12 April 2011

Last Spelling Competition

Another term and another spelling contest. It had been 2 terms since our last contest and in the meantime i had forgotten how competition makes me feel. At the very least, i sweat a lot under the tin roofs... at the most, i start choking up when i have to tell students, "I'm sorry... that's incorrect." Their crestfallen faces are terrible to see. Some just hang their heads and silently shuffle back to their seats! I try and give motivational speeches before and after, emphasizing the importance of their "trying." I keep telling myself that competition is good for these young ones, they learn all types of life skills and it motivates them to try really really hard.

The thing that revives my spirit is morning parade. Morning parade never fails me! When all the school's students are lined up, looking very smart in their class lines, I stand up and deliver the class winners' certificates and everyone is full of smiles. Lotsa times there are impromptu congratulatory singing concerts. How can that not make me feel better?

"The rain was raining" as they say and it delayed most of the schools. I even got stuck on the road in the downpour. After a late start and many life skills-esque activities, we started the contest. It took about 2 hours to go through all the students. The last words were "gnaw" and "recycle." (I felt like a trickster...)

Thankfully my friend Willysha had stayed up late the night before to help me make badges for everyone and we gave them out after the contest. The students were very thankful (as usual) for the gifts and for the opportunity to participate and have a good lunch. Even after two years, i'm amazed at the polite and respectful manner of the students in Uganda.

Nkumba's Spelling Contest:
St. Theresa Kisubi Girls P/S, Nkumba Primary P/S, African Children's Choir P/S, Bethel P/S, St. Charles Lwanga P/S and Sure Prospects P/S

04 April 2011

GLOW day in Kisubi

I loved the way all of the university students kept peeking in to see what we were doing. As i was walking around trying to keep the day organized, students kept stopping me asking what was going on. "Why are there primary students at the university?" "What kind of game are you guys playing?" The rest of the students would just look on for a while as we played our games, i think with a little bit of envy as they entered their classroom for a 2-hour lecture.

We had 5 schools participate with 20 students from P4 to P7. I think one school must have misunderstood the qualifications; when i saw the youngest arrive, i thought she had just come along to escort her big sister to Camp. She was 9 years old and did great keeping up with the 12 and 13 year olds during our activities.

We started out with "Big Booty", a game the girls love playing if only for the name! After a few other "Get-to-Know-You" activities, we started with our sessions. The day was full! The usual fare of Self-Esteem, Goals and Women's Health information. The counselors (a mix of university students and primary teachers) gave them plenty to do, so the day flew by and suddenly it was 5:30.

20 March 2011

Journey to the East: Part 2

Walking through the mountains in Eastern Uganda.

I had the opportunity to teach some of the secondary girls how to make origami frogs and tulips. Though they were most interested in asking questions about my love life. I really enjoy those experiences because i like challenging the Ugandan convention of a "typical" woman. I like proudly saying that "i'm not married", "i don't have kids yet" and " i don't like cooking." (Ask me how i'm going to feel about saying those things once i leave Uganda.)

My friend John lives next to the Sironko River, a beautifully clear and rushing river from the mountains of Elgon. The young people who live around John's house came swimming with us in the river. We excitedly ran through the Matooke trees to the clearing where you could jump into a nice pool of freezing water. The young ones can hop, skip and jump around those rocks like little leap frogs while i was slipping, sliding and painfully making my way across the river. One evening we swam as some boys burned leaves on the river

rocks to roast their yams. They shared with us and it was delightfully unreal to sit in a river eating roots with a band of curious but suspicious boys and girls.

Friday night we had a fire (i'll proudly share that i was an integral part in maintaining the fire and using up all the firewood.) Since the closest marshmallows were a 5 hour drive west, we roasted bananas and they were delicious! John's neighbor didn't want to try them (she didn't want to try my tortillas either) but the kids loved them and had so much fun trying to roast them. They were so mushy and at least half our dessert fell into the fire.

We climbed up a mountain and went to the "almost" source of the river. The water was very

cold so i hardly dipped my toes in it. John and I sat down on some nice rocks and listened to very loud water sounds for about 10 minutes. I think the water was too loud to really "Relax" next to the river. Besides, everyone around us was working, carrying enormous sacks of onions down the mountain to sell. Carrying water back to their homes for washing and cleaning. It was a strange feeling to be a foreigner enjoying their community while they worked and worked to maintain their existence in it. Barefoot and smiling, they worked around us. I imagine they were wondering where we came from and why would we want to sit on a rock all day. In the nearby village, we tried looking for a place to take milk tea, unfortunately all they had was alcohol. We decided to pass on taking local brew at 10:30 in the morning.

