We are the first ones to admit that we've had pretty bad luck while over here in Africa. Among wallets, laptops, cameras being stolen, being mugged at knife-point, having a flu, stomach bug, third degree burn, malaria, typhoid fever, amoeba, and bacterial infections, we have still managed to survive and don't regret coming here for one minute. Unfortunately my latest sickness has come too late in the trip for me to catch up with the tour group and still make it home in time for work...which means I must come home early. Although I feel horrible leaving Africa, Amy and our adventure together, I know that our time volunteering has been one of the most rewarding things I've ever been a part of. The people and communities we've worked with have truly changed my outlook on life and made me ever grateful for everything that I've been given in life. I promise to update the Uganda blog entries and photos when I arrive home and am fully recovered. Thanks again to everyone for your support and encouragement of our work here in Africa, it is an experience that we will never forget!
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Last week we traveled to Busana Village, about 1.5 hours from our home in Mukono. Per usual in Africa, the 1.5 hour trip actual took about 3.5 hours. Driving down the main road on our way there in a crowded bus, clay charcoal ovens covered the entire bus floor (a woman selling them had to transport them home), and 21 people were packed into the bus meant for 14. All of a sudden we screeched to a halt and pulled a quick 3 point turn before heading back in the direction we came from. Had we forgotten a passenger? Had we missed a turn? Was the driver drunk? Actually, he was speeding away from the police who had previously tried to ticket him for speeding, and who were right on our tail. After going uncomfortably fast down the main road, we veered onto a dirt, country road out into the middle of a tea plantation. The police were no longer following us, but saying the ride was bumpy and uncomfortable would have been an understatement. Another occasion where we found ourselves smiling at each other saying TIA (This Is Africa).
Busana Village is a small, very rural village north of Mukono with a population of around 500 people. Most villagers are poor, even by Ugandan standards, and barely surviving by western standards. Mud huts with grass-thatched roofs are the primary dwelling for most villagers; some sleeping eight people in a room meant for two. Farming is the main source of income here and also acts as sustenance to feed families. Although a few small shops dot the main street, fresh food markets and street-side vendors are the main businesses around. Chickens, ducks, goats and cows roam freely around the dirt streets and frequently in and out of the small dwellings. Children with runny noses, distended bellies, and torn clothing run down the roads, chase animals and play in the dirt. We are greeted by the village leader and welcomed into his home, where we meet his wife, children and neighbors. Because we are the first mzungu’s (white people) to ever stay here, a crowd of children and teenagers grows larger by the doorway, peering in and smiling at us by candlelight. We are served a late supper around 11pm of rice, eggplant, and gnut (peanut) sauce. After dinner, we are brought to our accommodation; a mud hut (approx. 3 by 3 meters) with a grass-thatched roof and two small mattresses on the floor. This is exactly the Africa we imagined, and we smiled at each other with a combination of excitement and nerves. We unrolled our sleeping bags, hung out mosquito nets on the bamboo rods running along the ceiling, and prepared for our first night of sleep in the village. As our eyelids got heavy, we heard small scratching noises followed by some squeaking. We quickly learned that we shared our small hut with a family of mice; awesome. Amy and I developed a policy towards critters in Africa earlier in our trip; she deals with the bugs and I deal with the rodents/small animals- it was finally my turn. Unfortunately our furry friends were hiding in the grass thatch, so it was impossible to find them never mind catch them. So we attempted a night’s sleep while worrying that our roommates would try to share our sleeping bags, or worse our pillows.
After a night of restless sleep, we had a meeting with the village leaders to discuss the issues their village faces. They described problems of sanitation, health, hygiene, domestic violence, poverty, and income generation. After identifying their top two concerns, sanitation and income generation, Amy used her Public Health knowledge to help them create a Village Action Team. The VAT would be responsible for modeling the lessons about sanitation and economic empowerment, doing assessments of nearby households, and disseminating the messages and information crucial to improving the living conditions. We were to meet the 15 chosen VAT members the next day, who would be responsible for 25 households each. Our afternoon was spent playing with the neighborhood children with the jump rope and ball we brought along. Amazing what basic things entertain children over here, it made us wonder about all the extravagant toys and gifts we play with back home and appreciate the basics.
