Hope you are all well! We are doing okay here!
We've been away from home now what feels like a very long time! We left almost three weeks ago for our IST (in-service training) near Kampala, and haven’t been back yet. IST is a ten day training that takes place for all volunteers after they have been at site for about three months. We started with a training refresher on language and retake LPI test for those who needed it. Then, our community counterparts joined us and the rest of the time was spent training on Lifeskills (decision making, HIV/AIDS education, girls empowerment, self esteem, etc.) and tech training for the Education sector. It was also an awesome chance to connect with the other 42 volunteers who arrived in Uganda with us and have since scattered all over the country.
The experience was interesting. Although the organization of the training started off a bit rough, it got a lot better in the end. We left with some great ideas for HIV/AIDS projects at our site, lots of great ideas for working on lifeskills with youth, as well as new ideas for the classroom and potential secondary projects. We also participated in activities like capture the flag and trivia with our Ugandan counterparts, which was a lot of fun!
However, IST also had its challenges... For one thing, it was a little hard to be sitting still all day for ten days after keeping a somewhat flexible schedule these last few months at site. For another, we spent the training back at the conference center where we did our initial PST. Although the place is nice (and chock full of monkeys!!!) by the end of our 2 week standfast and 10 week training there we were ready to get out of there. Incidentally, because we were staying in close quarters in the dorms, some crazy sicknesses ended up getting passed around and I think about half of our group (myself included) got to experience the joy of that! So, venue was not a big plus in most of our opinions!
Then, there were the cross cultural challenges, though I think we can all be sure they will be an ongoing challenge throughout our service! Primarily, being with all of the community counterparts reminded me just how different perspectives can be at times between PCVs and their community counterparts. I think as a PCV you get used to the perspectives and ideas of those working around you in the villages (whether you agree with them or not!) and being with all of these different, new people with their unique views and ideas was at times really shocking. We had some heated debates about gender, religion, corporal punishment/child abuse, etc. that brought up some pretty strong opinions. I can try to give an example: at one point, we were divided into groups talking about women’s health issues and HIV. In the scenario my group was discussing, a woman goes out to a bar and ends up getting raped. Women drinking is a pretty big taboo here, and many Ugandans are quick to place the blame on women for anything related to their consumption of alcohol. The counterpart I was sitting with said something along the lines of, “If a woman chooses to drink, to talk to men at bars, then of course at the end of the day she will get HIV/AIDS!” He then implied that the men in the scenario who raped her and passed on the virus are not at fault, as she was the one who “brought it upon herself.” Yikes! So, there were many times when I felt myself biting my tongue and trying to stay cool when in my head I just wanted to scream! But....that’s being in another culture for you, eh?
A few of the nights we escaped to Entebbe, the nearest town for some “mzungu” food and time away from the training center. On the way back one evening with five or six other PCVs, we realized we were driving down the same road we first drove down together when we arrived in Uganda, at about the same time in the evening. We had a great time reminiscing on what we remembered from that first drive - sights, smells, and feelings! It was crazy to think back on what we were experiencing on that first drive, and how much we’ve all already grown in our first six months in country.
All in all, IST was a great time to connect with our PCV friends, eat some good Entebbe food (brick oven pizza! Thai food!), and get some new skills and knowledge!
Love and miss you all! Keep in touch,