"

Until about two days ago, I always responded, "I don't really know. I haven't looked at the packing list yet. So we'll see." (And yes, I am currently vying for Peace Corps Uganda's "Procrastinated-the-Longest Award That I Just Made Up." It's really coming down to the wire, but we'll find out the results later.)

Now, however, though I haven't actually begun packing, I do have a packing list.

And here it is:

  • Netbook / Charger
  • Camera (Lumix) / Charger / Memory Card / Card Reader
  • Camera (Canon) / Charger / Extra Batteries / Memory Cards / Card Reader
  • Lenses: Canon EFS 18-55mm / Canon EF 75-300mm
  • Ipod / Powercord / Headphones
  • Hard-drive
  • Voltage Convertor?
  • Plug Adaptor?
  • T-Shirts (5)
  • Button-downs (4)
  • Tie (1)
  • Khakis (2)
  • Jeans (1)
  • Boxers - ExOfficio Travel (4)
  • Socks (Dress: 1) (Running: 2)
  • Khaki Shorts (1)
  • Gym Shorts (1)
  • Board Shorts (1)
  • Belt (1)
  • Thermal Shirt (1)
  • Jacket (1)
  • Hat (1)
  • Rainbows (Flip-flops)
  • Running Shoes (Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra)
  • Boat Shoes (For more formal occasions)
  • Headlamp (1) / Flashlight (1)
  • Knives (2 pocketknives, 1 kitchen knife)
  • Duct Tape
  • Towel (2)
  • Sunglasses
  • Flat Sheets (2)
  • Pillow (1)
  • Mattress Cover
  • Batteries (AA and AAA)
  • Cliff Bars
  • Ziploc Bags
  • Nalgenes (2)
  • Bandana
  • Pens
  • Moleskine / Small Notebooks
  • Pictures


  • Glasses (2 pair)
  • Contacts / Case / Solution
  • Eye-drops
  • Toothbrush / Toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Razor / Shaving Cream
  • Shampoo
  • Beard Trimmer
So that is it for now. I'm probably 99% sure that I'm missing something important on there or haven't listed various minor extras that I'll end up bringing. For now, though, that's what I'll be leaving with come Sunday (!!!) night.

(And the picture at the top is of my actual packing list -- I was playing around with the new 75-300mm lens. I enjoyed it.)

01 August 2010

It's Been Awhile..

..But suddenly I'm running out of time.

So here's a quick update:

Since the last time I posted, lots of things have happened.

Job: Quit -- and I'm really thankful for the opportunity I had to work there; I wouldn't have gotten into the Peace Corps if I hadn't been working at the Arc.

Car: Sold -- and then I regretted selling it so quickly; the bus is slow and I'm pretty sure it's always late, but everyone (rightly so) tells me it's just getting me ready for Africa Time.

Apartment: Moved out of -- and it only took twelve hours yesterday, plus several hours on Friday, up and down fifty-one stairs, over and over; so by my rough calculations, I climbed to the top of the Empire State Building probably at least one and half times, carrying probably the weight of the Empire State Building.

Possessions: Down to four boxes and a little bit extra.

So now I've got a rough packing / shopping / to-do list and I'm trying check off the boxes and squeeze in as much time with as many people as possible and simultaneously process the fact that I'm moving to Uganda in a few days while also not thinking about it too much so it doesn't make my head explode in a combination of excitement and stress and anticipation and sadness or not necessarily sadness but bittersweetness or whatever the real word for that is.

Basically I want to be able to quote Daniel Faraday from Lost: "I can do it. I can make time."

05 July 2010


Yesterday, as I was watching fireworks from my deck and trying to remember what summer is actually supposed to feel like (since it was in the 50s, overcast and raining here, on the 4th of July, no less), I started thinking about how this will probably be my last 4th of July in the States for a few years.

So I tried to spite the weather and enjoy it anyway.

It was a funny feeling, though, watching people celebrate America while I'm trying to prepare myself to leave it.

I mean, sure, we Americans are overweight and loud and probably don't appreciate enough just how well we have it. But we're also genuine and tolerant and diverse and polite. Or, most of us, anyway. And hey, at least we're not Canadians.

But as much as I like this country, I also love leaving this country.

And while I'll miss celebrating the 4th of July, I'll also be looking forward to October 9, 2012, when Uganda celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence from England. After, at that point, having spent two years in Uganda, I feel like I'll be able to appreciate both the celebrations and the inevitable reflections on the past and the present, and where to go in the future.

And nine months after that, I'll be back here, to celebrate and reflect on -- and in -- America.