We presented sanitation topics to two different primary schools in the area where we focused on face, hand, and clothing washing and germ transmission. We tried to make the presentations interactive by playing a few games, dancing, and getting the kids pretending to wash their hands. Following one of the presentations, two local boys decided to perform for us and their entire school. ‘Black’ and ‘Expert’ (the boys stage names) performed some local favorites “Angela” and then some Shaggy. We took a trip to the market to buy food for the rest of the week, fresh fruit and vegetables, rice, potatoes, and even some meat! Because of the lack of refrigeration and electricity, the meat at the markets tends to be very fresh. When picking out a cut of meat, I couldn’t help but snap a picture of the goats head, eyes still open sitting on the chopping block. The meat we bought was actually still twitching while the butcher went to work.
The next day we met with the VAT, explained their roles and responsibilities, and how FREDA could support them in development. After a question from the audience about the political power of the leaders and the top-down style of choosing the VAT members, we decided to hold a democratic election that could more fairly nominate community members. Another issue we noticed was the gender inequality. The feminist in me hated how the women were all seated on the dirt floor and all the men took the bench seats, how the women rarely spoke unless singled out, and how they knelt when approaching you like servants. Although this topic was mentioned, we had to focus on the issues at hand while making sure that women were equally represented in the VAT members.
I could write about so much more; the village experience is absolutely unforgettable, and the people are incredibly warm, friendly and generous. On our way home, about 30 members of the village (men, women, and children who stayed near us) walked us all the way to the main town to catch our bus; a personal parade! The chaos, dirt, and overall disorganization were tough to get used to, but more and more we realize how full of life Uganda is.
Friday, March 25, 2011
There are 21 of us crammed into a 12 seater van. Our bags are on our laps and at our feet are sacks of rice and fresh produce from the markets. Arms and legs are entangled and bodies fit into the curves of the people sitting beside you. The plan was to be on the road by 10am, but this is ‘Africa time’ and we get on the bus at 5pm. The journey takes about an hour and by the time we get off the bus it is dark. The village we are traveling to is not accessible by road so bodas (motorbike taxis) take us the remainder of our journey. Balancing on the back of the boda, I am wearing my backpack and on each knee I have a bag of supplies. The road is dusty and potholed and I watch a lightening storm light up the night sky in the distance. We are deep in rural Uganda. The village has no electricity or running water, many families have no access to latrines or health care. Sanitation and hygiene is poor and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and other diseases is high. The life expectancy in these villages is around 42 years for men and 45 years for women. Over the next 2 years FREDA will work closely with village leaders to help the community identify their needs and be supported in making changes. During this visit will be meeting with different groups in the village and facilitating discussions and education sessions about health, hygiene, sanitation, nutrition and domestic violence. Our messages are basic – the importance of washing hands with soap and water, keeping latrines covered to reduce germ transmission by flies, boiling drinking water, HIV/AIDS and eating fruits and vegetables. Arriving in the village in at night means we attract little attention. We have been given the newest house in the village to stay at. It has two small rooms, concrete floor and corrugated iron roof. There is one window which has piece of cardboard where the glass should be and apart from the woven sleeping mats on the floor the house is empty. Later, two foam mattresses are brought to the house – they look well used and have a slightly urinary smell to them. I am grateful at the gesture but feel uncomfortable knowing that a family in the village has given up their beds for us. We take a walk out the back to find the latrine drop toilet which is shared by nearby houses. To get to it we need to go over a pile of dirt, past a pile of wood, past the burning rubbish pit and around the goats and chickens. It seems that the latrine is home to about 50 huge cockroaches which are running up and down the walls. I really hope that I don’t need to use it during the night. Dinner is served late in the village, often not until 10pm, so we decide to take a walk around the village. We are invited in for a drink at the local pub. We sit on low wooden benches beneath the thatched roof. The floor is mud. We are offered some of the local spirit, made from fermented matoke (green bananas). The