Monday, July 4, 2016

Have I said all I can say?

So I know I said I'd stop doing this, but apparently, it's the only thing that makes me feel better. Kinda, I guess, I don't know.

This is really an homage to a select few who have put up with me over these past 25 months. I fully believe that Peace Corps is a crucible and whatever was going on in your life prior to coming here is magnified ten fold. Then COS magnifies it more. Then giant groups of people magnifies it more. Until you're "that girl" who's in the middle of an anxiety attack and driving everyone away. I hate when I do it, but I don't know that I'm doing it until it's too late.


People say (idk who these people are, but I keep hearing it) that you make better, closer friends when you share your vulnerabilities. Well, every time I do, I feel like the monster sent here to destroy all things fun. A few of you know when I'm about to start waving the pity party flag and launch into a total ASB moment. I skirt off to the side, I put on a movie I've seen a zillion times. I call home. When I can't do these things, then it's word vomit. All these insecurities, these sad things that happened in my life grow legs, crawl into conversation, and ruin everything. Usually right in the middle of what should be a fantastic time. And then for days later I'm all:
 And I obsess more and I cringe at the thought of bringing it up again but I NEED to apologize because I feel so terrible. I feel like a perya (however you spell that). Something dirty and awkward that people just want to get away from. No one knows how to react when someone says that someone they love has died or is sick because there is no right thing to say. I'm even embarrassed to full admit how bad it really is. So, as my brother would say, I "disney" it up. To some extent. I think. Maybe it's because I'm not ready to say it out loud yet. Or maybe its because I don't want people to think I'm searching for sympathy. For someone who hates whining, I sure do it a lot. Less whine, more wine.

The real issue is that I'm confused about everything and stressed all the time. I don't know what I believe about my experience here, I don't know what I believe about my relationships here. And that's what scares me the most. That I abandoned my family. That I damaged those relationships and I don't know if it was worth it. I did that. I chose to leave and even then, I chose to stay. I love love LOVE my new family here. Both Ugandan and PCV. Probably more than they will ever know. I love being Nagudi. I love squat mob and team Mbale and all of it. Insecure/trust issue disaster.
So getting back to why I wanted to write this blog post in the first place: there are at least 3 people and a few stragglers here and there who have endured me throughout this whole mess. My guilt tirades and my drunken freak outs and that one time I cried. You will never know how much that meant to me. That after such a horrible, awkward moment, you still call me to chill on the weekend. You still want to be seen with me or talk to me. You message me first. You want to get lunch. You're bummed when I don't show up places. You still want me around. For most of my life I've spent a lot of time playing the "real or not real" game with friendships, and you guys with your actions, have always always, answered "Real". 

I love you, and I will never forget you. You know who you are.

Monday, March 28, 2016

So you say you want a revolution, wellllll ya knowwww


So it's been awhile.




Since my last post things were going pretty well. In the past few months, the Malaria Club (A.K.A my saving grace) distributed 100 nets to neighboring villages in our area. They began the session with the drama that they've done before (MARPs or Most At Risk Populations) showing that because one man decided to choose not to sleep under a bed net, he spread malaria to many different people whose immune systems could not handle it. They also did the percussion ensemble that we've discussed before. Most of these nets went to pregnant women or mothers with young children. The distribution consisted of 4 stations:
  1. Repair: The participants were taught by the secondary students how to properly repair their nets using a needle and thread for small holes and a patch for large holes. Nets were built to last for 3 years so repairs are vital

2. Washing: The participants were taught by secondary students the proper way to wash a net (bar soap only, nothing caustic), how often (once every 3-4 months), and where to dry the net (in the shade, sunlight damages nets)

3. Hanging: Participants were taught by secondary students how to properly hang a net when in us and when not in use. They were also taught how to turn a square net into a circle net. This is important for people who sleep on grass mats or mattresses on the floor.


  1. Distribution and Quiz: Each participant was asked 3 questions about the material they learned. If they answered all 3 correctly, they received their net. If they didn't, the student would send them back to the station that taught the information they didn't understand.

This coming weekend ( April 2) the Malaria Club and I will visit the homes of 25% of the people who received nets to see if the information they were given is correctly used. We are also planning 10 performances over the next two terms (ambitious of them, huh?) and getting them club tshirts to showcase their pride. We've also moved on to a more involved discussion on antibiotic resistance. That means I get to give to lessons on evolution and natural selection and I'm loving it. Most of them haven't heard of it before so no one interjects that God put us here and all that shit. It's refreshing. They even want to put together a performance showcasing that part of the curriculum.



Our Lady of Fatima and St. Jude

Still teaching complementary feeding at the health center. I'm getting some repeat customers so there's hope they're actually using what I teach them.



Diapers

The Nappy Project is going well, for the most part. Every time a nappy leaks I die a little inside. But from my research it seems like it's a never ending battle with cloth diapers, so at least it's not going directly on the floor so that's cool. Behavior change is a bitch, and the caregivers are still tying the towels around the waist like they have forever and then that leaks and goes right around the whole apparatus like it's not even there. So we're working on it. So there's 120 completed, with 80 in the works. If we can get at least 400-600 we'll be good. A few of the 120 are trash now, different mistakes with the sewing and wear and tear (because of mistakes with the sewing). But things are moving along.

Chicken Farm

This is probably the most exciting news so far. We've partnered with 2 rotary clubs. One in Uganda, and one abroad. The Rotary club abroad has agreed to match funds for the poultry farm if we can raise the other half. It is extremely important that the this project is Ugandans working towards better Uganda. That they take ownership of this project and have a sense of pride in their work. They are more than capable of fundraising just as much as any western country. I am so sick of hearing “well, someone should support us”. No, there are plenty educated, resourceful people right here in Uganda and they can do this. Why would wolf hunt if someone is already feeding it? It is unrealistic to think that they can raise the full amount, but half of the amount is more than doable. I hate the word “empowered”. It sounds like me, the westerner, has some power like fucking Galadriel and I can just give it to others. Every human is born with their own power and Peace Corps Volunteers need to be better at showing their community the power they already have. How arrogant and conceited of volunteers or voluntourists to think that they have the ability to give anyone anything.
St. Kizito is also working to send staff to Komonkali to learn to make homemade feeds for the chicken which cuts the costs almost in half. So now we're cooking with gas. It's still up in the air if I'll be here to see it's completion, but at least we're on the right track now.

