Monday, December 19, 2011

Didn't your mother teach you to NEVER talk to strangers?

Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas and all through the bus,
 not a creature was stirring, no child with fuss.
 Khayla sat quietly and reading in her seat, 
when the person in front of her, she thought she should meet. 
 Who regrets this fateful decision?, I assure you tis this fool, for now she knows of her bathroom ghoul.

Gather round’ as I tell you of my chance conversation with a stranger. It happened back in September as I was heading home from my Future Site Visit, (if you’ve already forgotten what this is… maaaaybe you should go back and reread a few entries) One of the most nerve wrecking/infuriating parts of Peace Corps that I hadn’t considered was traveling, PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION WILL BE THE END OF ME. I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe I was hoping that by then I would have received my acceptance letter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy and I would be zooming around Uganda on my Firebolt. (it’s a cultural reference, and if you didn’t get it… it’s probably best for our friendship that you don’t tell me, just knowingly laugh and act like it didn’t happen) Travel, for the most part is up to Peace Corps volunteers to figure out on their own. A few times we were given crash courses, i.e. filed onto a taxi bus (which fits 14 legally, and frequently 23 illegally) and told to just get off when our stage comes up! Even though we didn’t really know what our stage looked like, it being our first time and all.  

        Anyways, taxi’s come in four main forms. From smallest to largest they are; motorcycles (in country, called botabotas), Toyota corollas (which I’ve now ridden in with 9 other people), vans (or mutatus, pronounced Moo-Taught-Twos), and Charter buses from the prehistoric era. The farther you are traveling, the bigger the vehicle you take. Except BotaBotas, they are not an option, Peace Corps has a rule against riding them, there are a few volunteers who chose to bend this rule because let’s face it, the chances of running into a Peace Corps official at our site are slim, but I’m proud to say my tushy has yet to sit on a botabota cushy. Just ask any local hospital what problem they most frequently treat, and the answer is botabota accidents. That’s all I need to know, kthanx. My stance on survival here, I refuse to die from something that wouldn’t have killed me if I was in America. If I was going to die anyways, like cancer, or the end of the world (hellooooo 2012) then that is okay. There are things in the water, in the ground, and in the air already trying to kill me, why would I help them out?!

        Back to the modes of transportation. There is no set schedule for when these vehicles come and go. Larger cities have taxi/bus parks,  and smaller cities have dirt paths that lead to larger cities. (On these paths only botabotas can drive, which is why I understand that there are those volunteers who need to take them. It’s that or walk for an hour, or be ridiculously over charged for a private hire…yay for white people prices.) So when you need to go somewhere you head to a taxi park, but as you will shortly learn, taxis don’t go anywhere until they are completely packed to capacity. Even if it means sitting in the taxi park for 3 ½ hours (at least I’m learning patience here).  The trick is to stand on the side of the road where it leaves the city and be picked up by a full taxi. Sure you have to cram in, but going to add more people after you anyways, and now you don’t have to wait. But before you get in the taxi, you must remember to ask what price you are being given. Once you are given said price, you must argue that you live here and know that is the wrong price, again…. Yaaaay Mzungu prices. Sidenote: Ugandans may be the worst liars I have ever met, and that is not a complaint. I can read them like a blaring radio. Subtlety and sarcasm have not hit this country yet, probably because they have bigger things to worry about.  
        So I was finished visiting my future site and it was time to head back to the training site in Wakiso, I headed to the bus park in town and met up with Jake Carpenter, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, PCV, who is in my training group, and placed in the same town as me. Jake is from Macon, Georgia, so it feels good to have a southern gentleman nearby who I can always call for help. He’s a 3 minute car ride and 30 minute walk away.  Never in my life have I been more aware/ constantly reminded of my gender. I’ll save that for another post. Jake and I were shown to a bus by a man who swore up and down the bus was leaving nownow (because in Uganda if you really mean it, you say the word twice)  3 hours later our bus slowly began to leave the bus park. By slowly I mean, go forward ten feet, wait ten minutes to see if anyone else comes. Repeat this process till we finally reach the gate. Quick shout out to my Kindle. Because without it, I surely would’ve gone mad. When I would begin to see red tinges of anger fill the peripheral of my vision as frustration filled my soul, I’d simply whip out my treasure trove of book collections (Thanks Chris Rokicki!) and read away. I really should keep a list somewhere, cause I’ve read a lot of books here.
        Finally we are en route to the capital city, Kampala. About 3 hours into our journey I get a glance at what the woman in front of me is reading. Well, not so much reading as looking at, since it is a large diagram of a vagina. Muscles, tendons, and bones all just labeled away. Shocked that a woman would have such graphic material on display in a country drowning in conservatism, I leaned in and asked if she was a health worker. She replied “Yes, I am a practicing nurse, and am now in midwifery school continuing my studies” I informed her I myself was coming just now from a nursing school where I was going to spend the next two years. A few more exchanges and we established that her old nursing school, and my new nursing school, were in fact, the same school.  

