Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Cheap Date

A Peace Corps veteran in my group once said that Peace Corps girls are cheap dates when they return to the States. I figured this had to be true, considering I get excited about free food (regardless of whether or not it even tastes good) and any display of good old-fashioned manners. But, after two full years in Uganda, I’m pretty sure if a guy took me to McDonalds, let me order whatever I wanted from the menu and bought me an icecream cone for dessert, I’d be smitten.

Recent experiences have lamented the fact that I will indeed be the cheapest date possible. This in turn, got me to thinking about what a personal ad would look for a female peace corps volunteer who has just returned to the States (this may or may not be my own personal ad)… I imagine it would go a little something like this…

Personal ad:

Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, back from Uganda, been in the States for a month now. Enjoys hot showers, dishwashers, washing machines, clean, unripped clothes, and large grocery stores. Likes going out, doesn’t matter where to, as long as we aren’t in a village. Likes all kinds of food. A plus if I don’t have to eat plantains or sweet potatoes. Looking for an educated man with good hygiene and a full set of teeth. Prefer if you can pick me up when we go out on dates. Good general knowledge of geography is a plus. Conversational English is a plus.

Give me a buzz...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My "True Life" Episode

I get some pretty strange ideas here sometimes…My mind wanders…Just today I was thinking about the MTV show “True Life” and wondering if I were to get my own episode, what would my “True Life” be? True life…I’m from a hippy town? True life…I’m addicted to cereal? True life…I made less than $3000 last year? Then I realized what it would be…So simple, right before my eyes. “True Life – I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer.”

Just today alone, I realized a number of interesting things happened to me…things that I think would shock/entertain and/or disgust viewers and hence would make me a great candidate for my own “True Life” episode.

Why today alone would be reason enough to give me my own episode of True Life:

1.PEOPLE (ME) FALLING: This morning, I slipped on my doorstep while carrying a heavy, leaking jerry can (bucket) of water . My point is: Who doesn’t love to see someone fall? If we could get a clip of me trying to carry that on my head and then I fall, even better!

2.WILDLIFE + GORE: I went to shut my bathroom door and I shut a lizard in it…The lizard was almost cut in two (It was horrifying, possibly made even more horrifying by the fact that I used to have a pet iguana as a kid), but most people like a little gore. And lizards in your bathroom? Well that’s just ludicrous.

3.PEE: I was in line at the supermarket this evening and a kid peed next to me… he just peed…on the ground…and I just stood there and muttered “uh-oh.” The gross part may have been that the kid peed right next to me, but the even grosser part might be that I was so not even phased by it that I didn’t really even move. I was next to the pee, but I wasn’t in the pee, so I held my spot in line, stepped over the pee, paid and was on my way

A few more reasons why I should have my own episode:

-No matter what, I will always be more entertaining than “Big Brother Africa” which, and this is a fact, is the worst television program (as well as television program idea) in the history of the television. What’s funny about Big Brother, is that if you are actually insanely bored enough to watch it, you’re pretty much sitting on your ass doing nothing, while you watch someone on t.v. sitting on their ass doing nothing…You might as well just stare at someone else in the room (or rather, change the channel) Or you’re sitting on your ass doing nothing, while you watch someone brush their teeth…Um, I brush my teeth twice a day, can I get my own program please?

-Sometimes I look at my arm and realize it’s the same color as the ground…Then I’m not sure if it’s because I’m really tan and I happen to have skin tone that’s a shade very similar to that of dust, or I’m really just covered in dust. Not sure how this is a reason…But I’m going to go ahead and keep it.

-I live in Uganda (I think) and I’m pretty sure about 80% of Americans don’t know where that is and probably would confuse it with Uruguay. And if I could figure out whether I’m living in Uganda or Uruguay (who can keep the countries straight?) and find one or both on a map…This could be a pretty educational program.

Note to MTV: Actually, I’m pretty sure I’m live in Uruguay…Do you guys film in East Africa?

-I have giardia (gastrointestinal bug from the water) about every other week.

To conclude, I’m not sure how my MTV “True Life” documentary would reflect on Peace Corps…It might not actually help the recruitment cause…But, what I’m guessing is someone would just watch because it was on (like Big Brother) and then say, “Well that was pretty random,” and then forget all about it.

Well, that was my (pretty convincing if you ask me…) proposal. If you know someone who knows someone who knows someone at MTV “True Life,” put a word in for me. 6 degrees of separation, right?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Out of Africa

Note: I apologize for the title, but I just couldn't resist. It's one of my favorite movies of all time.