03 July 2010

Block Quote.

A summation.

The devastation, the wrenching heartbreak of the AIDS crisis in Africa.
At the graveyard, there was a struggle: there was no space left for new graves, not space for the coffin of even a frail and wasted twelve-year-old. And so in the end, they reopened the grave of Mpho's mother, dug down, and buried her daughter on top.
And yet, ultimately, almost inexplicably, there is hope.
"It is not God's plan that people die at eight years old. Or twelve. Or thirty. God gives us the knowledge and skills to prevent or postpone death. Now it's about what people do. We've never seen a disease so vulnerable to the right policies. HIV is not like cancer. If I adopt a combination of prevention approaches, and protect the blood supply, the disease will retreat like it did in the U.S. We know what works. We can defeat AIDS if we do the right things. And we know what those are."
These are quotes from Stephanie Nolen's 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa. Read it. It will enlighten you, then break your heart, then frustrate you, then piss you off, then inspire you. It's done all those things to me and I haven't even finished it yet.

15 June 2010


I'm sure most of you have heard, but violence has been erupting in Kyrgyzstan this last week or so. But what you might not know is that Kyrgyzstan is also a country with Peace Corps volunteers.

So if you've ever wondered what the Peace Corps does to protect and evacuate volunteers in the event of such terrible, widespread chaos and violence, this is an incredible first-hand account (and also, obviously, an exception to the majority of Peace Corps experiences). It's frightening, and I can't possibly imagine what it would be like to be in such a situation, but at the same time, it makes me feel pretty safe if something like this were to happen in Uganda (which, hopefully, is unlikely). I feel like the hiring of armed local drivers shows that the Peace Corps is willing to go to some extreme (and necessary) lengths to protect volunteers.

I had actually read a different version of this last night, but was skeptical about the fact that it was passed on by a "friend of a friend on Facebook" and the idea of the Peace Corps hiring "five masked Kyrgyz gunmen" to evacuate volunteers.

Apparently, it's true. And all volunteers are safe and accounted for.

Now we just pray for an end to the violence (there and everywhere).

13 June 2010


I've been sacrificing sleep for the World Cup since Friday.

A couple friends and I went to a cafe at 7AM Friday morning for the opening match between Mexico and South Africa. We got there five minutes after they opened and could barely squeeze through the door.

That sounds like it would fit in pretty well with the World Cup scene in Uganda.

'Business coming to a standstill.'
'People abandoned their offices and shops to storm the nearest pub.'

And: 'Delegates attending the International Criminal Court review conference abandoned the meeting, only to resume after the opening match.'
So, yeah. That's commitment. (Justice can wait another hour. The World Cup cannot.)

And, on the subject of the World Cup -- though this just interesting and doesn't have anything to do with Uganda -- why, exactly, do we Americans call it soccer?

And, here is the source for that picture (which is actually in South Africa, not Uganda, but there are some great shots there).

09 June 2010


Yesterday was (unofficially) National Pothole Day in Uganda. Fortunately for me, Seattle also has terrible roads, so I should feel right at home.

05 June 2010

Aspiration Statement

Once you've formally accepted your invitation to the Peace Corps, they ask you to write an aspiration statement (along with an update resume) which is the first information the people in your country will find out about you. Basically it's an introduction of yourself, along with what your expectations of PC service are and how you see yourself working in your project, strategies for adapting to a new culture and your aspirations for service, natch.

Mine ended up going on for a while -- almost three single-spaced pages -- as things that I write tend to do, so I'm not going to post the whole thing here. But here's some of it, anyway.

On what I hope to learn during pre-service training to best serve my community and project: I am very excited to delve deep into an unfamiliar language, one that I have never experienced before. I think that being able to speak the local dialect would go a long way towards an improved standing in a community and I am looking forward to working as hard on learning the language as I ever have on anything else.
While I do have prior training on HIV/AIDS, I am looking forward to gaining more first-hand insight into the reality of living with HIV/AIDS and how it affects the individual and the community both physically and psychologically. The only way to really help someone is to have intimate knowledge of their situation and their point of view.
I hope to build upon that knowledge of how HIV/AIDS affects everyone it touches in order to learn and create positive strategies for coping with the effects of HIV/AIDS as well as curbing the spread and preventing new infections. Education and prevention may well be the best way to fight the AIDS epidemic. I hope to gain valuable teaching skills during my pre-service training so that I will be able to play a part in improving the situation in the community in which I’ll be living.