        I told her how I’d be living on the hospital grounds.  Sylvia said she bet she knew where I was staying, she proceeded to describe in great detail the house I had spent my last few nights in. Front porch facing where the new chapel was being built, Ben the surgical nurse living next door, and attached to the guest house which frequently hosts Belgium Medical Students. There are easily 30 people who live at the hospital, but clearly this woman knew which house was mine. I asked how she was so familiar with my home and she told me a nice Danish Doctor used to live there, after her first year of nursing school, Sylvia had some financial problems and was going to have to drop out if she couldn’t find the money for school. At this point, the kind doctor offered to sponsor her. This continued happily for a year. Then one day the doctor called her to his house and wrote her a check to cover all the remaining costs of her schooling. Sylvia was so excited, this was the first check she had seen in her entire life.  She held it with pride and quickly went to the bank to deposit the money. She says looking back she should have wondered why the doctor didn’t want to continue his monthly payments. Later that evening, the doctors housekeeper found him dead in the bathroom. MY BATHROOM.  He’d taken a knife and ended his life.  I’ll give you a few seconds to really let this set in . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .I hope you are handling this better than I did. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Okay, that’s enough time.  What was I thinking talking to this stranger just because she had female anatomy on display??!?!?!! Curse my curiosity.  It killed the cat, and made Khayla paranoid to live in her own house.

        What were the chances of talking to this women? Of all the buses, and of all the days, and of all the seats. I ended up next to Sylvia. That’ll teach me to talk to strangers. Doing the math this all happened about a decade ago, and even if I met someone here at the hospital who had been here that long, I will never have the courage to ask about the dangerously depressed Danish doctor’s death. (see children, even when the topic is sad, alliteration can be fun!)  The initial shock seems to have worn off, and I actually don’t think about it anymore. But while I pride myself on being non-superstitious, handling scary movies decently, and overall being a strong independent woman, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little jumpy at night that first week. My extra 10 inch kitchen knife is still tucked away in my night stand.  But I swear I’m all better now. =)  I forgot to mention that about an hour later our bus broke down and Jake and I had no clue where we were and just hoped on the first taxi driving by who said they were heading to Kampala. I tried not to take this as an omen since breaking down is a common occurrence. We did eventually make it home safely after an 11 hour adventure. I’ve since made that same trip in 6 hours. And in America that distance would take 3 hours. Once again… yaaaay public transportation.

I hope you enjoyed my scary story, I highly doubt you found it boring.  =)

Merry Christmas Everyone! 
I will be missing you all more than you could possibly know. 

Friday, December 9, 2011


TWO IN A ROW what is going on?!?!?!

It's not nearly as much effort as you think. I'm just posting a speech I gave at our swearing-in ceremony. At the end of our ten weeks of training, Peace Corps and the US Embassy put together a fancy shindig with drinks and appeteasers. (seriously they were a giant tease, reminding us how good food could be if it wanted to) And a couple people from our group were selected to give speeches during the processions. Yours truly was the middle presenter. The high-larious and entertaining cream filling of an intellectual sandwich. Below is my sugary input. I put a few comments in parenthesis to explain some of the inside jokes. Enjoy peeps. =)

         I can’t remember the look on my parents face when I told them I was joining the Peace Corps… mostly because I wasn’t there. My 19 year old sister (at the time, now she is 21.  Time sure is funny, started applying to Peace Corps two years before I actually departed. Two years of your past sure seem a lot shorter than two years of your future.) Kelley had taken advantage of a rare opportunity where she possessed information my parents did not.  And once the cat was out of the bag, Ugandans, that means secret’s out! My parents blind sighted me with one giant bombardment of a phone call. (It wasn’t that much of a bombardment, I just wanted to use the word.  My stepdad was calm, cool, and collected, anything else would mean the world was ending) After the initial shock of their call, A face, which  I’m sure was similar to the one my parents were hosting only minutes earlier, I did the only reasonable thing I could think of, return the favor and tell my parents the secret I’d been keeping about my sister. “Well Kelley got a dog from the pound!” Looking back… I see now why my pebble of information didn’t make nearly the splash Kelley’s boulder did.

