Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Breasts, Babies, and Barf

This next tale is a simple one in which finally… nothing bad happens to me. It’s merely something I witnessed that I feel attests to the suffrage filled lives Ugandan women endure. There’s a photo I’ve seen online that I feel rings true, and I’d like to share it with you here:

On with the story… you have to buy a ticket for every seat on a bus you are going to take up. So in general, mothers don’t buy tickets for their children until they are too big to sit on their lap. They just fit the child with them into the one seat they've purchased until it’s a physical impossibility. If a mother has two small children… nothing changes. They try at first to keep the two children in their same seat. One standing between their legs, and one in their lap (The standing child will sometimes have to stand for the entire 10 hours trip… and not complain once…) But sometimes, one of the children will eventually stray and end up in your lap if you are the unlucky bastard sitting next to them.

On this fatefull day I was sitting next to Audrey and Jake on the side of the bus that has three seats…(I know what you are wondering, and yes the buses themselves are the same size, but they have 5 seats across… with an isle… it’s cramped) I had the seat on the isle, across from me was a woman with a baby in her arm, a toddler on her knee and a little girl between her legs… Three children and one woman… in one tiny-ass seat. There was a man sitting next to the woman with a window on the other side, and he seemed less than willing to take of one of the children off of her hands. So for the entire trip I watched this woman juggle all three children. AKA, all three problems. There was no pleasing these children. They were all uncomfortable, hungry, and probably needed to pee. (Ladies, this is why we pee before we leave… ;) read the blog below, then you'll get it!) There wasn't one point where the baby or toddler weren't crying or where the little girl wasn’t complaining.

  Meanwhile the bus is hot because Ugandans prefer all windows shut. The driver is weaving all over the road to avoid pot holes. About half way through the journey I begin to smell a mess in the babies diaper, and by diaper… I mean cloth wrapped about the babies bum. And the smell must’ve signaled to the mother that it’s time to put more food in its stomach cause she proceeded to whip out her breast and shove her baby up to it. With the baby feeding, there is no room for the toddler so she makes the toddler stand in the isle… the only problem is that this toddler had a few more months before she could stand on her own ON SOLID GROUD. Not a rachety bus... so the Mom has to use her free hand to hold the toddler up in the isle.

 At this moment the young girl can no longer take the jerking of the bus and proceeds to throw up all the juice and bread and meat she ate at the last stop. She doesn’t open the window and barf, or warn her mother, or go for the empty plastic bag on the ground. Noooooooope. She just does it in her moms lap and a little on the breast feeding baby. The mother lets go of the baby at her breast and lets it hang on for it’s own life and rest on the metal armrest while she uses her newly free hand to catch some of the puke from falling on her. The girl is still barfing on her mom… she hasn’t turned to a window or at a minimum to the floor… away from people… I’m so confused and the scene I’m witnessing, but I decide it’s time for me to take the toddler into my lap until the mom can manage her again. But as I reach for the toddlers open hand to help her stand, she finally realizes that a pale faced Mzungu is sitting next to her. Her eyes go wide… I can see what’s coming… she starts to scream like I was Voldermort touching her lightning scar. I try to make reassuring noises and help… but my attempts are futile. My help is in fact, no help.

 I give up and retreat my efforts. The only thing left for me to do is give the little girl half  of my toilet paper supply to clean up. And THANK GOD I kept the other half for myself… because the previous story happened a few hours later… yikers.  In the end, everything was fine. The mother just let go of the toddler who fell to the floor and bounced around a little, all in good fun. The girl stopped projectiling and wiped her mouth. And the baby clung on for her meal until she had enough to make ooooonnnne more whoopsie in her diaper before the end of the journey. 

Through all of this, the man next to her never helped, other people on the bus didn’t offer help, if anything a few people got up and stood at the other end of the bus so they wouldn’t have to smell anything (something that could have been solved by just OPENING A FREAKING WINDOW) Someone who hasn’t lived in Uganda might think the people here are inherently terrible people, but it’s much more complicated than that. You are a product of your environment, and I think the people of Uganda are very much still in survival mode. If it doesn’t help you get from this day to the next, then why should you do it?  You are barely getting by on your own, who has time to sacrifice yourself for others?  And while most days I don’t understand and am frustrated as to why things aren’t improving here, when I see a woman deal with those three children all by herself, I can see why the next time she sees a mother going through a similar ordeal she will think “I did it by myself, she can too”

I got 99 problems, and being a woman is 1.

Problems. Period.

                This next story happened on another trip to the capital city… actually as I piece together the specifics of my next two stories… I’m realizing they are during the same trip… wow… amazing what a mind in denial can do. These two stories feel months apart… but as my synapses have just reminded me, they are hours apart. 

