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. 

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