I remember hearing a long time ago that readjusting to life after Peace Corps is the toughest part of the Peace Corps experience and I'm beginning to think whoever said that might be right.

I have four months left in Uganda and that terrifies me. It's almost as if this experience has come full circle. I remember finding out that I was going to Uganda in mid-June of 2009, and leaving 6 weeks later. During those 6 weeks, I was always wishing time could just slow down a little; I wanted to savor those last 6 weeks as much as possible. And of course, hoping that time would stretch out only meant that it went by extra fast. And now, I find myself in the same exact position. This time, I have four months left and I feel this earnest desire to make every last day here count, somehow.

I find myself scared just like I was when I left for Peace Corps. When I left for Peace Corps, there was so many things to be afraid of. What if I don't like where they place me? What if I don't make any friends? What if I am extremely isolated? What if I miss my friends and family too much? What if I'm just not up to the challenge? Now I'm afraid all over again, just this time, I have a new set of fears. What if can't re-adapt to the fast pace of the Western world? What if I miss Uganda too much? Or, will I try to greet everyone and creep people out?

Peace Corps is a profound experience and it affects and changes people to various degrees. For me, I've changed so much in the last year, particularly the last 6 months, that it's hard for me to even remember what I was like before I came here. It would be a long blog if I told you every way in which Peace Corps has changed me, but what I can say is that in Uganda, I think I smile more. I think I am more open to new experiences than I have ever been. But most of all, I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life.

I know. That's quite the statement. But it's true. I've never felt more stable, nor more up for the challenges that life has to throw at me than I do now. What is it about being here? I really don't know.
I've pondered the possibilities...Like maybe having less makes me appreciate things more. Or, maybe not having the crazy work mentality that we have in the States help? Or, maybe I've just grown up a bit. It's probably a little bit of everything. But, truth be told, I don't know why I am so happy here.

What I do know, is that I am afraid of losing that happiness and losing that positive attitude that I worked so hard to hone.

There's so much to be afraid...And sometimes it's seemingly silly things that I find myself sad about, like, how can I leave my soccer team? Who will I kid around with every evening, if not them?

Leaving is a scary endeavor. But I guess I have to just handle it the way I handled coming to Uganda – By keeping the bigger picture in mind, doing it even though I am scared, and hoping for the best.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Three Plates of Matoke

Greg Mortenson has been getting some heat lately. For those of you who are not familiar with Greg Mortenson, he is the author of the New York Times best-selling book “Three Cups of Tea.” For the sake of being brief, basically, Mortenson wrote a book about his efforts to build schools for girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan; He subsequently founded his own NGO for the cause and the book has brought in a lot of financial contributions. However, 60 minutes recently did a report on the author, which found that many of the claims he makes in his book may not be true. For instance, Mortenson claims that he was kidnapped by Al Qaida, but 60 minutes basically exposes this as a lie. The report also investigates claims that Mortenson treats his NGO, "The Central Asia Institute," like a personal ATM. And one of the main people calling Mortenson out is Jon Krakauer (author of Into the Wild, Under the Banner of Heaven), a former donor of The Central Asia Institute.

My main point, however, is that Mortenson got ridiculously famous (and rich) by writing a book about his humanitarian efforts, a book that tugged at people's heart strings, but one that was also packed with a bit of adventure (i.e. getting kidnapped by Al Qaeda).

Which leads me to my next point – If Greg Mortenson can get rich and famous, why can't I?

I've spent 20 months in Uganda, a country that lately has been in the news for all kinds of business – anti-gay legislation, riots, bombing. Surely, this holds just as much allure as a story set in Afghanistan/Pakistan? As a Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda, I could write all about my efforts of trying to promote football for girls (donors and readers alike love a gender equality focus) as well as my efforts to help orphans.

Adventure is important. If I just talked about saving the children people would get bored. That's why I would also write about that time I was kidnapped by Al Shobab, our local terrorist organization.

And to further add to the “adventure” element, I could slip in bits about the time a rode an elephant to work, that one time I ran with the gazelle at sunrise, and that other time when I got lost in the jungle and was forced to kill a hyena with my bare hands.

Of course, being the amazing/famous humanitarian that I am also grants me access to many impressive people in Uganda. Readers love a sensational bit here and there, so of course I would have to mention that time when Museveni and I went clubbing in Kampala (Presidents and Aid workers got to de-stress somehow) and Museveni totally blacked out in the bathroom at Iguana and woke up with obscenities written in sharpie on his forehead.