                Allow me to start with a small disclaimer; I love Jake Carpenter. He is a very intelligent, progressive, sweet southern boy who may actually save the world’s water sanitation problems some day. Jake and I are in the same Peace Corps training group, and also call the same town home. We share Rukungiri. He calls me from time to time check on me, and likewise. We have a strong healthy relationship…

…homeboy can be clueless sometimes.

On this particular morning, Jake and I agreed for him to come to my hospital and we’d catch a bus to the capital city around 8am. My hospital is on the way out of town, so it just makes sense to catch a bus leaving, or else be put through the suffrage of waiting for hours on a bus in a taxi park in what I’m still convinced is a Mzungu conspiracy.  So about 7:50 I gather my bags (packed the night before), check my house over, lock up and head to the front gates. On my way I get a text from Jake [and do make sure you read anything written by Jake in a Georgian accent, or else you aren’t getting the full experience, and ladies and gentlemen, that is the point of all of this isn’t it? The Peace Corps experience without actually having to live in filth =)] The text read “woke up late, gettin ready now” Hrm… I ponder… this won’t be too bad, boys get ready plenty fast, and he will be here in no time. About 20 minutes later the first bus I could’ve taken passes… flys on by, yes it does. At this time I call Jake to see how he’s doing…. “Hey Khayla, I decided to hop in the shower, hope that’s okay” Not only does this call remind me that Jake has a working hot shower while I bucket bathe everyday… but it lets me know I shouldn’t get up from my seat on the rock anytime soon… hrm okay. About a half hour later, another bus I could have taken flies by.  I know some of you are thinking… Just leave his ass!, and if it were a road trip somewhere in America, hells yes. But it’s Africa. Leave no man behind, even if he is taking so long you are convinced he’s taking the “repeat” of “rinse, lather, rinse, repeat” seriously.

For those of you keep track at home, I’ve now been waiting an hour on the side of the road. About another half hour later I get a call from Jake, and I know when I answer he can hear the exasperation in my voice. “Hey Khayla, I hopped on a bus in town and we’re coming your way” “Great Jake, what does the bus look like so I know I’m getting on the right bus” (all the buses here are painted different arrays of colors and window tint d├ęcor) “Um.. lemme look….” Then I hear the unmistakable noise of a loud thud and crack.  Jake didn’t notice the window was shut and bonked his head, snapping a piece  clean off. I’m just going to chalk that one up to the Karma gods and leave it at that. Jake tells me the bus is green and yellow between curse words of pain. I look up to see the bus whipping around a corner up ahead, I grab my things and sprint across the road waving for the bus to stop. I get on and quickly play the easiest game of “Where’s Waldo” I will ever play. I go and sit next to Jake and introduce myself to the other PCV who is with him named Audrey. She was passing through from traveling down south, she shortly offers some bananas and nutella. So I knew we were going to be fast friends.

As the bus journey continues, I have to sit on the edge of my seat straight up because there is something sharp in the broken back that pokes me if I lean back, and there are no other open seats, and even if there were, I’m not leaving the whities.  It’s bumpy, I’m tired, it’s dusty, I’m starting to get dehydrated… But I dare not take more than a few sips each hour from my water bottle because as you read in a previous entry… peeing on the side of the road during our shortcall breaks would make me nothing short of a traveling circus side show. Every trip is like this, I watch my water intake carefully, and towards the end of the trip I pop two ibuprofens for the dehydration headache I know is coming. Yes, yes, I know, I know… this can’t be good for me. But it’s Peace Corps Africa, and I’m doing the best I can.

About 7 hours in to the trip, with 2 hours more to go I start to feel something. A familiar feeling of terror from my middle school days… and a feeling all women DREAD. 

       I.  Need.  To.  Change.  My.  Mother.  Fucking.  Tampon.

Jesus Christ… this is the living worst. I turn to Audrey, the girl whom I didn't know before this trip, but who’s kindness and nutella has brought us together, and tell her the situation. I immediately read the empathy in her eyes. About 20 minutes later the bus stops for a shortcall on the side of the road where about 10 little huts of meat vendors are set up for business. My eyebrows creased in worry I stand up to face my fears and get off the bus with everyone else. Audrey follows me and offers her help in whatever way I need it. I search for a spot safe from everyone’s eyes. It’s impossible.

There are some people actually moving so they can see me… vendors at the meat hut.
I’m starting to panic, because the bus will certainly leave yo ass on the side of the road.
 Audrey takes her jacket off and tries to hold it up and block the views.

I can’t decide which way to face, is it more embarrassing for the people to see my back or front?