white liquor is poured from an old coke bottle into a glass. Even in the dull light from the kerosene lamp I can see how dirty the communal glass is. The drink is strong and burns my throat. It tastes like a mixture of cheap tequila and rubbing alcohol. I figure that the alcohol should at least kill any germs on the glass. For dinner we are served a huge bowl of cooked green bananas before bunking down for an unsettled night on the floor. We wake to a beautiful summer’s day and it is already hot. Word has spread quickly around the village that we are here and we have many visitors who come past to see us. It is the first time that muzungu (white people) have come to the village and people seem excited that we are here. We walk to a nearby school to talk with the children about sanitation and hygiene as well as HIV/AIDS. On the way we pass children who have skipped school and are sitting on the roadside digging for ants to eat. These ants are huge and look more like flying grasshoppers. For lunch we are served half a fish each (head, eyes, tail, fins and skin attached) which we eat with our hands. In the afternoon we walk about 4km to a nearby village to meet with a group of women. They are gathered on mats in the shade under a tree. Later on we take a walk to Lake Victoria. At the lake fishermen are coming back in, children stand on the waters edge filling jerry cans and women wash clothes laying them on the grass to dry. We walk home watching the sun set. Many of the houses we pass are made from mud with grass roofs. Children run around naked and goats, chickens and pigs roam freely. As we walk by heads peak around doorways and trees. Children are either intrigued by our light skin or cry in fear and run away. Most have never seen a white person before. A family offers us a bowl of fried bugs which they are eating for dinner. I know how rude it is to decline food that is offered. I am also touched by the fact that this family has nothing and most likely don’t know what they will eat tomorrow but still invite us to eat with them. The bugs have little taste apart from the oil they have been fried in but it is the texture as I crunch on them that I struggle with the most. We are offered another local drink. It is in a plastic container on the floor with 6 long wooden straws coming out of it. The drink looks like a thick muddy paste it had a strong yeast taste and is gritty in texture. One sip is enough for me. We head home, tired and exhausted. I am looking forward to being able to wash as we have walked close to 10km today and I am covered in red dust and sweat. We are given a plastic basin and about a litre of water which I take out the back. As we get ready to go to bed the giant moth we had seen last night reappears and starts swooping around the room, it turns out to be a bat. Travis comes to the rescue and is able to catch it. While this is going on I am ducking every time it comes near me and Cait is curled up in a ball in the corner with her scarf over her head. A group of children are waiting outside our door in the morning and we play ball with them before we set off for the day. Most of the children in the village are suffering from malnutrition, they have skinny arms and legs and their stomachs are distended due to a diet low in calories and protein and high in carbohydrates. It is heart breaking to see. We speak at school in the morning and walk to another village in the afternoon. On the way we come across a group of girls aged about 3 to 6 years. They walk with us the rest of the way, holding our hands and singing. An old and possibly senile lady runs out to greet us when we arrive, she dances around, sings and hugs us, before making a yodel like noise. I think she is excited we are here. The whole village has come to listen to us and the session goes really well. Back at the village we are staying at we meet with the youth in the evening. We head home on Thursday after planting a community vegetable garden and running a session on nutrition. I am sad to leave this village which has welcomed us with open arms, I have loved my time here and being a part of village life and look forward to the ongoing work we will do with this village over the next few months.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Upon reaching the Ugandan border, we left the bus to walk across the border and apply for our visa in the immigration office. We were surprisingly greeted in English (one of the first times since being in Africa), paid our $50 US, and were granted entry into
We met our manager, Travis, a local Ugandan man who runs the NGO called FREDA (Foundation for the Relief and Development of Africa) here in
. It’s a grassroots organization that works deep in villages to educate locals about topics like sanitation, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence prevention, nutrition, and sex education. Travis is open-minded, funny, and passionate about equal rights and development in Mukono, Uganda . Growing up poor, and now with a family of his own; he really believes in a positive future for the country. Uganda