Here's what we're doing to raise funds:

  1. Appeal letters
  2. Ugandan crowdfunding site Akabbo
  3. Marathon
  4. Benefit event at a local restaurant
House Keeping:
Water is back! 10 months later lol. It's nice to finally feel clean again, if only for a moment. And I thought it would make me better at being a better house keeper but, like, not really.
Our COS conference is next month so we're in the home stretch. I'm terrified.
Also, Goose has a cat harness that is hysterical.


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Alright, so I wrote that big update as a way to hide this rant (that is much more for me than to put this out there for you all to read) that I've been keeping back for awhile. It's about to destroy me (dramatic, dramatic) but I figured I'd kept it to myself of so long that I needed to type it all out and see if that helps me sleep and stops my heart beating out of my chest. Most of my PCV friends have definitely had QUITE enough of my whining about how difficult it was for to visit my family (excusing Mom and Dad). But I guess I'm almost embarrassed to go into the full details of it. Like, if I say it all out loud, then it has to be true. Like Candyman. I might not even post it. With any luck, most of you have stopped reading by now, so, kudos. So here it is friends, the post no one is really meant to read.

Anyone else feel like this bitch is just following them around all damn day?
 
I run out of things to do for the day, so I sit in my hammock to read, and there she is. I call my Dad to check in and he tells me Mom had a bad day and he's got blood pooling in his hands...and there she is. More than half my family doesn't speak to me...shame shame shame. It's like, after awhile, should I even be here? Am I actually selfish narcissist for being here? There are two reactions to telling people you're a Peace Corps Volunteer.
  1. Wow I could never do that, you're so brave and a Saint, and bad ass!
  2. Mmm, good for you. *Dirty Hippie Stare*.
And either one sucks. I am not a Saint and I usually just smile that these people who do that shit until they go away. That's something you say to the ones who come here for 8 days to fulfill their own needs. Not the needs of others. To clarify, “Thank you for your service” is fine. There's work to be done, and people who've worked in public service get that. It's not a parade worthy thing (I'm looking at you, you little twerp) it's just a job and someone has to do it or this whole fucking world is going to fall apart. Meanwhile, the Dirty Hippie people tend to follow me around reminding met that I'm not a service to my country and my place is back with my family who's going through a tough time right now. But in all actuality, my family has been going through a tough time for almost a decade and we can't stand still, the worst could come tomorrow, or in ten years and meanwhile our lives have passed us by. And for some reason, the pressure is all on me to do something about it? I don't understand. And still, the Man-Septa keeps swinging through my head all day. Shame, clang, shame, shame, clang.
My cat eats better than the children in my village. Shame. Babies are pulled out of pit latrines or left by rivers to drown. Babies die because the family cannot afford the oxygen mask. Children go to school hungry. How can you learn when you haven't eaten in days? Mothers, out of total desperation, leave their children on church steps or by the sides of a roads because they are at the end of their ropes. Are my projects my projects or is it something my community actually wants? Are they just saying yes because they're afraid to say no? And last night, I was chased through town by a man claiming that I BELONGED to him. That it was my duty to have sex with him. Why else was I in Uganda? And the sad part? This attitude is not just bumping around the developing countries. This shit happens all the time to me, but for some reason, this particular altercation really sent me right over. I screamed at him. Slammed doors behind me. And my hands shook for the next hour or so. It happens to Ugandan woman too. Why is this allowed? I don't care if they're drunk or insane. Every time this happens, you HAVE to make a big deal about it. Send that crazy bell ringing man woman after them. Shame! Shame! Shame!
And then there's the facebook blackhole. Everyone is married and pregnant and the thought of being in a committed relationship like that is absolutely horrifying. The minute someone says “I want to get to know you better”, I want to disappear through the floorboards. Then there's the actual future. My friends are finishing all their programs and starting their lives. Making money. Buying houses. And I could get over all of that if certain little bird would stop reminding that that's where I should be. When will it all stop? I guess I'm like a fish and if I don't move forward I'll die, but it's been high school (work 80+ hours), college (work 80+hours), nursing assistant (work 60+hours) peace corps, med school( or McDonalds) residency, then life? And I'll be 100 and in more debt than my entire life is worth. And all the other debts are just waiting for me when I get back and all I want in the world is to put Mom and Dad at a lake house somewhere without a care in the goddamn world. But I'm terrified to go home. For nothing to work out and have to work at Dunks (not like that's a terrible career, but it's not for me) for the entirety of my life. And all my parents sacrifice would lead to that.
And if I bomb the MCAT? What then? Study and take it again and again or settle for a career that I won't be happy with? That's the most heartbreaking thing I can think of. My father has never thought about anyone other than his family his whole life. If we succeed, then he succeeds. Every time I think of the white coat ceremony for med school, I picture looking up at him (beardless FOR THE LOVE OF GOD) with this smile. The same smile he had when I was 4 and caught a sunfish for the first time in my whole life outta the Charles River with my little pink fishing rod. I can hear him chuckling “Way to go, Mol!” And it was such a simple time. An easier time. His entire attention was in that moment and probably also on the thin mints in the truck. But he wasn't trying to get to the grocery store in 20min or less because he was worried about what would happen with Mom at home alone. He wasn't stressing about hiring help because he doesn't want strangers in the house, and wasn't livid at the idea of putting her in Home. He wasn't going to the doctors' and listening to them tell him “oh, everything's fine” when everything is most certainly not fine. He wasn't stressing about his children being at each other's throats all damn day. Or his psycho first born off in Africa and it'll take him a whole day to get even get to her if there's a problem (“Hey kid, do I need a passport? Are you sure?”) I want the days when Mom spent 8-10 hours at the beach (beginning at 7am because we had to get the good parking spot) because “by God we paid for that sticker, and where else do you have to be? Ya gotta hot date?” I want them to do the crossword puzzle together and give the Red Sox a standing ovation in the kitchen. I want Dad to make Mom's snacks before she heads down to Boston for her 7p-7a and follow her out to her car with her coffee in his hand. Open the door for her, get her settled, hand her the coffee through the window. I want the whole family standing on the porch (well into when I was in high school) and wave to her as she goes and she beeps goodbye at the mailbox (if she didn't take out the whiskey barrels with the marigolds on the way by). (Side story, after 9-11 my mom was on call for days. My sister was terrified that the hijackers were going to follow the victims and bomb BMC to finish the job. We slept together and cried and waited for her to come home until the terror alert was over.)