The front dummy. Definitely the front. NOW SQUAT AND GET THIS NIGHTMARE OVER WITH.
I do my business… I fling the old tampon into a nearby bush…I’m sure someone thought I was having an abortion… Why is everything in slow motion?...I’m mortified.

I finish up and run with Audrey back to the bus who where the driver is revving the engine at having to wait on us. The audacity of us… to make him wait… because transportation never makes us wait… grrrr.

I sit down and douse my hands in sanitizer. I use so much it’s dripping off of me on to the floor. Audrey and I get settled into our seats (which for me, means returning to the upright position and making sure I don’t lean back) and I thank Audrey repeatedly for her help. I turn to look at Jake so I can tell him what happened, but before I can, he opens his mouth as says these simple words:

“ Ladies, that is why we pee before we leave ”

It took all the strength I had to not lunge at him right there, I even felt my body tense and my arm cock back slightly into a pre-punch position. If we HAD LEFT ON TIME I wouldn’t have had this problem… I lock eyes with Audrey and we are thinking the same thing. Fool. Damned fool. I couldn’t talk to him for the rest of the trip for fear of saying words I would never be able to take back.

To this day, Jake doesn’t know this story, I’m now considering whether or not to send him the link to this blog post… we’ll see. =) I’ll let ya know what happens.

*Fun update for you other ladies out there, I am now using a Diva Cup. And I would highly recommend it if you are heading towards, or are already in the Peace Corps life.  Google it and check it out, their youtube video explains it better than I ever could. It saves money, time, and worry. It’s worth checking out.*

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wheeeeeeeere's Khayla?

Where am I?

The information in this short update is, I promise, more of a surprise to me than it is to you. I still can’t believe it happened… but here goes!… I am writing this entry from Loja,Ecuador, in South America. What’s that? Did I type that right? Am I sure? Heck yes I am!!!

Here I am!
I’ve been offered the opportunity of a lifetime for a new Peace Corps initiative in Ecuador. I applied, and got approved for a transfer. I will now be living here until at least April 2014. I did almost a year and a half in Uganda, and will be doing another year and a half in Ecuador. It’s a gigantic change, to which I’m still adjusting, but it feels right and I’ve yet to have a single doubt about changing countries. I’m very grateful for my time in Uganda. Grateful for how I grew, learned to appreciate life, learned just how much I love my family (and how much they love me), and learned to survive. Above all, I’m grateful for the people I met along the way, especially the other Peace Corps Volunteers. I can’t wait until they start to end their service and come visit me here. I miss you guys every day.

The gates to the entrance of my new city Loja
On the note of transferring, I’m beginning to write entries for here, but first I have two more important entries I want to write for Uganda. While I enjoy being able to fill in everyone on my life adventures, these entries also serve to help me record stories I never want to forget. SO: two more Uganda entries, then an around-the-world switch! Enjoy! Oh and if you thought my language was bad before… Just wait until you see the downhill affect of throwing yourself into learning Spanish. Dios Mio!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Travel Terror Part 2, The fun keeps on coming.

Time for part two of my travel tales… I know I said in the last entry that things had gotten too lengthy to continue, so I would break the storyline into two… but a little part of me thinks I was just too embarrassed to speak about one travel story in particular. Because if my life was represented in a line graph of embarrassing moments, this story would certainly be one of the higher peaks. Now, because joining peace corps has taught me the value of delayed gratification… I’ll save that truffle for the end of this blog entry and start you off with a simple quip of a story.

Bothersome Bride Price

A few trips ago I was taking the bus from the capital city to my site, a journey whose time has ranged from 5 ½ to 13 hours, and in America would take 3. I know. UN. AC. CEPT. ABLE. Do better Uganda. I nice Ugandan guy sits next to me, nods politely and we begin our journey  to the Southwest. Typically the buses play on blast whatever fuzzy radio station the antennae duct taped to the roof is picking up. And since most music here is composed of a beginners bass beat on repeat and some men shouting rapidly in a language I don’t understand in a terrible impression of Busta Rhymes… my diagnosis is: intolerable. My mother who repeatedly had to shout during my upbringing for me to turn down my dribbling excuse of music can tell you, if I say the music is hard to listen to… it’s prettttty bad.  My point? I travel with earbuds in my ears and listen to music from the first to last kilometer of the journey.  Maybe due to this my peripheral vision vision was heightened? Because the first four hours of the journey I got to watch the man next to me psych himself up to speak to me about 20 times.  ::Turn to talk to me, raise an arm to poke me on the shoulder, think again and put arm down::  In return I would think in my head “good boy.” But dammit to hell if he finally didn’t find the courage on the 21st time and I finally felt the poke on my shoulder. 