            Some of us had 8 months to mentally and physically prepare for this next chapter of our life, others of us had 5 weeks thanks to a combination of essay writing procrastination and failure of the United States Postal Service. (At this point in the speech I raised my hand and pointed to myself =)) Regardless we all found the nerves to show up in Philadelphia with forty-something equally crazy strangers who were looking to save the world and maybe learn a little more about themselves along the way.

        One of the Peace Corps Slogans is “How far are you willing to go” On August 3rd we found our answer to that question when we traveled roughly 7714 miles to our new home. Or in Spanish, Casa nueva, because my malfunctioning brain has never in my life pushed so many Spanish words to the front of my mind as it did during my Runyankore language test. Poor Kabayo (my language tester, and yes I see the Irony that Caballo is Spanish for horse)… There were points during that interview where I looked so confused he probably thought I’d been bitten by one of those rabid bats hiding in our homestay rooms.

            Anyways, back to our arrival in Uganda. Months of anticipation and excitement building up, culminating in finally landing at the Entebbe airport. We’d read about the beautiful rolling hills, flourishing greenery, and breathtaking sunsets. And upon arrival, we had to trust that what we’d read on Wikipedia was true because beyond the “Mzungu!” shouting taxi drivers, the darkness obscured our view.

I explained to mom back home that Training is kinda like Chemistry 1; A weed-out class. If you can make it through that first class, you’ll have no problem making it through the rest. For those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, training was our weed out class. And our first night here was our first pop quiz. Think about it… we didn’t shower or sleep for a day and a half, landed in Africa Darkness, pushed through the tears as some of us realized our belongings  had been stolen (again I raise my hand and point to myself, RIP  brandnewbirthdaygifttomyselfnevergottouseyou Nintendo 3DS, and Zelda Ocarina of Time for the 3DS) unloaded our luggage at 1am in our first delightful combination of the aforementioned Africa Darkness and newfound Uganda Mud, and proceeded to cram more women into a single room than I thought possible. That little gem of a guesthouse, later affectionately called the orphanage, and renamed even later to pee-tree dish room of death, will give me nightmares for the rest of my life. Next we were hustled  to our first official African meal of Peanut Butter and Bread. Interesting how a meal we originally thought so little of, now has the potential to be the highlight of our week. And finally were introduced to people who just couldn’t wait the 5 hours  till breakfast time to meet us. Like we’re thaaat exciting anyways. Needless to say, it was a doosie of a pop quiz. But we are stronger than we know, and in every sense, that is why we are here.

             As our first meal and introduction came to an end, we were told by a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer)  that we aren’t going to save the world, which sidenote: may not be the best motivational tool. Either way, I beg to differ. I think that if any organization has the potential to irreversibly make a difference, it’s the Peace Corps. Sure, one of us alone can only do so much. But as we learned yesterday, we aren’t alone, we are 45 being added to the 1081 Uganda Peace Corps Volunteers who came before us. Change is inevitable, it is up to us to shape that change for the better. Good luck PCVS and Congratulations on passing Chem 1!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Liquid Number Two.

So if you go back two blog entries I seemed to have made an empty promise about another liquid story. Well, I am anything but a liar. (Unless I’m talking about my morals to a Ugandan… then I need to stretch the truth a little… “oh yes I was baptized in the Catholic church, oh I can’t go to 5 hours of church with you on Sunday because Americans only pray in their rooms…alone,  oh yes absolutely pre-marital sex is Satan on earth” this could go on for a while, so I’ll stop)

A few months ago, in the middle of training, all the volunteers in my training group learned their future site location. It was time to learn because in a few days we would be jet-setting off into the wild to visit these sites, in what is called our “Future Site Visit.” During these three days you see where you are going to be living,  and  test the waters of your organization, sniffing for any large signs of corruption. Emphasis on the large, because small corruption, will absolutely be there.  At our sites, every volunteer is given a counterpart and supervisor. The supervisor you report to (in theory) over your two years, and your counterpart serves as your local helper, guide to the inside, co-worker, person you go to with all of your eki buzzo, (pronounced “etchy booze-oh”, or “questions” in my local language). Moral of the story, you should be comfortable with your counterpart. This story, as you will soon learn, sadly did not get my opinion of my counterpart off to a good start.

I arrived anxiously at Nyakibale Hospital and Karoli Lwanga Nursing School and was shortly (20 min standing alone deflecting the ongoing bombardment of stares, Eminem’s song lyrics “you act like you never seen a white person before” blaring in my head) greeted by my counterpart Sister Florence. Sidenote: she is not a nun I eventually learned. Nurses who teach are called Sister. And they aren’t Teachers, they are Tutors… yay for small differences no one teaches me and just let me slowly piece together like a moron.