I will equal Mortenson in terms of fame, but won't have to deal with all the scandal concerning whether or not I'm a fraud because I will be more careful than Mortenson. For instance, unlike Mortenson, I will not include a photograph of my captors. Also, the only witnesses to my safari adventures will be trees, which can't call me out.

As far as the name of the book...Since drinking three cups of tea is not really a custom out here, I would have to alter the title a bit, substituting tea with something more applicable to Uganda.

My book, on the other hand, shall be called “Three plates of Matoke.”

Additionally, I could take a cue from Mortenson and call my NGO “The East Africa Institute.” Geographically confused people might even confuse our organizations and accidentally donate to me instead of Mortenson. After all, how many times have we heard the question, “isn't Afghanistan and Pakistan somewhere in East Africa?”


Sunday, April 17, 2011

My house could double as the local library

Peace Corps Volunteers have plenty of free time. And because most of us struggle with either no electricity, or inconsistent electricity, we Peace Corps Volunteers tend to spend a great deal of that free time reading books. At the moment, I would say I'm averaging a book a week. I find myself reading in between work meetings and tasks (especially when the power is off and I am not able to waste time on my computer)...Then again before bed time. My house would be a whole lot tidier if it weren't cluttered with books that I've brought with me, picked up at the Peace Corps library or had sent to me by my mom.

While I've always been a book lover (as a child I did not fall short of being a complete book worm and, in fact, got second place in my elementary school in the accelerated reader reading contest), I have rediscovered the joy of reading here in Uganda. Because I spent four years in University reading for the sole purpose of understanding a specific concept and achieving good marks, I forgot how it felt to read simply for the pleasure of it. I've read a lot of great books in Uganda, many of which have made me ponder ideas I would have never even thought of, some that have taught me history, and some that have truly changed my way of thinking about the world and about life.

As a book lover, I wanted to share a list of some of my favorite books that I have read over the course of my service. Check them out if you get the chance!

1. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
2. Veronika Decides to Die by Paul Coelho
3. Contact by Carl Sagan
4. The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Jose Saramago
5. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
6. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
7. Seed to Harvest by Octavia Butler
8. This Book will Save you Life by A.M. Homes
9. The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
10. Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime by J. California Cooper

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

FEEL the gratitude

There were many reasons as to why I wanted to join Peace Corps. But a main reason was that I was looking for some perspective. You hear people say that Peace Corps totally changes your perspective on life, and for some volunteers, I think this is true.

I didn't know what kind of perspective I was looking for exactly when I joined Peace Corps. All I knew was that I wanted to grow, and I wanted to be able to look at life more holistically, as well as realistically, and I thought Peace Corps would allow me to do so.

Now, three quarters of the way through my service, I think I've realized not only what I was looking for, but that I've found it – I've realized both the power of thought, and the power of gratitude.

What do I mean by the power of thought? A somewhat clich̩ statement would actually best describe what I mean РPeace Corps has taught me the power of positive thinking. I took me a year and a half to realize that I've created a lot of my own misery. I'm not saying I have been miserable over here in Uganda, because that is most definitely not the case. What I am saying is that the times that I did feel low, I brought on myself. There's always more than one way to view a situation and you always have a choice as to how you react to a situation. You can choose to be angry, sad, upset about something, or you can choose not to be. I honestly think it is as simple as that. Life is what you make of it.

The year mark was a very low point for me in my service. I can't even remember exactly why, but I do remember that I didn't even want to leave my house because I couldn't take another person yelling “Mzungu” at me. To this day, I still find it obnoxious, but I choose not to let it incite anger and negative emotions in me anymore. I made a decision to not let it bother me, and now I can tune it out, and my thoughts aren't allowed to get carried away anymore when someone calls me “Mzungu.”

What's more – things always have to be put in perspective. Sure that person pissed you off on the bus, or that old man made kissy noises at you, but is it really that big of a deal in the scheme of things?

Sometimes I think back to my waitressing days and remember all the customers who complained about the stupidest things – There was a smudge on their glass, or they were upset because the food didn't come out fast enough, or I forgot their tarter sauce and they threw a tantrum...Seriously, this is your biggest problem?

Sometimes I wonder how I am going to deal with “pseudo” problems and people's trivial complaints when I get back home, because now that I've been in Uganda for a few years, I've realized how common this is in the US.