::Poke Poke::
Me as I pull my earbud out: Yes?
Sir: “It’s just that…in my whole life…never have I sat next to a Mzungu on a bus, even one who is so beautiful”
Me as I’m thinking oh great here we go: Thank you, but my name is not Mzungu, I don’t call you African, do I?.

Thinking maybe he will take a social cue, I quickly slip the earbud back into my ear. One year in this country and still I can be so ignorant. 

::Poke Poke::
Me as I pull my earbud out: Yes?
Sir: “Where you come from, do you have bride price? I want to know yours”
Me: [sigh] “No, In America we do not have bride price. In theory, if you love someone you treat them with respect and kindness and if you both agree, someday you can get married.”
Sir [pausing, creasing his eyebrows and thinking very critically]: “…But then what keeps women from leaving the marriage?”
Me: “Again, in theory, Love”
Sir: “So would you ever date an African”
Me: I would date whomever I felt I could love. But dating an African presents troubles because I’m not going to be in Africa forever.
Sir [clearly skipping the whole LOVE part]: “Because my friend at work started dating a white woman and now they have a child and his life is much better and he has money now”
Me: “That is good for your friend” [slipping the earbud back in]
::Poke Poke::
Me as I pull my earbud out: Yes?
Sir: I want to give you my number and you come visit me soon
Me knowing he’s seen me text on my phone already during the bus ride: “Sorry I don’t have a phone” [Futilely slipping the earbud in once again]

I’m going to stop with the dialogue here, but the poking went on until I got off the bus an hour later. I’d put my earbuds back in, he’d poke and try to find a new way to phrase “You woman, me man, I want you” It’s rather obnoxious. This isn’t the first time this happened, and it damend sure won’t be the last. There seems to exist this mentality in Africa of “The savior white-person.” Regardless of any single outlying factor, no matter what, the white man (or woman) will prove better than anything else you are going to encounter in your life.  And I know my explanation of the marriage system in America was very simplified and I could have added, figuratively, a million “excepts, unless, but sometimes etc…” But I already altered the broken English the man was speaking for your viewing pleasure, so don’t be an ass and over analyze. a.k.a. Don’t be the kid who raises his hand in class and corrects the spelling of something the teacher just wrote on the board. NOBODY likes that kid. And if you didn’t have a kid like that in your class, FUNFACT: it was you, asshole. 

I want to backtrack a little to the bride price, because you probably got a good laugh out of it, and someday I will too. Bride price is a really atrocious thing. It traps women into their marriage because it usually comes in the form of farm animals or food, in a nicer family maybe a home or mode of transportation. But if you ever want to get out of your marriage, you have to payback your bride price, which in this country tends to be literally impossible. In positive news, Uganda is progressing and has recently passed a law outlawing bride price. Obviously this won’t stop them from happening, but it will stop a woman from having to pay it back if she gets the courts involved.  How often will a woman be able to get the justice system on her side?... we will see. But it’s a step for Uganda. 

I guess when it comes down to it… Love is a Luxury. So just maybe, if you’ve found someone to love and who loves you back you need to always let the petty shit slide because it could be worse… you could be praying to God to meet a white person in a taxi someday or be trapped by your bride price. 

Okay, my tolerance for writing seems to have run out. But, never wanting to deny the good people an entertaining read. I’ll post what I’ve got so far. As always, have fun laughing at my life choices. =)

Travel Tales of Terror, Part 1

Today was supposed to be the first club meeting of a Life Skills club I’ve been trying to start for a while now… but seeing as I’m sitting alone in a classroom typing on my laptop… I think you fine folk can guess my turn-out rate. Hint: Bagel. Hint about the Hint: Think of the shape of a Bagel. Big fat, “O”.  Even though I met with the Nursing school’s Principal, head teacher, warden, and student body president to make sure this club I’ve affectionately called “Power Hour ”  ;) is planned through the proper chains, no one ever thought to mention that’s there’s a guest priest this week and they’ve moved the typically Wednesday mass to Tuesday, exactly on top of my first meeting. Hooooray. 

Thank God I didn’t spend most of today planning my first meeting, and worrying about whether or not it will go okay;  because that would make this moment an extra-large downer.  Well that’s Peace Corps… if you aren’t learning patience, you are learning how best to deal with failure.  Don’t let my depressing demeanor deter you. I’m still going to try. My ass will be in this same spot next week trying all over again. And if ANOTHER guest priest arrives and takes precedent, I’m not above fashioning my own catholic collar out of toilet paper and disguising my “Power Hour” as a sermon.  I’m pretty sure I have a black button up shirt somewhere…. Mwahaha.  Wait, do they even let females do that yet?  Dang.  Once again my plans are foiled by my ovaries. Curse you reproductive organs!