With everything going on with my mother, my father is a good 70% of the reason I haven't ended my Peace Corps Service early. He'd be so unhappy that I gave up my dream. He's never said anything (because as a rule we don't discuss feelings, the closest we come is “um, have a coke” and “There are no flies on Molly, fuck em” and you can all think of this particular rant of mine as a rare treat) but from what I can gather, his dream is for us to be happy and never felt like we had to settle for something we didn't want in order to fulfill some level of duty to someone else. I talked about coming home last october, and my sister actually said “What would that do? So we could be 5 unhappy people instead of 4?” And I loved her even more for that, if that is possible. She might think I'm full of shit, but I think she's great. And I miss her. I wish things were like that again. And every time I fail in Africa, I feel like not only have I failed my community I serve, I've failed my parents who love me and have worked so hard for me to become the person I am.
I saw an article today about Seth Rogan's girlfriend ( I hate that I can't remember her name). She's 25 and her mom was just diagnosed with Alzheimer's. I shared it for a second because I related to it so much, but then for some reason I didn't want to bring that much attention to myself so I deleted it ( But I guess this brings more attention to myself? Here's hoping everyone got real bored and stopped reading). So I wrote an even more invasive blog post -_- because that makes sense. But a lot of what she says is true. Every time my Dad flashes me, or my sister messages me, I think it's the bad news I've been dreading since October 2014. I mean, it wouldn't be out of the ordinary. My brother texted “Gram died, call dad”when that happened, as I've said before, we're not very sensitive people.
Like in the article, I wonder about my wedding day and my future children. I want her there, and maybe she will be there. But not in the way I need her to be or that she probably wanted to be. It reminds me of my college graduation. It was so difficult getting Mom there and back and the rest of the family was in such a bad mood that it was just such a trying day for everyone. It should have been fabulous. A celebration. Photos everywhere. My family's first child to graduate from college. A tough college. And I know they were proud but they were just so miserable and exhausted with all that was going on that no one could enjoy the day. Instead, they all piled into the car to wait for me to finish taking photos with my friends and professors. Then I made them all get out of the car to take one photo as a family. I felt terrible. And angry. And cheated.
I still feel so guilty that I was so angry at my Mom for “allowing this to happen to her” that I used my ex's mother as a substitute, my friends' mothers, my older coworkers, to fill that void that I needed. I feel so guilty, because those really were the best of times and I should have spent more time with her. I feel worse for my sister who was so young. And all those beach days that I talk about all the time and look back on with such joy and love, she barely remembers. The camping and the canoeing. The apple picking and strawberry picking.
And then there the days in Uganda where we go hiking, or traveling or to the pool or to see my America friends. And I feel guilty the whole time. If I'm not doing my job, I should be home helping my dad. So that's part of the reason I'm always late to every get-together or I leave at 6am to get back to work. I don't want my site to see me as a tourist and I don't want my family to think I'm off on vacation while they “toil” in the situation. Not that anyone is really doing anything other than my father. I told him that I would take over for him from October- January when I get home. He needs to get back to work. Not so much for the money, but for his sanity. It's really hard. But I'm scared.  And every time this shame swallows me whole, I can't call home because I can't disappoint my Dad. He wants good news and happy conversations. Something he can hang his hat on. And I don't begrudge him that one bit.  I don't even want Ugandans, or other PCVs to see me when I feel like this. Because it's like they can tell. They can see through my obnoxious chatter that I'm a terrible person, not worthy of friendship or success.
So at the end of the day, I panic, take something to help me sleep, and binge watch something to slow my brain down and keep the guilt at bay. But all day, even as I write this: you should be teaching skin integrity right now shame you haven't been to the health center in weeks shame you leave site too much on the weekends shame you don't call Ma enough because you're afraid shame you can't even pretend to take Ma seriously when she talks about taking a Masters' Program herself because you know that's impossible shame you yell at her when she doesn't understand shame you should be working 8-5 instead of 9-5 everyday shame when you're not working, you should be integrating shame why don't you know everyone's names that you buy food from everyday?shame you don't go to church shame you're angry at your mother for her health shame you're angry at the rest of the family who try to tell you how to feel shame you're even more angry at the way they look at you, like not only is the situation bad-- you are bad shame you're angry all the time shame you can't cry because you're a monster shame there is something wrong with you shame

Where does crying get you, Mol? That's right. Nowhere.

So enough of this vanity, self indulgence, feeling sorry for myself.


Feelings, ew, gross.

Thank God for my lacrosse stick but what I wouldn't give to hear the crack of the bat. Batting cages anyone?

Also, I did this post for me. I needed to say it out loud. And there's 90% of me that hopes none of you ever made it this far.