However, I've made it my own personal resolution to stop complaining. I know that there will be a day now and then, when I need to vent. However, I've been doing my best to keep those times to a minimum because when I complain, I am NOT thinking positively and I'm not being grateful.

Positive thinking as always easier accomplished when you have a sense of gratitude for what you have in life.

Though I've been surrounded by poverty for the last year and half, it took awhile to really FEEL how lucky I am. I've capitalized FEEL because I'm trying to differentiate something here. I want to differentiate what it means to KNOW something and what it means to FEEL something.

I've always KNOWN how fortunate I am simply to have been born in a developed country, where I had access to free primary and secondary education. I KNOW that I was lucky that my parents were able to feed me growing up, and that they were able to send me to university. I KNOW that I was lucky to never have been denied health care. And I KNOW that compared to many people in this world, my life has been one that has been relatively easy. So, while I have always KNOWN that I have so much in my life to be grateful for, I didn't always FEEL the gratitude.

The epiphany happened when I was sitting in Cure Hospital in Mbale, a hospital which specializes in Hydrocephalus. There were children there, waiting to be seen, with birth defects that I could never even have imagined. And the whole time, I kept putting myself in the place of that child, and in their parent's place, and imagining how hard it has to be for that family. I can't even begin to imagine how ostracized some of these children, and probably even their parents, must feel.

Some volunteers, myself included, arrive in country and think “Wow, I was so lucky to have had a washing machine back home, or a car, or a dish washer or electricity.”

But lets go even further than that. How lucky are we, because most of us are physically able?

How lucky are we?

Most of us can walk. Most of can see. Most of us can hear. Most of us are, or have the potential to be, in good health.

The next time we go to complain, or we begin to lament on some horrible thing in our lives, instead, lets get up, walk around on our two legs and appreciate the fact that we can walk, look at the beautiful world around us and remember that we are lucky to be able to see, lets listen to all noises around us, ugly or beautiful, and just be grateful that we can hear it.

In short, lets feel gratitude, for even the “smallest” of things.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Everything I know about Rodents, I learned in Africa

Rodents love to torment me. Perhaps they like watching me come close to having a nervous breakdown whenever I find one in my kitchen, or bathroom, or below my bed. Or maybe they enjoy the jumping around I do (perhaps reminiscent of River Dancing) whenever one is running circles around me. Whatever the reason, they won't leave me alone.

As if dealing with them during home stay was not traumatic enough (seriously, it was quite traumatic), I now have a few large rats living in my kitchen(which, fortunately, is not connected to my main house). They are generally only there in the evening. And every time I have to go into my kitchen at night, it's like I am going on some sort of SWAT mission, busting up a meth lab or what have you. I cautiously push open the door and step back, holding my cell phone/flashlight like a weapon, waiting for a potential rat attack. When no rats charge me, I cautiously flip on the light (by now they are usually frantically running around the kitchen looking for a place to hide). Then, once the light is on, I will usually see it. And I will wait for it to run on out, or hide. Then I try to proceed with my business the best I can. A few days ago, the usual series of events took place while I was on a mission to get a bowl and spoon so I might eat my packaged yogurt. But this time, the rat didn't hide, and it didn't run out into the night. It just stood on a tall bar on the window defiantly staring back at me. When it became apparent that it wasn't going to budge, I ever so slowly moved forward with the idea of grabbing the bowl and spoon and then running away like a coward. As I reached for the bowl, the rat, which was perched on a bar on the window above, just toppled over. As I fear ever coming in direct contact with a rodent, I started shrieking, jumping around, and refraining “eww, eww,eww.” When the situation settled down, a little sanity kicked in, and I realized my shrieking may have caused concern in my neighbors. Then, a wave of panic came over me, and I thought, “What if they come over to check on me? How am I going to explain screaming bloody murder over a rodent? I'm going to look pathetic.”

Well, I am pathetic.

But anyway, I'm not big on lying. But I did decide that if they did come over, I would say that the rat jumped on me. I just sounds a bit better, right? “I rat jumped on me, it was possibly trying to attack me, that's why I was screaming bloody murder. Thank you for rescuing me” vs. “I was screaming bloody murder because I went in the kitchen and there was rat.”

I realize that my distaste for rodents probably exceeds that of the average person. And, though I don't like to throw the H-word around, I would go so far as to say that I hate rodents. But what is there to like about them? Granted, they can be of use in laboratories, what is there to appreciate about them otherwise?