While I’m ranting,  I thought this might be an opportune moment to mention a few little jewels in my treasure trove of travel stories.  (Hrm… I’ve got a lot of alliteration going on today, let’s see how often I can keep it up…). Fair warning… In my previous blogs I’ve divulged disgusting stories concerning all sorts of bodily fluids. If you expect today’s entry to be any different, then you are a flighty fool.  Do not take this warning lightly like the ones you see before a movie, this is more the “no pregnant women on the roller coaster” warning. Shit is going to get real.

*Preface* These next three short stories all happened while I was traveling, if you need a refresher on the hell-hole that is traveling here, go back and read the post around Christmas. Also on all three of these trips I was on a bus, which at least meant I had my own seat.  There is another volunteer here named Griffin, she is the one with terrible luck on mutates (if that words confuses you, read that other blog, you stubborn mule) Mutatus are the mini vans that they pack to twice their limit. You literally have someone half in your lap on one side, and then someone’s arm pit caressing you on your other side. And if the gods have been kind enough to bestow you a side seat with someone only on one side, then undoubtedly you have some random loose screw/bar/pole/chicken digging into you.  In these glorious predicaments, Griffin has had a child puke on her, throw up on her, a man piss into a bottle then slowly pour it out the window (whhhhhhy he still wanted the bottle we will never know…) and finally… a woman’s water break on her.  That was a hard stain on her jeans to explain when she reached her destination. Anyways, here’s my travel tales of terror. 

Before I get into this story it’s important to differentiate that while “gonja” is a nickname for marijuana in America, here it’s a nickname for grilled banana. You can see how that could be important.  Usually your bus will stop a few times on the way to your destinations at a quick pit stop. There are two types of stops. One is a food stop. These can be nice if you are a person with thirst or hunger. People standing on the side of the road ruuuuun and quickly surround your vehicle thrusting all sorts of goodies into your window. Water bottles, sodas, packets of biscuits (like hard shortbread cookies),  fruits (bananas, passion fruit, oranges, apples), vegetables (grilled sweet potato, corn),  cooked pieces of meat shoved onto a sharpened stick (aka, street meat), and other varying treats. The second kind of stop is a bathroom break. Here you call them short-calls, or long-calls for peeing and pooping accordingly. In your head you are probably picturing a little rest stop, maybe even a stand-alone port-o-potty for your worst case scenario. You would be terribly wrong.  Usually the bus will just randomly pull over on the side of the road, and if there are a few bushy shrubs or greenery for you to squat behind, then you best thank your lucky stars. The bus pulls over, and about half the people will file off. In some unspoken rule the men will file off a few feet in one direction and the women in the other.  You can’t go far because if you aren’t in the buses’ plain sight, and everyone else is on the bus, they will leave yo’ ass in the grass.  But on the opposite side if  you are in plain sight, because a  full white buttock is something almost every Ugandan has never seen, and will probably never see again… all eyes are on you. Talk about shy bladder problems.

Peace Corps tries to recommend that you wear a skirt for this exact reason. But the taxis are so crowded, everyone is sitting on your skirt, so when you go to stand, the whole vehicle gets that full moon view you were trying to avoid in the first place (I’ve had my skirt accidentally pulled down 3 times). Also I have torn half my skirts in these busted up vehicles due to random nails sticking out in the most inopportune places.  Seriously, this country is a natural lost-and-found for random rusty nails sticking out of nonsensical places. It’s not AIDS that will get me here… it’s tetanus. (But really it’s Malaria… I’ tried leaving the killed mosquitoes on the walls to send a message to their bitchy sisters ((Only females carry malaria))… but those fuckers don’t learn annnnnd I’m fairly certain I’m irresistibly delicious) So yeah, using the bathroom while traveling is a pretty miserable experience. You can squat your best, but you WILL still pee on your feet, so if you don’t want to look down as you literally piss on yourself, you can look one direction and see and entire bus staring holes through the windows at you, or look another direction at your fellow female squatters, all of whom are a thousand times better at this than you, or look the last direction where a small fleet of black penises await to make you blush.  Talk about your lose/lose/lose/lose.  What’s the moral you say? Don’t drink water on travel days. Maybe a few sips every few hours to avoid extreme dehydration. But overwhelmingly, just hold off on the liquids.  Okay that’s enough background for now. Time for you to laugh at my life. 

The Gonja Gentleman.