Going back down the mountain, we followed the river til we got to a Pork Joint. (We might have passed on alcohol, but can't let go of an opportunity for some good fried pork.) It was across a rickety wood bridge and next to a banana plantation. Somewhere music was blaring on a radio, next to us a traditional band was just wrapping up their practice and kids were splashing around the river. I kinda felt like i was coming across the hidden community in Sherwood Forest. The sad part was watching all of the patrons stumbling around drunk. Alcoholism is such a big problem in the village communities, with most people either participating in all day drinking or at least not seeing a problem with it. I don't see it very often in my community, which doesn't mean it's not there, but it was very apparent that this village was suffering from a terrible addiction.

At the pitch with John's neighbors Faith and Gift, who went swimming with us.

When we got back to the secondary school, football games were still going on. They had lasted til early evening the day before and it looked like there wasn't going to be a vuvuzela break anytime soon. I was glad to have been away for at least half the day. Though coming back, it was fun to get wrapped up in the excitement of Ugandan sports, where the different houses compete for the distinction of being "The Best House" in their school. There's chanting, singing, drumming, dancing, shouting, hugging, jumping.

I'm not sure what it was, the bright river, eucalyptus forests, clear mountain mornings or endless football matches but it felt like i was at the end of the world. This is it and there's nothing else but mischievous naked kids running around the water, farmers moving in and out of gardens and the stars turning off and on. It made me want to stay in Uganda!

18 March 2011

Does this mountain have a peak?

This job is an uphill journey.

I've been doing life skills for two years. That doesn't mean I'm an expert. It means it's been a Long journey in "peace corps" time.

My class yesterday evening was on HIV Transmission. We go over the 4 main fluids and the "Doors" by which those fluids enter our bodies. After the general HIV/AIDS information, we have an activity called "Take A Stand." I read common myths and participants stand under "True" and "False signs.

It was a struggle to dissuade the participants from believing that you can get HIV from bewitching, to encourage them to question the hearsay that a preacher said he had HIV and then was cured after he prayed.

I was relaxed in my explanation of why mosquitoes don't transmit HIV and I think I was rational and calm in discussing why a person who has TB or chronic diarrhea does not mean they have HIV/AIDS.

However, towards the end of the two-hour session I felt all the energy drain out of me. The energy to politely share information. Thankfully I have a great co-facilitator who, instead of endlessly debating what we believe, he was able to focus our conversation on the ways we can help people protect themselves from HIV.

The experience put my COSing feet right back on the ground.

13 March 2011

A Journey to Eastern Uganda: Part 1

The bus ride to Mbale took me though dry farmlands, swamps that had caused sinkholes in the road, and dusty, poor homes made of grass and mud. Mbale is a fairly organized, clean city (when compared to the disheveled, greasy, cramped Kampala.) I felt happy to be in a new place, exploring and seeing everything as new and exotic.

A taxi took me for a 45 minute tour of Mbale, we drove around, honking and yelling at people to get on our taxi. They must send retired taxis to Mbale cause there were enormous holes in my taxi and as far as i could tell, my chair was no longer connected to the vehicle. I can't complain too much since during that long run around the city, they also took me to the market to pick up carrots before heading into the village.

After the taxi ride, there was a 20 minute walk in blazing sunshine to my friend's secondary school contentedly seated in a valley of the mountains around Mt. Elgon...

07 March 2011

2 Months to COS

My family took me out to a great pork and chips dinner by the lake for my birthday. Radio & Weasel's "Heart Attack" started playing in the middle of our meal and I had to take a dance break because it's my favorite song. (You should listen to it! Dial this number: 256-783-199-074 and you can listen for free! And then you can talk to me! Not for free…)

My last birthday in Uganda was full of emotion. It's a strange feeling to know I will be back in America. My Close of Service (COS) is two months away! I've already told most people that I'm feeling very anxious/nervous to move back to what I imagine is a scary place full of people who won't invite me into their houses for tea. I'm nervous about feeling guilty for having so many choices. I'm scared that I'll point to places with my lips instead of my fingers. I'm worried that I'll try and order tacos de lengua in Luganda. "Olina tacos, ssente meka?" I'm sure that when I get on a bus I'll sit right next to the only other person and then when the driver won't stop exactly where I need to be, I'll refuse to pay. Wait. You pay when you first get on? See! Isn't that backwards?

I'll be scandalized when I see ladies with skirts above the knees! For shame! I'll curtsy when I first meet someone. I'll say "sorry" to everyone for everything. I won't be able to drive on the right side of the road! (Alright, may not be a problem since I have no car.) I won't be able to eat my lunch in under an hour. When I meet someone I'll want to hold their hand for a good minute or until I feel like we've greeted each other in a satisfactory way. "How are you?" "Fine" "Okay" "How's your family?" "Good" "Good" "How's the day?" "Good" "Good" "How's home?" "Fine" "Good"

I'll only be able to do one task a day because it's not feasible to get more than that accomplished. Right? I don't think I'll know how to use a cell phone. I'll cry when I see how many cereals I can choose from. When I see people in a queue, I'll wonder what they're doing and just walk right to the front. I'll wonder what happened when Mass ends in 45 minutes instead of at least an hour and a half. Did we even have time for speeches? I'll marvel at people playing with dogs. Dogs are allowed inside the house?