Tuesday, October 13, 2015

It's not that kinda movie honey. My life's not for you to make a name for yourself.

 
So remember that time I thought I was a blogger? Yeah, sorry. I know some of you liked it? I don't really know. But I figured that writing about being over here would be better than watching Shawshank and Good Will Hunting on repeat and oogling Harvey Specter. Don't get me wrong, that's not all I do over here (as you'll see if I keep going or if I ever post this) but at night there's down time.

Forgive me readers, for I have delayed, it have been 8 months since my last blog post. I haven't been writing because it just turned into a “complain” space and I didn't want to be the whiny, cynical, tired, PCV. My struggles are my struggles and while sharing them is helpful for everyone I guess, it's poisonous if that's all I have to stay. A few months ago I decided to actively change the way I think. I'm really not a pessimist by nature, but the blog and the freedom to say whatever I wanted really started to bring that out of me.

I also started to actively think about how I viewed this experience. Why am I here? As I've complained about before, we get a lot of short term volunteers who think that the 2 hours a week they spend with our kids is going to change the world. I mean, ever small thing counts but I can't stand the selfies that say “look at me with the poor little orphan, tell me what a good person I am”. A line from Rent sticks out in my head, especially when I think about applying to Med School-- “My life is not for you to make a name for yourself.” So I felt guilty about that for a long time.

So that's why I haven't been writing, but here's what I've been doing!

Goose, the kitten 8 months ago is now a big ol' Tomcat (fixed, thank god). He survived an attack by 3 dogs and against her better judgment, one of my neighbors saved his life. She acts like she can't stand Goose (culturally, Ugandans don't keep pets) but she knew how said I'd be if he went missing. Against MY better judgment I got attached to this cat. He could be beaten to death, killed by dogs, or poisoned any day and I need to be ok with it. This is not America. But one night he went missing and two of the guards saw me looking for him and decided to help me out. My neighbors love me enough to watch out for my cat. So that makes me very very happy.
 
 
Work stuff!
Overarching Goals:
  1. Create standard operating procedures that are used throughout the home to include:
        • discipline
        • child development
        • hygiene (Nappy Project)
        • nutrition standards
  1. Establish a successful Income Generating Activity
  2. Reform resettlement practices
    – Nappy Project
    – Chicken or Fish
    – Quilting?
  3. Enhance staff morale
    – Village Savings and Loan Program

The diaper project is off to a very slow start but it's going. I thought it'd be finished by now, shows how naive I was as an early PCV. The staff isn't nearly as excited about it as they were in February when I submitted the grant. That's really discouraging. In February, you couldn't get anyone to do anything BUT sew. But it took so long to get the grant money and then the fabric that everyone lost interest.
They're continuing with the project, but I've started exploring other options. I remember in high school how everyone got addicted to quilting. We made these “Trip Around the World” quilts and you couldn't get kids to leave the sewing room (God Bless Mrs. Haskell). So I gathered old sheets from the thrift store and some scraps of kyitengue from my dresses and I'm working a demonstration quilt. The quilts are really simple and perfect for beginners. I'll get this one finished, and show it to them in a few months when the diaper project is wrapping up. See where it goes.  These photos were taken by the grant committee from Washington and our grant coordinator from Peace Corps. Apparently the project caused quite the stir in the capital. Who knew?



The chicken project has been a bit of a nightmare, so I decided to explore fish farming since the turn over is so high. I toured farms, contacted peace corps, met with fish experts and water engineers and it's all very possible. However, it's new and different and that's scary to the Kizito Staff. But in my fish exploration I found a farm in Komonkali with the most delightful family. I've met them about 3 times and we're already family. That's what I LOVE about Uganda. Genuine hospitality. Every time I show up, they make up a bed for me so I can stay the night. I never do because in true American fashion, I always have about a million things to do, but it's just so nice that the offer is there. I want to recommend the site for PCV because there's a lot of opportunity and the family is so driven for change. That is most frustrating thing is that we come here, all full of that JFK can do spirit, and no one wants to do a damn thing. Can you blame them? Do you want to do more after you work a full day? After you carry water and cook for your family of 100? I get it, but it's still frustrating. The lady of the house is constantly asking me to come to her health center to teach. She asked me what I was working and I told her about the diaper project. She wants her daughters (who are tailors) to learn how to make them too! So that's pretty cool. She's invited me to come to her health center to give a demonstration of the cost effectiveness of reusable diapers and the dangers of diarrhea in young children...yay! The family has this giant successful farm as well. And get this...chickens! So the son is helping come up with an accurate cost of production for me and we came up with a MUCH cheaper way to expand the poultry farm. I've also looked into fundraisng locally instead of writing a grant through peace corps. The schilling sucks and outside money is just going to make it worse. And I want to help foster this idea that ugandans are capable of saving themselves. They don't need the big western man to come down and give them anything. So we'll see!

I'm still teaching once a week and on the job. We also started making our own washing towels to make sure we're washing bottoms between diaper changes. There's a new bottle room made from old plywood and a bookcase so that's nice. Sanitary. Professional.

We've also spent the past few months working a list of demands from the Uganda Ministry of Health. So I've been writing training manuals and care manuals and all sorts of things. I'm still pushing for them to do more work with the resettlement program...but not budging yet. Funds, ya know?

I'm also trying to implement a better record keeping system to monitor the malnutrition. A lot of the time, children become malnourished and no one notices until it's really bad. So we're trying to implement the WHO growth standards. We've already identified children who are nearing danger zones and to look at them you really wouldn't know.

