Saturday, August 13, 2011

2 years down and still going strong...

Hi Everyone!

Hope this finds you well! Ryan and I just got back from a wonderful vacation to celebrate our 2nd anniversary (Aug 15)! We had a great time seeing more of Uganda and relaxing with each other! I thought I'd write a little about it and also share a link of pictures from our trip.

All in all our trip went off pretty much without a hitch, but we did have some good adventures to share! We decided to travel further into Southwest Uganda to visit Kabale and nearby Lake Bunyonyi. On our way to Mbarara to catch the Kabale bus our taxi driver had a flat tire. That's never happened to us but we were amazed at how quickly he put on a new tire and went on our way. Even with the flat it was probably the most comfortable and efficient taxi ride we've ever had in Uganda! Then, we waited a good two hours for the bus to arrive in the Mbarara bus park. The conductors were making everyone buy their tickets in advance. (This is a little scary because you really have no reason to believe that they bus will actually arrive!) But it did show up, we got seats, and left without much more delay.

We spent our first night at a hostel in Kabale. It's a really neat place that has a hostel (maybe 7 rooms in all!), open air "nest" restaurant, and cultural museum. There's also lots of western travelers, students, and ngo workers, so we had some great conversations with some other "mzungus" while we hung out. We actually planned to spend the night at another nearby guesthouse, but the room we had reserved looked out onto a courtyard where there would be loud, Ugandan music played all night (thank goodness they let us know in advance). Our only other option was to squeeze into a *tiny* single room at the nearby hostel. We weighed our options and decided to squish for the night.

So, the hostel was really nice but this room was seriously tiny! It was in the shape of a triangle and was so small that the single bed wouldn't even fit normally and had to be squished sideways against a window. To make matters even more exciting, Ryan was chatting with his family while the power was out at the hostel and noticed that there was a mouse also sharing our tiny room! He tried to search for it in the dark, while holding a cell phone, flashlight, and weapon (plastic water bottle). When I came down later he was pretty sure it was gone. So I was sitting on the bed while we were talking and Ryan suddenly says, very calmly, " should get off the bed. Seriously, get off the bed!" Turns out the mouse had popped up onto the bed with me and was about to run across my lap! So we had an adventure trying to get the mouse out of our room! In the morning we got to eat doughnuts at a real bakery (first bakery we've seen in Uganda!) and found a taxi that could take us to the lake.

I discovered our lake accommodations from some other PCVs who spent new years there last year. So, I blindly booked three nights on the island (only about $12 a night!) without having a very good idea what to expect! It turned out to be absolutely wonderful! There is a man who owns the island and has developed it for visitors, but chooses not to advertise. So, we were the only guests on the island! We had the company of 2 Ugandan workers who didn't speak a word of English, and 3 large Ankole cattle! Pretty exclusive, eh?

Incidentally, when they were showing us around the island and we got to the swimming dock we discovered a little problem. One of the cows had wandered on to the dock and, because these cows are HUGE, had broken the dock and fallen in. The Ugandan workers tried to grab it by the horns and force it to get out of the water but had no luck. Eventually, one of the guys climbs into the lake with the cow and starts pushing it from behind (no small task!). So, with the one guy pulling the horns and the other literally shoving the cow onto the bank of the island, they managed to get the cow out of the water and back on solid ground!

Anyhow, they set us up with charcoal and sigeeris, and we got to do all our own cooking. We'd splurged on a block of gouda in Mbarara (cheese is hard to come by!) and planned out lots of cheesy meals! We had a great log cabin with a view of the lake from bed, a shower with only 3 walls so you can enjoy the lake view while showering (and hope nobody happens to walk past)! We got to take out a local dugout canoe and canoe around the lake and nearby islands! The lake is free from hippos, crocodiles, and other dangerous water and inhabitants and supposedly (we're crossing our fingers) it's also free from schisto and other sketchy diseases and bacterias that inhabit most Ugandan bodies of water. The island has no running water or electricity, so has something of a rustic, camping feel - so quiet and peaceful! So, we swam, hiked, cooked, played games, listened to music, talked and talked, and had a great getaway!

We're home for a few days now, and then early next week we head off to Kampala again (ugh! we don't love Kampala) for two and a half weeks of training! We have IST (in-service-training) with our training group for the first week and a half, and then a conference for all the volunteers in country after that. In between the trainings our group is planning to go whitewater rafting on the Nile river (how cool is that?!) and take a sunset Nile cruise. Should be a lot of fun!

Thanks for reading - we love and miss you all!


Thursday, August 4, 2011


Friday will mark the end of our first term here at Bushenyi PTC! The 11th of this month will make 6 months that we’ve been in Uganda, and a new group of Peace Corps Trainees arrives in country tomorrow! Seems like as good a time as any for some reflection!

On the whole, I think our first term here has been a success! It has certainly not been without challenges and frustrations, but there’s been a lot of joy too! I feel like we’re often on a roller coaster of feeling one day as if what we’re doing here is really significant and important, and the next feeling a little like we’re just hitting our heads against the wall! So, it’s good for us (especially on days like the latter) to consider all the great things that have happened this term, and maybe reframe the struggles into potential challenges that have a chance to be overcome! are my thoughts!

  • Moving into our home, making it our own, and finding our way around our new community (no street signs here!)
  • Developing relationships with staff, students community members, and local kiddos (it makes my heart happy to hear “ay-mee-lee (emily)!!!” instead of “mzungu (white person)!!!” when we walk around the village!)
  • Finding ourselves a spot on the time table and beginning to teach
  • Laying the foundation for secondary projects (Math Power Hour, open computer lab time, drama clubs, water catchment systems, malaria projects!)
  • Learning to enjoy running!
  • Finding our rhythm with going to the market, being present at the college, and spending time with each other
  • Navigating cross cultural communication (still a work in progress...)
  • Supporting the BTPC kids at scouting and track and field competitions
  • Living on a Peace Corps budget
  • Investing in friendships with nearby PCVs
  • Becoming “pros” at Ugandan public transportation!
  • Expanding our job descriptions to include health projects, specifically malaria sensitization and prevention efforts
  • Cooking - using the sigeeri (charcoal stove) and really taking advantage of all these great vegetables and fruits
  • Seeing some more of this wonderful country - Mbarara, Rakai, Kasese, Fort Portal, and Queen Elizabeth Natl. Park!
  • Going with the flow despite electricity outages, crazy rain storms, and “ugandan time”
  • Hurtles to getting anything and everything started! (connecting problems with solutions)
  • Insufficient language progress for engaging with staff when they choose to speak vernacular in the staff room, and with rural community members
  • Being valued and taken seriously in a patriarchal society
  • Missing home: family, friends, jobs (purpose!), and life in Minnesota!
  • Keeping patient and trying to understand when decisions or actions in the college or community seem incredibly ridiculous or unjust to us!
  • Having to work so hard to feel like we are contributing anything useful here
Lots of times PCVs will tell us “the days drag on and on, but the weeks and months fly by.” I feel like that’s been the case for us too. It’s a little hard to believe we’ve already been in Uganda for half of a year, and at site for over 3 months! But, as I look at my list of successes and challenges, I think I can feel good about what we’ve started here! We always knew these first few months adjusting at site would be pretty challenging, but I think we’ve laid a good foundation to build off of when the students come back and we return from all of our August traveling.

Thanks for reading!

Love you and miss you all,

PS - I uploaded some new pics to facebook today. If you're interested, click here!