Three boys walking to school
 It’s about 7am and I’m watching the sun rise up over the hills across from me. I’m waiting for the bus.  It’s quite breathtaking (See picture, for you visual learners)  and I begin to hope for the best in today’s travels.  Oh how quickly I forget that this country giveth, then it taketh… usually more than it gaveth.  I get on a mostly empty bus and find a window seat.  The bus starts in my town and fills up along the way, usually by the half way point in our journey, it’s full. I learned a long time ago to sit by a window, because typically my window is the only open window on the entire bus. So if I don’t grab a window seat… no open windows, and in a world where deodorant is a commonly unobserved practice, bathing water is available only if there was extra drinking water, and everyone puts in more hard labor before sunrise than most of us will complete in a week…. It.Gets.Rank.  At the next stop (but is about 13% full) an older man, in a leather jacket he is clearly proud of, gets on the bus and I see his eyes zero in on me. He says something in the local language very excitedly, and somewhere in his sentence I hear “Mzungu”  Hoooooray. Even if I don’t speak the language fluently… you’d think they’d know I’ve figured out “Mzungu” means me.  Then, with couuuuuntless empty seat this man wedges into the seat next to me. All smiles he greets me with “Hello Mzungu.” Very calm and politely I respond, with my best fake smile “Oreere gye ssebo, kwonka nibanyeta Johnson”, translation; “Good morning Sir, but my name is Johnson” For I have long since switched to telling people my real name. A) I just don’t feel comfortable giving it out to everyone and B) My name trips Africans up every time. Most commonly I hear “Eye-rah” or “Shakira”…. Beats be how they hear Shakira from Khayla.  *On the bright side*, I recently showed all the teachers at my nursing school my passport and the one who is 9 months pregnant saw that my middle name is Nicole. Now she keeps telling she is going to name the baby Nicole. I’m not sure if she is kidding or not… I’ll know soon enough. =)

So the man laughs at my response (The usual reaction to the surprise of hearing a pale-face speaking the local language) and we settle in for our 9 hour trip. As the bus continues to fill I notice my new seat partner has a rather common habit amongst Ugandans; picking his nose and flicking the results in random directions, which sometimes included mine.  Clarification, “Picking” doesn’t do this act justice. Gouging his brains out sounds more accurate. I mean, I get where it comes from, this country is dusty as shit plus everyone burns their trash. It’s an asthmatic nightmare. But that is why little handkerchiefs are for sale everywhere.  Blow your damn nose into one of those! Wait… maybe that is why Ugandans don’t like the windows open…the dust… hrm….meh, who cares.  The dust is preferable to the smell of B.O.

About 6 hours in, we stop for a short-call. My seatmate gets off the bus and relieves himself, and for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, my scumbag brain never let’s me look away from the trainwreck of everyone peeing right on the side of the road. I often imagine what would happen in America if a tour bus pulled over on I-75 and the passengers were told to pop-a-squat. The hilarity that would ensue… The big message you need to take away from our short-call is clearly… NO ONE washes their hands. And obviously if soap is rare, finding antibacterial hand sanitizer would be like finding Sasquatch…in Africa.  So my new friend returns and I watch his hands like a hawk. But the seats here are so smallll. I’m only 5’4 on a good day and my knees hit the back of the seat in front of me. And even if two small people sit in the seats, their entire sides will be touching each other. I know his hands are going to touch my clothes somewhere, and worse, I know there is nothing I can do.

A few minutes later we stop for a snack break and the usual people surround the bus. A hear a man frantically shouting in rapid succession “GonjaGonjaGonjaGonjaGonja”, as they are one to do.  And my dear seat mate full on leans across me allll up in my grill and personal bubble. (And being Hispanic… I used to think my bubble was pequeno to begin with…. Oooooooh how this country repeatedly proves me wrong) He calls out the window for three pieces of Gonja and pays. All of him is pressing into all of me, and I’m unsure of how much longer I can hold my breath.  Just as the haze from lack of oxygen sets in, he sits up and gives me back my already small space. No “Pardon, sorry, thanks, excuse me…” not to be rude, but because culturally, it’s just not the way.  So to briefly recap; this man has dug more in his nose than all 7 dwarfs accomplished in their cumulative lifetimes, relieved himself  and touched no soap, and now is holding food.  Next, after almost 7 hours next to each other, Mr. Gonja decides it time for a polite gesture.  Because maybe NOW I will want to be best friends. So he wraps his hand around one of the bananas and shoves it in my face, right under my nose and says “You eat?” It took every ounce, of every strength, of every molecule, to not exorcist projectile vomit all over his peace offering.  Reusing my fake smile I politely decline and press as much of me, up against as much of the window as I can muster. 