Alright, so that's what I've got for Kizito.
Secondary work:
Still giving lessons at the nearby health center. I teach a lot about complementary feeding and nutrition. I do make shift cooking demonstrations. The In-Charge at the Health Center also approached me to get more involved in the Health Center to get more foot traffic through there. So we are organizing a net distribution that will include education on cleaning the net, repairing the net, and hanging the net properly. He also wants to start a Youth Health Club. So that's about to take up a ton of my time...but it's exciting!
My malaria club is the light of my life. They demand that I meet with them 3 times a week and they call me, come to my house and ask me to teach them more. I promise, I'm not lying, lol! They're even on vacation for the next two weeks and yesterday they came to my house to tell me that two weeks was too long to go without doing work. So we have lessons tomorrow. We've done 3 performances of the STOMP malaria skit and they've really enjoyed it. The next few performances will include the students teaching a lesson on malaria. Woo!

This is the happiest kid to ever slam a bucket lid.
 
I also did a week long Reusable menstrual pad session. It was a nightmare. So incredibly stressful 375 kids. They were stealing towels and buttons and I was screaming like a maniac to get their attention. However, there were some shining moments. I once they all got going, I really didn't have to do anything. I taught a small group first, and that small group became leaders and they went around to their own small groups and taught them. Some of them really enjoyed it and asked to be leaders the rest of the week. We did the session as a part of gender equality too. We had boys and girls making the pads and male teachers. So even though it was a HUGE CHALLENGE, it was still very very worth it. The boys took the pads home to their mothers and they were very excited to give them to them. Also, I brought a new pair of granny pannies and demonstrated how to properly use this RUMP, don't worry.
 
Peace Corps work:
I co-taught Gender and Sexual Reproductive Health for the new group of trainees.
I was elected to the Volunteer Advocacy Committee
Joined another volunteer support group
And was selected as Malaria Think Tank Grant Coordinator

Housekeeping:
My water has been out since May. It doesn't bother me, but my bucket bath game is weak so I'm real dirty. And you definitely notice how much water you use when you have to carry it all. Washing long hair in a bucket is just the worst and I almost drown all the time. So for safety reasons I only wash my hair once a week.
Still cooking on a sigiri-- currently making brownies dutch oven style to give to my sewing group!
 
I killed a snake in my bedroom with a hammer.
Oh, and I saw gorillas!

Wishlist update:
Things for my little brothers and the kids that come over to my house to destroy my things. Coloring books, matchbox cars, soccer balls. Glow sticks.
BOOKS! Paperbacks. I loose power and then the tablet/computer is useless. Anything that as a human being you should have read by now.
Always hair conditioner. Always.
Flea collar for the cat.
Instant food anything.
Measuring cups/spoons.
 
 
That is all.
"Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans"


Friday, March 6, 2015

Times they are a'changin'


Again, I have been slacking about writing. Partially because I’ve been in a negative mood and haven’t had anything good to say and I didn’t want to whine. So let me first start by listing all the good things that have happened since I last posted.

Christmas—We went to Rwanda. I can’t believe I didn’t post a blog post about that. It was incredible. The food was fantastic (Mexican! Almost…) and the history was unbelievable. You know that burning sensation behind your eyes right before you cry? Well, I had that the entire time we were there. First we went to the Hôtel des Mille Collines, the site made famous by the movie Hotel Rwanda. Walking through there you’d never be able to guess what happened there. It’s beautiful. I had tequila on ice by pool and flipped through facebook. We also toured through all the memorial sites. The bullet holes and blood are all still there. I’ve been to site of evil before. We went to Aushwitz when we were in Poland. I think it’s important that everyone visit these places. We all need to be aware of what human beings are capable of. Desperate people do horrible things.

For the past few months I have been working steadily to teach hygiene in the babies home. Daily, it’s one on one interactions and scenarios. We’re having a little issue where if they see me do the work, they leave and let me do it all. When really, I’m only trying to lead by example and be there to show them the safest way to deal with feces and urine. However, it’s like a never ending flood of feces and urine because the diapers just aren’t effective at all. We have submitted the grant for the Cloth Nappy Project with a *drum roll please* 49% community contribution! Peace Corps requires a 25% community contribution. Most grant funders require some community contribution to ensure that the community receiving the funds is actually invested in the project. Unlike most AID agencies that toss money at people and then take off. So once the diapers are finished and used regularly it will really help. But right now, it’s just exhausting trying to keep up with it and I totally get why the mothers just ignore it half the time. I’ve been keeping a journal of all the cases of diarrhea in the house and it’s constant. There isn’t a week goes by that someone isn’t sick. And a lot of that can’t be helped with so many people living together. But we can work on it. I guess that’s where most of my frustration comes from. I feel that the administration isn’t backing what I do 100% so the mothers don’t care to either. (There it is, the whining).

World AIDS DAY—So gangama has a primary school, the babies home, a nursery school and a health center all within sight of my house. There are A LOT of opportunities to do work here. Peace Corps has many think tanks (HIV, WASH, Malaria, etc). Each think tank periodically sends out small grants ($300-500$) to complete small projects. The released an HIV grant in December that lasted until February.  I saw this as a great opportunity to get my foot in the door at the health center. Charles, the nurse there, was very excited. He had been looking for something more to do. We planned to invited TASO (The AIDS Support Organization) to come and play live music to help draw the community to us. We ordered biscuits and sodas and prepared a lunch for the TASO employees. We expected to test 300 people for HIV. We met some challenges throughout the event. TASO only came with prerecorded music, their testers, and their counselors. The testers and counselors were great! However, it really would have benefited our event if they had brought their drama group as we had discussed. Since the drama group did not come, we had an abundance of food! I quickly ran around the village getting people to come and enjoy what was left. Nothing worse than wasted rice and matooke. TASO also demonstrated female and male condom use. I was thrilled! But since it is a Catholic health center, it wasn’t received well by some of the staff. When I first met with the health center, they informed me that demonstrations were allowed, but distributions were not. TASO also distributed. I knew it didn’t make the health center was not happy, but from a health worker’s standpoint I love condoms. Bring on the condoms. Give em to everyone by the hundreds. Anyway, at the end of the day, we had only tested 82 people. Not even a third of our projected testing. I think it would have benefited us to go outside of our catchment area just a dite, but maybe for next time. We plan on inviting the same people to test again on May 20th. The WHO recommends that countries with a high incidence of HIV encourage their people to test every three months. So we’re trying to see how many of those 82 people that were tested come back in May. So that will be the real measure of success. And, the VHT (village health team) worker came up to me afterwards to tell me how happy I made people in the village that day. So we’re putting it in the W column anyway! J

And here we are now:

So we’ve been denied for the first grant that we applied to from Combined Services Third World Fund for the expansion of the poultry farm. I’ve been scowering around the internet for another grant and I have a few feelers out, but not bites yet. If any of you (those brave few that have made it all the way down here lol) know of any grants that would fit our project I’d be much obliged.

