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!)