Travis took us out to “shake bones” as he calls dancing at a local bar. While we made up some dance moves (the chicken, nature calls, and making chapatti), we sampled the local beer and tunes. The next night, our house mum/cook Jackie taught us how to cook over charcoal. After lighting the coals with plastic (probably not the healthiest fumes to be inhaling), we waited for the coals to heat up, chopped veggies, and chatted about recipes. We had to fight her a bit when cooking the vegetables for ourxo Cait
Africa “stir-fry”, when we wanted to take them off the heat but she insisted they were only half cooked. Our first week in has been very overwhelming and exciting, and we’re looking forward to our first week of work in a rural village on Monday J Uganda
For our last week in Rwanda, Amy spent her time up at the rural health clinic in Gisenyi helping test people for HIV, deliver babies and help with emergency care. I decided to stay in
and work with the women’s cooperative. Kigali
For International Women’s Day, I brought in cookies and nail polish to give the women a pamper day while they worked on their crafts. They devoured the cookies while I painted their nails either pink or red (some of them had never painted their toe nails before!); a much needed break from their usual days of survival and stress. That afternoon, I took one of the girls that FVA looks after (pays her school fees, helps with rent, etc.) to the local market to buy some new clothes. Janine lives alone with her father, who is an alcoholic and abusive, where they share a bed (we are hoping the abuse isn’t sexual). FVA worked with the local community to move her into a new home with a family friend. Whenever she came by the office, she always seemed to be in her school uniform. My boss told me she only has a few other clothes, so usually wears her uniform most days. After trying on a few tops and pants, we tried to bargain with the market vendor to get a good deal on the second hand clothes. When he tried to charge me twice what a local would pay, I decided to give Janine the money and hide behind the corner of the next stall. Our strategy worked! We got some new tops, a pair of pants, and a new pair of shoes, and topped it all of with a cold mango juice on the walk home. It made me really appreciate all the times my parents took me back-to-school shopping; that so many kids over here never get that experience. Janine was beaming all the way home. Although I was sad to say goodbye, it was reassuring that Janine was in a new, safe home and had a smile on her face. The rest of the week was spent paying for school fees for 9 of the womens' children; thanks again donors :) One of the women was so grateful she had FVA's driver deliver a hand-beaded pen, set of handmade coasters, and a beautifully written thank you card (in English and Kinyarwanda of course) to our guesthouse.
After finishing our evaluation report to our managers, we set about saying goodbye to all the wonderful friends we had made while in
. We had a farewell dinner at our favorite pizza place Sole Luna, and had our last night out at our favorite night spot Papyrus where we danced the night away. The day before leaving we lied by the Embassy pool, bbq’d and talked about how much we’d miss Rwanda . We procrastinated so badly that by midnight, we still hadn’t packed (the worst part being that our bus was at 5am the next morning). To top it all off, our driver to the bus arrived 15 minutes late by foot, and our car wouldn’t start. Thankfully we arrived at the bus while everyone was boarding, and started our journey to Rwanda . We will never forget the experiences and friends we’ve made in Uganda . To put it into words, it was challenging, fun, frustrating, exciting, confusing, and wonderful all at the same time. Rwanda
Monday, March 21, 2011
So Amy and I have to apologize for being so delayed with our next posts. Unfortunately we had three new entries on the way that were saved on my computer, which has since been stolen. Although my bedroom was locked whenever we left the house, it must have been stolen while we were in the house. Luckily my insurance will cover this loss, as long as I get a police report, but we are now without a computer for the next four months. We will of course attempt to re-write some of the lost posts and put up some new pictures, but until we have access to another computer it may take us a while with work, etc. Other than the laptop being gone (one of our only sources of entertainment!) Uganda has been great. Mukono is definitely closer to the Africa we had imagined; streets are chaotic and a bit scary, the toilets are latrines that are 4 flights of stairs down from the house, there is no television, and electricity comes and goes throughout the day. We are very excited to start work tomorrow, where we will head to a rural village about an hours drive and educate villagers about sanitation, nutrition, HIV, safe sex, and other health issues. Wish us luck, and we will be in touch as soon as we can!