Fact: Rodents eat your food. And when you're living on a Peace Corps allowance, losing that loaf of bread to a rat is quite the travesty.

Fact: Rodents are unhygienic. I don't have any real facts about this, but I know its true. Google it.

Fact: Rodents try to get in bed with you while you are sleeping. I know this from experience.

Fact: Rodents will keep you awake all night. I also know this from experience.

Fact: Rodents are to blame for all the world's problems. (This may not be a fact).

And if you don't agree with me, then surely you've never had the unfortunate experience of having rodents in your house.

One thing I appreciate about my own home in Mbale, is that my house (at least where I sleep), unlike my home stay, has not been known to have a rodent problem.

But a few nights ago, I had fallen asleep while reading a book, and after a few hours of dozing, I heard little feet running across my concrete floor. Though coming out of a rather deep sleep, once I heard the footsteps, I was sure of what it was. And after I confirmed that it was indeed a teeny tiny mouse, and after this teeny tiny mouse ran under my bed, I laid in bed for 2+ hours listening. I decided that if I didn't hear anything for a few hours, it might be safe to go to bed. And in my tired delirium, I thought to myself, “If I have to deal with any more mice in my house, I quit. I can't do Peace Corps anymore.”

The next day, though tired and maybe a bit grumpy....I decided I would not admit defeat. I would not quit Peace Corps. And, after an afternoon rest where I gathered up my energy, I set to setting some mouse traps, just in case my friend had decided to overstay his welcome (actually, there was no welcome at all, so he really being quite rude) Anyway, here in Uganda, we use a sort of glue for catching rodents, which works amazingly well. All you do is set the glue on a piece of paper or cardboard, then put some food in the middle....Well anyway, it works like a charm.

Incidentally, this rodent glue has also been banned in The Netherlands.

And how did I find this out? Because there was a mouse in the hostel I stayed at in Amsterdam. This only goes to confirm my point – Rodents live solely to harass me. So I told the staff at the hostel (who of course already knew) and recommended that they use the rodent glue. Upon bragging about how well the rat glue worked, I was kindly informed that it had been banned in The Netherlands. Apparently it's some sort of animal cruelty.

Okay, First, Rodent Rights? Really? I mean I love animals. Really. I even lived with a schizophrenic cat for 4 years who once attacked my grandma and I never abused it. But Rodent Rights? If rodents were more considerate, I would say maybe they deserved their rights...But seriously, this just seems like it's going too far.

Second, in my defense the only other option is going and getting one of the babies' home workers to come and beat the rodent with a stick. Personally, I think the glue seems more humane. But believe me, If I had the option to set the rodent free in a grassy field with wildflowers I would (I mean as long as I didn't have to touch it) Because really, though I may use the H-word when referring to rodents, I'm really not a bad person when it comes down to it.

Third, it may be considered by Dutch people to be animal cruelty, but whatever new method they are using for catching mice now is not working, as proved by the mouse in my hostel in Amsterdam. The Dutch need to explore other rat trapping devices – their country could become overrun with rodents if they are not careful.

So anyway, yesterday I set to setting traps with my Dutch-banned rat glue. And perhaps it was some sort of karma for using the stuff, but I managed to get glue all over my hands. No problem, just wash it off, right? Wrong. I spent 15 minutes washing my hands with soap and it was like I hadn't done anything at all. My fingers were still sticking together. I grabbed a body exfoliate and thought maybe friction might remove the stuff. This didn't work either. By then I had glue and exfoliating beads all over my hands and I was running out of ideas. I began to get worried. I was suppose to coach football in less than an hour, I couldn't show up to football with my hands glued together....Or call the other coach and say “Um...I can't come to football today because my hands have rat glue all over them and it wont come off.”

I decided to go and see the nuns and plead with my glue-y hands for help. I couldn't find the Sisters in the convent so I went into the babies' home. I found one of the Sisters there, who looked at me with confusion and sympathy and agreed to help me. So, her first idea was to pour half a bottle of baby powder on my hands. By now my hands had glue, exfoliating beads, and half inch of baby powder on them. The baby powder helped some but not much and after rubbing my hands with some sort of dish-washing tool until they were near raw...The cure was discovered: Cooking oil.

Well anyway, I spent about 40 minutes trying to remove the glue from my skin. And the moral of this story could be that you shouldn't use a product that is banned in The Netherlands, or it might be that cooking oil removes rat glue. Whatever the moral is, one thing is for sure, banned or not, rat glue works, because, if I can get stuck in it, it must be good.