Thinking his Gonja offer was sufficient, as we pulled into our destination a few hours later, Mr. Gonja Gentleman asked for my phone number so he could call me from time to time and see how I’m doing.  Knowing that many men here don’t take “no” for an answer, I used a trick I learned back in High School, when due to a scheduling conflict… I got stuck in regular English and not honors. Play. Dumb. 

Works every time.

I have at least three more stories to bestow upon you… but at this rate the length of the blog entry will be unreasonable. So I’ll stop and post this much, then continue my stories next time. Boy, do they only get better from here.

Hope you are all enjoying the greatest country in the world, and not taking anything for granted.

Hasta Luego!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What's Brown and Sticky?... a stick.

Dang. Two posts in a week, then no post for over two months. That reminds me of a fun little number fact about my bowel movements…. My first 16 days in this country I only pooped 2 times. Then, at some terrible point in October, I pooped 16 times in 2 days. True Story.

Hrm… Since this blog entry has already taken a stinky turn, I’ll follow suite. Time for a story I’ve only recently managed to suppress… it was traumatizing to say the least.

A group including myself and five other volunteers headed to a small village in the hills of Southwest Uganda to learn about VSLAs, Village Savings and Loans Associations. It’s a simple way of helping people in a community save their money and additionally provides a financial safety net.  We’d been told to dress professionally and in a country where ankle lengths skirts are the norm, I was wearing a long dress, thin sweater-cover and nice dress sandals. My suspicions of how the evening was going to go began when our land rover got stuck in the mud on the way up the hill. Our driver promptly turned on the four wheel drive and floored the gas pedal. After a few seconds of non-forward motion fishtailing and the girls all holding hands and repenting of their sins, we finally skidded out of the rut and continued up the hill to the town center.  The vehicle came to a stop in a cluster of trees and the driver motioned, telling us we had reached our destination. Looking around at no people or building in plain sight our skeptical faces told the driver he needed to point us in the right direction. We followed a muddy path through the trees and came to a steep inclined hill. Allow me to pause and paint a picture of exactly what level of “muddy and inclined” I am talking about;

 Go to your nearest Sam’s Club and purchase every container of premixed and boxed chocolate pudding you can find.  Now allow the pudding to sit in your garage, until is it thick and mushy. Next, packing as many buckets of pudding as you can into your vehicle, go to your nearest playground with a 100 foot slide. Begin to dump the pudding on the slide until all of the plastic/metal is hidden. NOW GO TO THE BASE OF THE SLIDE INYOUR LOVELY DRESS SANDALS AND CLIMB THAT BAD BOY.

Climbing that hill was a scene I will never forget.

It only took three brave steps for me to mudslide back four. Hooooray, off to a great start. At this point I began looking for stones in the mud to hoist me along, stray branches to tug me along, or maybe unsuspecting people to drag me along. But as I looked into the eyes of the lovable Josephine climbing along with me, I saw the same desperation and fear.  Taking solace in our joint nightmare we smiled and accepted the inevitable; we were going to have to crawl up this hill in our dashing outfits. With my feet shoulder width apart on the left side of the path, Joey and I arched across and put our hands on the right side of the path. In this position we began to reverse-crabwalk shimmy up the current bane of our existence. Half way up the hill, Coutious, the Peace Corps staff member guiding us, took the chance to remind us that she was both behind us AND newly pregnant, so yeah… no pressure on not falling and crushing her unborn child. Of course Coutious, having grown up in the hills of Southwest Uganda, was having no problem with the slope. Trick looked like she was going up a damned escalator.

When we finally reached the top, the awaiting group of Ugandans made no attempt to hide their laughter as they offered us a bucket of water to clean ourselves up. We finished introductions and headed inside the small office to learn how they operated their VSLA program. With about 25 people and 7 places to sit, visitors were offered the few available seats while everyone else filed in and sat on the ground. While we waited for the latecomers to join, one of the women sitting on the ground took the opportunity to tell us “You know, here the Ugandan women sit on the ground and the men get the chairs”, her voice with an air of suggestion. I wanted to tell her this wasn’t new information to me, nor was it even the first or second time someone wanted me to give up my seat to a man, but instead I kept my cool and politely smiled.

That’s a lie.

Before I knew what my mouth was thinking I said “Good thing I’m American” in a snappy retort. It wasn’t right, I shouldn’t have said it, kids: don’t do what I do.