And here we are at the whining I’ve been telling you was coming. I still feel stuck. Working at the babies home is a different beast. While my job description says that we do outreaches to the health center and the primary school, that’s not actually the case. I do outreaches. The staff at the babies home has their own work to do and they’re not really community minded. I can’t ask my counterpart to do every project with me since it’s not really her job and she has a family and a life to contend with. It's a little frustrating because they should be more interested in what happens to the children after resettlement and all.  Health centers want to do these projects because it’s what they were built for---bettering the community. So once I came to that realization, I decided to go off and plan projects on my own. However, I still need my counterpart from Kizito to interpret and if you don’t have a ugandan to work with the project won’t be sustainable. Charles would make a great counterpart, but he doesn’t speak Lugisu. So, my counterpart has agreed to work with me anyway on these extra outreach programs but I don't know how excited about it she is. The primary school was her idea anyway, so that’s fine. We have actually been conducting outreaches to the primary school but have had to stop so the new head mistress could find a better time for us.

Pending Outreaches

1.       Primary school—I’ve started a curriculum on Gender Equality, Life Skills, and Sexual Health.

2.       Women’s group—At one point in these months I started to think I needed to site change because I didn’t believe there was a role for a Peace Corps Volunteer at this site. At some point during all that misery, I took a walk to the market to buy tomatoes. On the way there, a group of women called me over. I had never met them, but I know their children very well. They all shout Nagudi when I walk by and hold my hand on the way to the market. One day, I was walking home with a bunch of big books on malaria. They demanded that I read them to them. So in the middle of the street, we had a short malaria session with 30 children. You bet I’m reporting that to washington. Anyway, I decided that even if there isn’t clear full time Peace Corps role at St. Kizito, there is one in Gangama. So I decided to form a women’s group from all the women whose children follow me every day. I interviewed 8 women and we have decided to meet on Tuesdays at 2pm to discuss Maternal Child Health. It will kinda be like the parenting classes I wanted to do with the families of the children in the home. I also want to introduce a Village Savings and Loan to them. This will provide a spring board for future projects like the creation of a borehole or latrines.

3.       Maternal Child Health Sessions at the Health Center during immunization days. We have taken the MCH curriculum and wittled it down to 4 sessions. Since the mothers come every 4 weeks, they will hopefully be able to get a new session every time they come. The session lasts a half hour and covers either Nutrition, Malaria, Hygiene, and Family Planning. Family planning includes spacing, birth plans, etc.

4.       Malaria percussion group—today I met with the head mistress at Mbale Townside High School. I showed her videos of the percussion group STOMP and a hand percussion group from New Jersey. She was very excited! Which made me excited! The goal is to create a STOMP like percussion group that creates their own instruments from malaria prevention tools. I want to meet with them weekly to create a percussion routine and to teach them more about Malaria. Eventually, these students will travel to other areas, health centers, schools, to perform and give malaria health talks. If all goes well, they will be youth leaders in their communities. Maybe other schools who see the performances will be excited to get involved and want to start their own Malaria Percussion clubs at their schools. I got the idea because the malaria initiative in peace corps is STOMP out Malaria and then there’s STOMP the music group. Obviously due to copy rights we’ll have to name it something different, but I’m excited that it’s actually going to happen! I meet with the potential students next Thursday! I also decided not to include my counterpart in this project. She is very busy in her own life and I think it might be good for me to find other Ugandans who would be interested. So right now I don’t have a counterpart for this project but I’m hoping the students will be able to identify a teacher at the school who would be interested.

So good things are in the works and on their way. I just wish they were already here. But I’ve decided that if I want make a change, I just have to do it. And hope that people follow. If nobody follows, I’ll abandon the project because if the host country nationals don’t see a point to the project, nothing will ever last. But I got to get something going and show some energy to get people excited to have healthy lives!

P.S in honor of LetGirlsLearn, I’m trying to put together a book of stories of successful Ugandan women to motivate my primary school kiddos. If it works out, I'll post some here!
 

Monday, January 5, 2015

My feet is my only carriage, so I gotta push on through


So for the past few days I’ve been feeling like a total failure. I have to keep constantly reminding myself that I have 19 more months to go and I’ll figure it out soon and things will all fall into place. I feel like the hardest thing about Peace Corps is turning the visions we have for our communities into realities. Your community comes to you with a problem. You think of a solution. Then you need to figure out how to make it into a reality. Find the money. Find the time. Find the people who will carry it on after you leave. It’s all very daunting.

 

And sometimes I feel like I haven’t intergrated well. That I haven’t made an impact on my community and I’ll just be like another volunteer who’s come and went. Which in most regards is a normal thing. I think of peace corps volunteers like a random breeze on a sail. No one notices them, but they turn the ship to a different, better direction and then they are gone. And there is no record of them there. But a big part of peace corps is making connections with host country nationals so that they trust you and will go with you with these crazy ideas you have. And I’ve been worried that everythings moving so slowly partly because I’ve been super crappy at integrating. Which I’m not sure I’ve actually been bad at integrating….I could just be over thinking like I’m wont to do.