On adapting to a new culture: Some of the things I’ve been most thankful for in my life are the opportunities I’ve had to travel. In 2008, I spent five months traveling through South Africa, Egypt, India, Thailand, and China. The changes between those five different cultures were stark and often startling initially. People looked at me, talked to me, and acted towards me differently in each place and I had to adapt my behavior and dress to fit a variety of social norms. Through it all, my ability to learn quickly and connect with people on a personal, empathetic level helped me adapt to the unfamiliar more than any guidebook ever could. I learned more about myself and the world in those five months than I had in a long time, and I learned various strategies for thriving in an unfamiliar culture. I learned when to sit back and be patient, and when to press and be assertive, an important skill in any culture. An attitude of openness when others express an interest in you along with nonjudgmental curiosity and genuine interest in others can bridge vast gaps in beliefs and cultures. While developing, or stumbling upon, these strategies, I also discovered that there is no end to the things I can learn from other cultures, and I learned that I have the ability to teach others as well.

And on the aspirations I hope to fulfill during my Peace Corps service: When I think about my aspirations for my Peace Corps service, I often find myself having to temper them somewhat. It’s somewhat easy for me to set lofty goals as if I were going to go to Uganda and change the country, that the reverberations of my impact would be felt by millions. Of course, as much as I would want it to happen, this is probably unlikely. Fortunately, in my time as a social worker, I’ve grown to realize the importance of making a small impact in one person’s daily life. One seemingly insignificant step forward is sometimes the only way to begin. But that small step can often lead to a larger impact in an unexpected area and soon there is a ripple-effect of progress. This is what I am aspiring to in the Peace Corps. I realize that progress may be slow or minor at first, but I believe that once that first small goal is met, the ripples will begin to spread.
For my Peace Corps service, I have aspirations of making an impact in the fight against an epidemic that is wiping out generations of people. While HIV/AIDS is daunting, to say the very least, I want to be at the forefront of the battle against it. In my role as a Community Health Volunteer, I want to do this through participating in or creating campaigns of education, monitoring, and prevention.
For myself, I have aspirations of expanding and changing my world-view; of learning about Uganda, community health, and myself; of being able to have fun amongst the work and appreciating every moment of an experience that I feel extremely fortunate to be having; and of working hard and putting everything I have into my role as a Peace Corps Volunteer. By accomplishing all that, I will be well on my way to fulfilling my aspirations and making an impact during my Peace Corps service.

So, yeah. That's how Uganda's going to make their first impressions of me (or at least the Peace Corps staff in Uganda, anyway). And that's that.

04 June 2010

Stove of Death

Over the long weekend, four friends and I went to a three-day music festival in Eastern Washington called Sasquatch. It was amazing. And I got maybe the smallest of previews of some things I'll face in the Peace Corps. And one thing I hopefully won't.

One small bucket shower (actually just hair-washing) over the course of three long days.
Dirt that wouldn't come off of my hands.
No outside news all weekend.
Squatting over the port-o-potties (because you did not want to sit down on them. I mean, I assume you wouldn't, maybe someone would, but I did not).

The most exciting part however was cooking with a propane camping stove, just like what I might be using for 27 months.

Normally, cooking on a camping stove is not really all that exciting. Normally, I say. Because normally your stove does not explode into flames while you're cooking on it. The second night we were there, the five of us were sitting around the campsite, Emily was cooking dinner on the stove, the rest of us were helping get dinner together and chatting and eating and whoosh the stove went up in twelve inches of orange flames that spread four feet across the grass in a matter of milliseconds so I jumped out of the way of the flames (safety first!) and Katie stopped, dropped, and rolled as the fire singed the hem of her dress and Emily kicked at the stove as the flames spread underneath the hood of Rory's car as the neighbors ran over with water and the flames spread to the propane tank and Zach ran to the burning tank of explosive gas, ran to it, and bent face-first over it and, while we yelled at him to stop, he unscrewed the tank, the burning tank of explosive gas, and we doused and stamped the rest of the flames and then looked at each other in disbelief and all started talking at once about how everything almost exploded and then we all needed a beer.
And that was all in maybe twenty seconds.

So. If we can't make it two nights without our propane stove exploding in flames, what do we want to set the over-under at for how long I can cook over one and still have eyebrows?
Also, should I put "Have experience with exploding camp stove" on the version of my resume that's going to Uganda now? Because it may be relevant.

28 May 2010

Block Quote!