After a prayer, approval of the minutes, reintroduction, review of last week’s minutes, and a bunch of other official bullshit that precedes all Ugandan meetings, we finally began. And about 3 minutes into the meetings, my stomach gave a lurch. Not just any lurch, THE lurch. The diabolical lurch of a stomach that knows it is about to blow your colon to hell. My eyes going wide in recognition of my immediate stinky future, I started surveying the room for the quickest zig-zag path through the floor sitters to safety. A few minutes later I was outside circling the dirt house for any form of toilet with 3 small children following me, the largest of the small children with a baby in her arms. I turned to the children and asked where the bathroom was. The bewildered look in their eyes mixed with the excitement of a pale face actually talking to them let me know that they didn’t speak English. Using my minimal Runyankore (the local language) I said “toilet nkahi?!” or “The toilet is where?.” In unison the kids pointed to a tilted mud hut. Well… hut isn’t an appropriate word. I’m not sure what to call it. Hut implies there are at least four walls. That did not apply here. From sticks and mud, the people seemed to have built a slanted three walled and straw roof situation over a giant hole in the ground.

 I see you’ve noticed I said three walls, surely the missing wall is the wall that faces away from everything, towards the edge of the hill overlooking all the beauty Uganda has to offer? Wrong. The missing wall is facing, neigh, TOUCHING the short dirt path from the house/office. Taking the view in with my eyes I have no choice but to release another sarcastic… Hooooray.

I walked towards the hut to inspect while clenching my stomach because it’s released another lurch, the children still following closely at my muddy heels.  I can tell I need to think fast. I identify my problems and try to sort them one at a time. First… I need toilet paper. I laugh at myself, the audacity that I would think toilet paper is even an option. So yeah… scratch that, I need anything to wipe my ass with. I begin stomping through the waist high bushes looking for my answer. I’ll be damned, it’s all tiny weeds with tiny leaves or giant banana leaves out of my reach.  Touche forest gods. Touche. I go in further searching and finally catching a break, happening upon the nicest little bush with palm sized soft leaves. I pluck as many as I can stuff in my sports bra and get the hell out of the bush before Africa eats me. Btw, the children are still on my heels.

This brings me to problem number two. Momma needs her privacy and the brats need to go. Back and standing next to my poop “hut”, I begin waving my arms in the international “go away” motion. I knew it would accomplish nothing, but hey, worth a try.  Resorting to puppy tactics, I pick up rocks and throw them while shouting “Fetch!” Again, nice try. Finally with some success I wave my arms like and shout scary monster noises. The children run laughing and screaming, but not out of sight. Juuuuust far enough to make it only a little awkward.

Looking over at my hut I take a deep breath. It’s time.  I can do this. I think I can do this. I probably can’t do this…

I hike up my dress, pull my underwear down to my knees, squat over the joke of a 4inch by 4inch hole like they taught us, and do the damned thing. In a move I like to call the upside-down volcano, I emptied my system like a burst of lava.  I can hear the children talking/ laughing the whole time, so every few seconds I make sure to shout again for them to STAY AWAY. Then, I use my surprisingly soft leaves (certainly better than the toilet paper in the residence halls at UF, no offense guys) to clean myself up and stand up to compose myself. All the while I’m stepping very carefully because I can’t tell if the floor is dirt or cement, and I’ve already heard horror stories of the floor caving on other volunteers and being stuck in the bottom of a shit-pit for hours before help comes. That is not something one simply recovers from. That shit sticks with you forever, literally. 

Like all naturally curios people I look behind me to scope the situation.

Jesus Christ.

I was about 6 inches off. Not a drop of it made it into the hole. I just coated their floor like a fool. I really am the white devil.

Panicking that I was already lucky the children stayed away this long, I grab the remainder of the bra leaves and extra carefully scrape my own fecal matter into the pit latrine hole. Might I reiterate… Hooooray.

I exited the hut in a bubble of my own shame and gave the children a sarcastic “I fucking love this place” smile.  As I go to return to the meeting I realize my bubble of shame and self loathing has grown too big for me to enter the doorway. Knowing when to call it quits, I find a nice patch of grass where I can sit and hold my stomach for the remainder of the session.  I use this time to collect a few neat looking white pebbles scattered on the ground around me, reminding myself it’s the little things that count, and at least I got a few cool rocks from the experience.  As if on cue, one of the dirtier children passes by me eating what I now know is “Jackfruit” and spits a seed on the ground. A familiar looking seed… a neat looking white seed.  As recognition dawns on me, I dump my seed collection on the ground and having given up on the day, begin planning how the hell I’m going to get down that hill.

So there you have it another one of my classic “why me?” stories. =)

If I ever have children in the future and they dare complain about scooping the  cat litter box, I’m going to take away the pooper scooper, hand them some leaves and tell them they better thank their lucky stars it isn’t their own shit. Hooooray