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.