One of my all-time favorite books is You Shall Know Our Velocity! by one of my all-time favorite authors, Dave Eggers. It's a novel about two twenty-something guys who try to circle the globe in a week and give away $32,000 to people they find deserving. It's about traveling and being twenty-something these days and trying to find some purpose in life among all those other things.

My copy is dog-eared and underlined and every once in a while I pull it out and flip through it and find my favorite parts and read them again.

Like this:
"I can't believe I got to Africa," he said.
"I know," I said.
"How did we get to Africa?" he said. "Already I don't want to leave. Did you feel that air? It's different. It's African air. It's like mixed with the sun more. Like our air isn't mixed as well with the sun. Here they mix it perfectly. The sun's in the wind, the sun's in your breaths."
"I'm glad you could come," I said.
I love it. It's true.

And this:
All I ever wanted was to know what to do. ... And we came here, or came to Africa, and intermittently there were answers, intermittently there was a chorus and they sang to us and pointing, and were watching and approving but just as often there was silence, and we stood blinking under the sun, or under the black sky, and we had to think of what to do next.
And this:
You see the rest of the world, then you come back.
And I could go on and on, but I would end up quoting the book.

25 May 2010

Learning Uganda

The first thing I did after going through invitation kit, spreading the news, and failing in attempts at catching my breath was start to learn more about Uganda. Which, in all honesty, meant learning basically anything about Uganda. My knowledge of the country was limited to the name of the capital (Kampala), the fact that it was landlocked (although, turns out it's a lot further north than I was first picturing in my mind's-eye map of Africa), and the somewhat embarrassing fact that I saw The Last King of Scotland in the theatre but haven't seen Invisible Children yet (even though The Last King of Scotland was a really good movie). Basically, I have a lot to learn, and so I started at the beginning.

Uganda is a landlocked (but we knew that already) country (we knew this too) in Eastern Africa (knew it!).

It shares borders (and this is new info we're learning now) with Kenya to the east, Sudan to the north, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, Rwanda to the southwest, and Tanzania to the south. But hey, let's all agree not to tell Mom about that whole Sudan/Rwanda/Congo thing though. She'll worry. The southern part of the country also includes a large portion of Lake Victoria (which is the largest tropical lake in the world, and the second largest freshwater lake, behind only Lake Superior).

Size-wise, Uganda is slightly smaller than Oregon. So who knows? Maybe I'll end up in the Sunriver of Uganda. I'll have to find out which country has the Seattle to Uganda's Portland though, and go there, too.

From what I could find on the weather, Uganda has pretty ideal conditions for an equatorial country. While the altitude changes obviously dictate changes in the climate, from what I've read, temperatures throughout the year stay pretty consistently around 75-85 dF, with nights cooling down to 50-60ish dF. It can be cooler at higher altitudes, since Uganda ranges from 1000-2400m above sea-level (gradually sloping downward as you go north towards Sudan). The long rainy season goes from March to May, and the short rains are between October and November, but apparently it can rain any time of year. Basically, it rains. Be ready for rain. Because it's going to rain. However, because of the altitude, the humidity is fairly low, despite the warm temperatures and rain. Allegedly. So, according to the internets, all that goes together to give Uganda one of the most pleasant climates in the world. Bam.

Like a lot of African countries, the population of Uganda is made up of a lot of different ethnic groups without one single majority. Since it was a British colony until 1962, English is the official language (along with Swahili, but that's a whole 'nother story), but there are about forty different languages in use these days. Fortunately, I'll only have to probably have a really hard time trying to learn one of those.

The current population estimate is ~32.4 million people, with a median age of 15 (!!!) years old, and a life-expectancy currently around 53 years. That median age blew my mind when I first read it. I mean, compare that to the US, where the median age is almost 36, or to a lot of Europe where it's almost 40 or even higher. It shouldn't be unexpected, I guess, when you have entire generations in Africa being wiped out by AIDS, but I was still pretty shocked.

Despite those numbers, and despite the things that Uganda is most infamous for -- Idi Amin and the 300,000 people who died during his eight-year rule; the 20,000 children kidnapped since 1987 and forced to become soldiers and slaves; and most recently, the proposal of a bill that would make homosexuality punishable by death -- Uganda has made a lot of good progress forward. Specifically in regards to HIV/AIDS.

I'm going to make another post about HIV/AIDS in Uganda (and the progress they've made) later, since that's what I'm going to be working with when I get there. But I wanted to end this post on some sort of positive note. Because I am excited to go.

The world's a messed up place and I'm excited to go out and try to un-mess some of it.

(BTW: That's Uganda's flag up there. Wacky, huh?)

23 May 2010

Now What? And Where?