Though I'll be happy to be back during watermelon season. I may just stay inside my house eating watermelon, watching the phenomenon that is America pass me by outside. ..

23 February 2011

18th Feb has come and gone...

and Museveni has won his fourth term in office as Uganda's president!

Most people believe it was a fair election(for everyone whose name and correct photo were on the voter registration) and thankfully it was a safe process (apart from some violence in the east.)

Sunday night, I watched the election results on t.v with my neigh

bors. I was surprised when Pauline started naming the presidential candidates as they appeared on the screen. I don’t remember a 4 year old in America who knew the names of all the presidential candidates.

Many people in my community voted for peace. Understandable since Uganda's recent history includes so many atrocious acts of violence. Museveni was part of both rebel movements that brought Uganda out of the violent regimes of Idi Amin Dada and Milton Obote.

Uganda Statehouse Info on Museveni

BBC News Profile on Museveni

Seeing the turmoil that's reached so many Arab states and being so close to people who have lived through civil wars in their countries makes it easier for me

to see how years of clear-as-day corruption looks better than taking a chance on a new leader.

Go peace.


Yesterday evening, I walked home from the university with my friend Piggy, the university's lovable dog that terrorizes the neighborhood (occasionally.) I was happily singing an improvised tune to welcome what I thought were incoming rain clouds.

The sky darkened and the wind picked up, adding a sense of urgency to everyone's movements. Electricity was out and I gaily lit my house full of candles, ready to wait out the blackout in a rain-filled peace. I even got extra towels to prep my front door for the deluge that usually floods my house with each rainstorm.

A few drops began sprinkling the roof of my house, and then, sadly and quite suddenly, the rainstorm was over.


Valentino lost a tooth! The rat fairy came and gave him a kikumi.:)

09 February 2011

Family Visit: Photos!!

We gave mom and martin approximately 11 hours to rest and recoup before whisking them off to the hot-spot tourist destination of Jinja. (Home of the Source of the Nile and Bujjagali Falls)

Sr. Valentine graciously acted as our
tour guide for the day, explaining the history and pointing out all the insider details of our journey.

It was a large, but interesting, caravan of people including: Father Henry, Amber, Michael, Sr. Valentine, Mama Tony, Dan, Sr. Emma, Mom, myself and Martin. The motley crew of friends and family gave a unique perspective of Uganda, from the attitudes of citizens, visitors, volunteers, Americans, Canadians, British, young and old-er.

Before mom and martin came, i had big dreams of all the things we would do together. One of those dreams was to get up early every day to take a walk to the lake as the sun was rising.

Some people, i won't name names, thought they were on some kind of vacation.... So getting up before the sunrise wasn't exactly on their itinerary.

Here's a picture of the one time we walked to Lake Victoria.

Since blizzards and shut-down airports delayed the family visit by 2 weeks, we had a Christmas celebration in January. They may look like they're shy and quiet kids...but a few minutes later Pauline was dancing "Stamina" and Vale was working with Martin to build his Lego house.

Lugandan, Laundry, Leisure, and Love

Osiibye otyano?

Had to look that one up because I would have spelled it Osibiatiano? (Good afternoon, which they really understand as How was your day?) For me, Bulungi! (Good!) This, by far, was the longest phrase I memorized…making it the ‘greeting of choice’, morning, noon, or night! No one seemed to mind, all seemed pleased to hear me trying…or maybe I misread the laughter~ I think Celeste thought I should have at least gotten the sir, or madam down(after 3 weeks) to add to my phrase. The absolutely wonderful fact is, the Ugandan people are so pleased, and let you know it, if you even speak one word of their language. The smiles, laughter, and praise leave you wanting to learn more.

So, I did not take too many clothes, but when you have to do your laundry by hand 2 blouses is 1 too many! In the past I have done my share of hand washing those stubborn stains in my children’s clothes, but, I was not bent over for an hour with clothes which seem to weigh 40lbs when wet…My first ‘battle’ with doing laundry went great!! No one was watching, it was mainly socks, tshirts… and they were hung outside, dried, folded and put up by nightfall…I was a little smug when I started my ‘second load’ a few days later when I heard the familiar tapping on the front iron door. “Who is it”?, I said. “Me, Pauline”! “Come in Pauline”. Pauline and Vale were always ready to help with ANYTHING you were doing. After our greetings/hugs I told her I was washing clothes(I thought I saw a dubious look on her face, quickly thinking I had misread it, she’s only 4).