 

 

Anyway….I’m telling you all of these because of an experience I had just now walking to the market. My path to the market takes me through my neighbor’s backyard, past her pit latrine, through a field, through another backyard, through a football pitch, down the road, and then across the street. So I get to see a fair amount of my community when I go through. This time, as I went through the first back yard, one neighbor called out to me, “May I escort you?” Of course I said yes, and I was delighted to walk with someone new. We walked through the field and into the first backyard. As usual, around a dozen children came out of the wood work shrieking “Nagudi! How are you?!” They grabbed my hands and welcomed me through their yard and escorted us through the football field. Totally normal walk to the market. They shout “Nagudi” because I was annoyed at being called Muzungu in my own neighborhood, so I introduced myself to them. Nagudi is my African name. Anyway, the woman that I was walking with turned to me and said “The children like you. You know all of them. You are a good person with a good heart. You have good manners. You are good to the children and the adults that you meet. You have a good heart.” It was like the universe knew I needed a confidence boost today. It felt great! And about two seconds later, you know, just so I don’t get too cocky, the woman says to me, “ Ah Nagudi, but what are you eating? You are becoming fat!” Fat is actually a good thing here. And for the record, I’ve lost 18 lbs since I’ve been here. BOOM!

 

I wanna see ya be brave!


Hey Folks,

 

I haven't been writing because I haven't had anything interesting to tell you. It's either horribly depressing or comes off as “I am warm and you are cold  *sung to the tune of the eskimo from boy meet world* And even now I'm considering stopping because my new kitten won't stop sitting on the keyboard. Her name's Arwen and she's super cute. Except when she LICKS my face all night and I can't sleep. Cat kisses sound cute in theory but the scratchy tongue is just the worst. Also fish breath. Gross. I've been a little lonely lately, and Arwen is nice to come home to. *** edit Arwen is actually a dude and I thinking of naming him Lucic. LOOOOOOCH. *******edit decided to name cat, Goose. He’s so SO WERID.

 

Anyway, development—true development-- is so slow it's painful. Any project I want to start has to go through the planning stages, the convincing stages, the money stages, and the building stages. I'm almost positive I'll have to extend my service to accomplish anything I want to do. Sorry mom and dad.

 

Here's a break down of what I'm working on:

 

My first project that I'm super excited about and my organization is too is a cloth diaper project for the home. It'd be easy to just call up a good intentioned organization to do a diaper drop, but what happens when those run out? What happens when the company will no longer donate diapers? This babies' home has been around since 1968 so it's safe to say that it will continue one for years and years to come. It'll outlive any goodnatured individual's new year's resolution, any resume building mission trip, any mid-life crisis, or what ever else posses people to volunteer for a few weeks. So donating nappies is at best a temporary fix. I chose to help the mothers create a cloth diaper project because they already have a room full of sewing machines and caregivers who want to know how to sew. However, pricing out the materials and writing the start-up grant has proven to be a time suck. And with the holidays coming it's even more difficult to get everyone to together to plan. I was searching for a way to get a major company to donate material, but I realized that that is not sustainable either. Will the company donate forever? Will the suit with a heart that I've found always be working for the fabric company? What happens if they decide not to give us the free fabric? So now I'm on the hunt for a cheap fabric supplier in Uganda. But when you say fabric, they steer you towards the indian fabric markets in Mbale. The places with the silks for gomes and cotton kyitengue for dresses. I'm looking for nylon. Tough, umbrella quality, nylon. And I'm looking for it in rolls. For my prototype I just destroyed an umbrella. That's not cost effective in the long run. Also, Uganda in the world of estimation. To budget out this project I need exact numbers of yardage or meters of elastics and fabric. Exact numbers of what goes into making one diaper. Every time I try to get these numbers, the word “somehow” comes into the mix and I want to tear my hair out. Just keep swimming.

 

My next project is something the home has been asking for. It's sort of a “prove myself” project. I need to prove to the people working here that I'm not like the short term volunteers who come through, cuddle babies, and leave. I need to show them that I listen to their wants and needs and I'm working with them not for them and not telling them what to do. This project is the chicken coop that many of you have seen me chat about on facebook. The chicken coop is going to be a real game changer for this community. The babies home relies on donations from parents of the children and from goodnatrued souls through uganda and the rest of the world. Now, if you come here, they seem to be doing well. However, what if people can't donate one year? Living off the generosity of other, as any waitress will tell you, is always a gamble. And you cannot afford to gamble with the lives of children at stake. The chicken coop will allow the babies home to become completely self sustainable. To have money to provide for children for always.

 

Now, you might say that between the nappies and the chickens, how are these people going to have time to do all this work and watch the children. Well, that's what i've beeen thinking too. I've researched and found a babies home in Tanzania that invites relatives (older sisters, aunts, grandmothers, etc) to come and stay at the home. These women (because lets face it, women are the only ones who do anything in the developing world) come and learn how to properly take care of these children. I've gone on several resettlement visits and seen that some families can really take care of the their children once they come home. And some cannot. There's this one little girl who's face still haunts me, as cliché as that sounds. I can't pronounce her name, but I see her whenever we talk about children who have falling through the cracks. My counterpart says that one thing that we could really do to help these families is to give them an income generating activity. Eureka! Viola! It all comes together like a play or an after school special. The families send a representative to live at St. Kizito for one month. During that month they bond with their specific child, learn to cook nutritious meals, garden, prevent malaria, and keep hygienic conditions. They can also work in the chicken coop to learn chicken farming and work in the diaper IGA to learn to sew. A short term group also came and built an oven. They can learn to bake as well. And if I can swing it, we can make clay beads and they can learn to make and sell those. It's also a great opportunity for a village savings and loan. I've also had to go even slower to convince the people I work with that it's a good idea. Normally, after the host country nationals veto a project, it's dead. If they don't like it, they won't continue on with it after you leave so it's just a waste of time. However, I can't think of a better way that accomplishes all the problems they keep coming to me with. So baby steps. We'll do a dry run of this in August 2015 and if it works out we'll do another one in November 2015.