Seriously. What's this going to be like?

The part of the invitation kit that I was most eager to read was the job description. Just exactly what would I be signing up to spend two years doing? Acting as a Community Health Volunteer, sure, but what does that mean?

Fortunately, the Peace Corps included in the invitation kit a handy little booklet explaining just that. It's like they're in my head!

Says the booklet:
Volunteers in our Community Health and Economic Development Program work as staff members of a variety of host organizations in Uganda. Uganda's Ministry of Health, and local and international organizations request Volunteers to assist them with developing and implementing programs with the goals of improving overall levels of community health and economic development, preventing HIV/AIDS among adults and youth, caring for orphans and vulnerable children, and supporting people living with AIDS, their families, and their caregivers.
So that's it in the largest of nutshells. It goes on to list more specific activities and efforts I might be engaging in, but they're all firmly entrenched within the fight against HIV/AIDS. And they all sound exactly like what I was hoping for when I began to fill out my application almost a year ago.

Other fun facts from this booklet:

I'll likely be living in a rural community, and my housing will be what they call "modest" and will consist of two self-contained rooms along with areas to cook and bathe (both of which may be outside) and a private latrine (read: pit). There probably won't be running water or electricity, so I'll be using a kerosene lantern and stove. Housing does come with some furnishing though, and a settling-in allowance to supplement that.

Transportation will be by foot, bicycle, or local public transport. Public transport is "likely to be crowded, uncomfortable, and unreliable," just like you would expect. I'll get money to buy a bicycle and will probably find that many of the communities I'll work with are a very demanding bicycle ride away from my house. No riding motorcycle-taxis, known as boda-bodas (laaame). And no driving a motor vehicle of any kind. No exceptions.

And, as is to be expected, there are many challenges I can expect to face. But, according to the booklet, "your ability to cope with these challenges, as well as those that come from daily life, will depend upon your flexibility, patience, humility, and good humor." Not to toot my own horn, but I mean, who's more humble, more patient, and funnier than this guy? (Beep-beep.)

22 May 2010


Name that country!

Here's a hint: It starts with a "U" and ends with a "OhhhMG, I'm going to Uganda!"

Answer? It's Uganda!

I swung by the apartment on Friday afternoon to check the mail. As I got out of the car, I saw it. My invitation kit! Just sitting underneath the mailbox, like it owned the place. So I ran up the rest of the steps and snatched it up, heart racing and mouth dry and hands a little shaky (but that could have been from my skewed caffeine-to-calories ratio that morning). There was no way I could open it alone, so I leaped back down the stairs, back into the car, and managed to drive downtown without actually thinking about driving at all. Sarah took an extended break at work and we opened it. Or rather, she opened it first and read it and said she was happy with it and for me.

And then I read it.

Country: Uganda

Job Title: Community Health Volunteer

Orientation Dates: Aug. 9-10, 2010

Pre-service Training (In Uganda): Aug. 11-Oct. 23, 2010

Dates of Service: Oct. 24, 2010-Oct. 23, 2012 (!!!)

And then I told everyone else. And then I tried to let it all register and process. And I couldn't.


(More Uganda facts to come!)

20 May 2010

Oh, hey.

All that waiting? Yeah, it's pretty much over. Because I woke up to this this morning:

Ok, so the waiting's not completely done with. But I'm in! And now I'm just waiting for the invitation kit to come in the mail. It says they posted it yesterday, so I'm hoping tomorrow or Saturday, and that I don't have to wait until Monday.

I was pretty confused when I saw this page on my Toolkit this morning though. I hadn't heard anything from the Placement Office for two weeks, and before that all I had gotten was an email request for an updated resume and one additional essay. Then nothing. Then this. So I called them immediately, worried they had somehow made a mistake. And, as is wont to happen, I had to leave a voicemail. Fortunately they called me back only a couple hours later to tell me that, no, no mistake, the Placement Officer didn't have anything else to ask you (which is a good thing) and your invitation is in the mail!

At that point, it was relief. Happiness, definitely. But relief first. To have worked and waited and worked on something for so long, without knowing how it was going to work out, and then to finally get it. Relief. Like I feel like I need to take a nap, or something.

And now, even though I have to wait a few more days to find out where and when I'm going, I don't even care. I'm interested and excited to find out, but I'm not anxious at all. All the parts of the process that I had anxiety over are just that: over. (For now. Until I find out where and when I'm leaving. Then I'm sure I'll be anxious and nervous all over again, to an entirely new degree. But I don't care! Because I'm in!)