Okay, so at least I can show my skills(show off) to Pauline…it took maybe all of two minutes before Pauline was giggling at me~ “No, mama cele, like this”! at which point she took the little bar of soap and quickly showed me the correct way to launder the clothes. I looked on, truly impressed! Did I mention she’s 4 years old? Ugh. She stuck it out with me, the slow learner…a muzungu…I can’t be sure, but, I think she spent the rest of the afternoon with me to make sure there was not something else I had no idea how to do…So as I hung out the clothes and heard the choruses of “Webale!” (Thank you!) I made sure to tell Pauline “Gyebale Pauline!” (Well done Pauline!) and she was beaming~

Leisure is another wonderful skill you will pick up in Uganda, a trait many of us North Americans fear will be misinterpreted for laziness. Even in my relaxed gait, people wondered where I was going in such a hurry, and why. Walking ANYwhere you could stop every two feet, to greet strangers, friends, friends of friends…because there is no reason to hurry, or worry about being late, no one else is… and walking with food is not acceptable…,I thought a cup of coffee should be exempt, but Celeste kindly let me know, NOT. Again, everyone accepts your stopping your day, to relax, no questions asked. It’s your time for Leisure/Tranquility on that day, that hour, that moment, so, be happy!

It seemed as if I had been a part of Uganda longer than the 3 weeks I was there. Maybe partly because of all the stories Celeste has shared with me these past two years she has been living there~ Maybe reading the PCV’s blogs…Maybe it is more because of the Love they so freely give by opening their homes, sharing their food, providing support, devoting their time, ~all of it welcoming you into their lives… As Pauline told me the morning before I left to America, “Mama Cele, I love you SOOO much!” me too Pauline, I love you all SOOO much! WEBALE!

19 January 2011

Finally Uganda!

UGANDA! Finally made it, after all the weather delays…arriving around midnight the airport was quiet so we got our luggage quickly, making our way to the exit, looking for Celeste. We were greeted by Celeste with a BIG HUG, and lots of catch-up kisses! At the airport I met Sister Valentine , Father Henry, and Dan. Pure adrenaline kept us up a few hours more after arriving to Celeste's site! Waking to sounds which would soon become familiar... Some type of bird which makes sounds not to soothe you to sleep, but demanding you wake up, the whisk of sweeping the unending dust off the sidewalks, the greetings of a new morning between neighbors, their voices reflecting renewed energy…UGANDA!!! "Webale"! Is the greeting you soon learn because everyone is sure to acknowledge whatever you are doing with "Webale"! "Thank you"!

"Webale", for sweeping, for cooking, for cleaning, for playing with the children, for resting, for gardening…it's wonderful! Another words, Thank you for living! Ugandans are warm, happy people, ready to accept you into their 'family'/tribe. I am happy to report I am now in the Engabi clan, meaning sheep clan becoming part of an extended family in Uganda! It is easy to feel an attachment to this wonderful country and it's people. The landscape here is a gardener's dream~ gardenia bushes which are almost trees, bougainvilleas running along fence lines, many of the same plants as you would find in the states but bigger, and blooming year round! We were lucky to come during mango season, the trees become more majestic with age. There are banana plants, plantains, matooke, avocado(YUM), sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and all the beans you would like to eat. Everything delicious! I can easily get use to the midmorning tea break and the afternoon tea breaks, they feed not only the body, but the soul ! A good habit to acquire, to enjoy someone's story of their day or the chatter of the children, or just feasting your eyes on your loved ones…to be re-energized! We have been to Queen Elizabeth's National Park, Rwenzori Mountains, Jinja to see the source of the Nile, Entebbe Botanical Gardens, the markets of Kampala, a beautiful shrine of the Virgin Mary, Padre Pio's Shrine ..have I mentioned hills??? Probably not because I have not yet mentioned walking~ lots of walking! ANYwhere of merit, I guarantee, will be on TOP of a hill. Forget the gyms! Come to UGANDA!!! I am not avoiding writing of the poverty here, which there is more than there should be(anywhere), but I wanted to first highlight the JOY shared from the Ugandan smiles. More later..., Tea Break !

-Guest Blogger, Isabel Arista (known in Kisubi as Mama Cele)

05 January 2011

It Has Been...

1 year, 10 months and 26 days since I last saw my family.

Exactly one brother and one mother are en route to Uganda, East Africa.

I'm nervous.

Look at that short-haired, 25-year old lady with her mom at DFW airport. I don't know if you can see how tightly i'm hugging her and my pillow, but it looks like after taking the picture, Stefan had to peel her outta the hug.