 Anywho… Sister Florence shows me to her house and invites me to sit on her couch. I smell a faintly familiar and pungent smell emanating throughout the house, but cast aside those thoughts as Sister Florence introduces me to her child Emma. Emma is wearing a pink sweat-pant set with princesses on them. I've never really been a big fan of children or “shi-theads” as I affectionately call them.  (I hope the hyphen helps you, the reader, understand that I’m just mispronouncing shitheads. =)) Florence and I awkwardly chat for a few minutes before she is called away to deal with a situation between two nursing students. She asks me, nay, casually requests I watch after Emma as the door is closing behind her.  Emma stares at me as we both sip our sodas through straws.  I sniff the air again… what is that smell? I continue sniffing as Emma and I size each other up.  Emma finishes her drink and begins walking around the living room.

No signs of danger yet.

Emma’s soda kicks in and she picks up the pace.

Yellow warning lights begin flashing in my mind.

But I am distracted…What is that smell?... why can’t I figure it out?

Focus on the child Khayla!

Emma is now circling the room at full throttle shouting in what I thought was the local language, but I am now convinced was tongues.  Because I have yet, even to this day, heard  this child speak one word I understand.  Finding herself in front of the bookshelf/entertainment set, Emma begins King Kong-ing up the furniture. Looking back, I see how this might have been a good moment to step in, but… it all happened so fast, okay?! As my mind flashes again in a vain attempt to identify the mystery smell,  Emma jumps/falls/ launches off the furniture and stands in the middle of the room staring at me. Then with eyes intently locked on each other, hers reflecting insanity, mine reflecting a look of “what the fuckery” Emma begins to piss her pants.  Then is hits me. THAT IS WHAT THE SMELL IS. It’s urine. This child regularly golden showers this entire place.  As the wet stain spreads over most of this 4 year old child’s sweatpants she kicks her bottoms off, and I learn something I didn't know before. Emma is a boy.  Whoops.  Doesn’t really rank up there with my surprises of the day.  Besides;  Emma… Pink clothes.

 If you only learn one thing from my adventures… Don’t assume anything in Africa.

Emma begins to pull on “little Emma”, our eyes still locked, and then she charges me.   I remain seated on the couch staring in disbelief, too dumbfounded to act.  At the last second Emma removes her hands from her crotch and clutches both grubby little grabbers onto my soda and straw.  Congratulations Emma, your crazy ass has just won a half empty soda. Not half full. I place the soda on the table concedingly in defeat. Emma disregards her winnings and jumps on the couch next to me where she… no HE, proceeds to play and tug on herself, spread eagle, pointed directly at me.

 At this point I assume I just kinda blacked out, because my memory gets fuzzy. I remember thinking, “there is no way to know where in this house is safe to sit, any form of communication with this child has already proved futile, I can’t believe I couldn't figure out that smell before because it’s totes obvi (totally obvious for you old people) now. “  SIDENOTE: as if bragging, my new little puppy Brutus just went outside through the doggy door (simplified term for open hole where a glass panel broke) in the torrential downpour to pee, because even at two months old, she knows better than pissing in the house.
Taken today during a Blog writing break. Spoiled. I know. 

When Emma gets bored joyriding himself, he finds a nice spot in the corner of the room to pee AGAIN and playfully splashes around in it. My children IF I EVEN HAVE ANY NOW, will never drink soda until they are old enough to have a job and buy it themselves. When Sister Florence returns, I’m not sure what her reaction will be… but as her eyes full upon her bottomless, sticky, only child, a smile spreads across her face as she affectionately proclaims “there’s my sweet little Emma?” Not able to trust my mouth if I stay any longer I grab my purse, thank Sister Florence for half of a soda, and say good evening.

I haven’t spent more than a few seconds with Emma since this fateful day. But I’m sure I can’t put it off forever. Recently Sister Florence came to my house to say hello and saw the yoga ball I brought with me to use as my office chair. (I hate yoga, but I LOVE yoga balls, they are the perfect piece of furniture ; chair, footrest, back popper etc…) I explain to Florence that in America, some people use this as a chair. Her immediate response, “I bet Emma can’t wait to play with it!” I'm positive it's Ugandans  who coined the term, “In one ear and out the other” Before I can figure out how to say “over my dead body” in the local language, I changed the topic for the sake of our relationship.

I don’t know if it’s possible to have your tubes tie themselves, but I’m pretty sure mine did on that fateful day. Notify CNN,  I am the reverse Virgin Mary.  Merry Christmas Everybody!