 

And the start up money for all of this can start with Peace Corps grants, but I'll need to find another institution to fund the health classes and the IGA classes after I leave. The Peace Corps grants leave when I do. I'm thinking Bill Gates but that might be thinking too big. We'll find it though, where there's a will, there's a way!

 

 

So that's what I've been doing—-as boring as it is!

 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Keep ya sunny side up, up!


* sorry in advance for the grammar and the just the stream of consciousness that this is*
Tuesday September 30, 2014


Happy Birthday Dad! So I’ve been at site about two months now. And in that time two babies have died. The second one died last night and no one knows why.  It’s unsettling.  I’m drowning my feelings in a cheeseburger and I don’t care. ( “ I wish they would die before I could love them”, one of the caregivers had said)

So I’ve noticed I’ve been chatting a lot on here about my thoughts and feelings and that’s all great. But I really want to use this blog to catch a snap shot of Uganda, for me and for you. So I’m going to try to tell more stories.

So I’ve started taking porridge. Millet porridge to be exact. It’s really just a cup of bread and sugar but I like it. My neighbors think it’s funny that I just make a cup for myself. The babies eat a version of it that’s fortified with sim sim and other things to give it a boost. I don’t understand the aversion to vegetables here. They’re ok with the legumes and the carbs but tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers and other things are just unheard of. I suggest them at our nutrition meetings and get shot down every time. It’s weird. We beg kids to eat broccoli and here it’s not even around.

A girl from another organization just arrived in Uganda a few days ago and had the misfortune of having dinner with all of us. We were in a little bit of “here’s what’s wrong with Uganda” chat and when you’re here for 2 days it’s really not what you need to here. Yeah PCVs get really bitter at times, but that’s just because it’s everyday. It’s not just a month, it’s not just a few weeks, and it’s not ever going to drastically change while we’re here. So yeah, people get bitter. But we really should have reigned it in a tad for the poor kid.

Things we struggle with (from that conversation at least) :

the Muzungu price--people always expect that you have more money because you are a muzungu. Which is very true. Middle class Ugandans v. Middle class americans are not the same. So stop trying to act like you are. Generally we don’t mind paying a bit more than the locals but not 10x more like some vendors/carpenters/taxi drivers try.

Sexism: A raging feminist in Uganda is going to have a hell of an adjustment period. Don’t kneel if you don’t want to. But sometimes it’s very awkward not to.

Catcalling: It’s funny, it’s annoying, it’s flattering, it’s gross, all at once. Much like America. I had a Ugandan woman stand up for me when I walked by a construction site.

                “Leave the Muzungu alone. Why are you disturbing her?” You go, nneabo, you go.

                We did tell the newbie what all the common things men throw at women when they walk by.
                “My size!” and the “scratch the palm” thing. UGH

There’s always dust everywhere. Even in the wet season. I wore lip stick the other day cause I missed it and then immediately regretted it when a thin layer of dust covered my month. Gross. My feet will also never be clean again. Ever.

If I could redo that conversation all over again, I’d have added this section as well.

 

Things we love about Uganda:

Everyone wants to help you get where you are going. Even if you turn down the boda men ( instead of having taxis all over town, Uganda and much of Africa have motorcycles that will take you wherever. Peace Corps Headquarters does not allow us to take them.) will tell you where to go. It might be “just there” which isn’t extremely helpful but if you’re really confused usually you can get someone to walk you there. Sometimes they ask for money, sometimes they don’t.

Local Food. Local food can be awesome or awful depending on the occasion or the creativeness of the cook. I hate matoke with a passion but it’s there at every meal. Matoke, rice, posho (like mashed rice somehow) irish, that is considered food. Anything else (beans, peas, what) is called the soup. So if they ask me what I had for dinner and I tell them I made cow peas with tomato and onion they will immediately say “Eh! But where is the food?” Highlights of local food is the pillow (fried rice), street chicken (so good, usually at home they roast and then boil but if it’s on the street it’s roasted and salted), samosa ( I stand by my statement that uchumi vegetable samosa is phenomenal, come at me PCVs), cabbage ( I don’t know what they do to this but it’s awesome and I can never recreate it), pork (hell yes to pork), fried Kasava ( another potato like vegetable with salt), ROLEX ( The PCV go to, chiapatti with fried egg, cabbage onion tomato. It’s like a breakfast burrito and if you put mustard on it it’s fantastic).

You are always invited everywhere. Sometimes it’s weird when you’re at a wedding for someone you don’t know or whatever but how many times in America have you been like “Oh, is it ok that I go? Will it be weird? Did I know them well enough?” In uganda you just go. It’s fun and no one questions why you’re there. Like one of the women’s father died and we drove all over god’s green earth looking for the funeral to support her. We stopped at 3 different funerals and none of them was the right one but that’s beside the point. (Side note: if you are planning on using the “my mother died” excuse to get out of work in Uganda, don’t. Your boss will find you.)

People take care of each other. I never worry about my laundry when I go to town and it’s still on the line. If it rains, my neighbors take it and vice versa. I make too much food, I give some to Irene. She makes too much, I get food. If they don’t see me cook, someone passes me a plate. Food is love, people. Food is love.

Jury is still out about how we generally feel about the cleaniness. Some things they over clean and some things they underclean by American standards. Like we mop the floor 35 times a day and have to sit on a mat and not directly on the concrete. Then there’s garbage all over the streets. Handwashing is not really a thing and babies pee everywhere but you have to bathe at least twice a day. I’m just confused most of the time and have come to the conclusion that I will never know. It’s fine.