Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mpora, Mpora...

Things are getting started again here at Busheyni PTC! As February starts a new year in the Uganda school system, we are beginning a new school year now with our old 1st year students moving up to year 2, and brand new 1st year students coming in from O level. Technically, the new term started 2 weeks ago but, as they say here, things are moving mpora mpora - slowly slowly!

Week one of the term we were completely studentless, since the exams that determine a students’ possibility to continue at the school (which they took last November) had not yet been marked. So, we spent the week in workshops with some of the other tutors, reflecting on the last year and making vague and ambitious plans for the year ahead.

Then, last Monday all of our returning 2nd year students were supposed to arrive. They began trickling in on Monday, but now (almost a full week later) less than half of them have returned. We tried to have some lessons last week, but attendance and motivation was really lacking from both students and tutors, as it didn’t really feel like things were starting “for real” yet. So, tomorrow begins week 3 of the term, and we are hoping that things will really get started at this point.

In the coming week, we will have a workshop with students to prepare them for their upcoming semifinal school practice - their first 4 week shot at student teaching (final school practice occurs in term 3). Various tutors will cover topics like using instructional materials, lesson planning and scheming, and demonstrating well planned lessons. I will be shaking things up with a paper mache demo - teaching our students the wonders of newspaper, flour and water for making all sorts of great stuff! Count on me to bring the messy fun of paper mache to Uganda!

After this week, our brand new first year students should arrive. Currently our administrators are out “selecting” these future students. From what it sounds like, they go to schools and check out various students’ scores and resumes, then “select” ones who fit our application standards. I have never heard mention of a students’ interest in attending BPTC as a part of this process, and to me it sort of resembles how I picture trading in professional sports. You don’t really get to choose what team you play for, right? Well, these students don’t appear to have a whole lot of say in the education/school that they are heading for. The administrators even “sell” or pass off students that they don’t think are good enough to schools who are less selective or have fewer interested applicants. Like the NFL or what?! It will be interesting to see who this process brings to us!

Once the first years arrive, they will be in “regular” classes for most of the term. They will follow the time table and take classes in all the subjects. Our second years will leave in mid March for their semifinal school practice and won’t return until the end of the term in late April. While they are out practice teaching the tutors will all take turns going out to supervise them and offer feedback. This process is very similar to what we did during 3rd term last year, although I suspect it is somehow less serious since this is only “semifinal.”

So, that’s what we are expecting for the general flow of the term to come. I’m probably jinxing myself to assume that I have a sense of what to expect, but maybe a year of riding things out will finally be coming to an end. Or, maybe I’ll write again tomorrow to say that plans have changed and nothing is what we expected! :-) Oh, the ride that is Peace Corps!

But, we are looking forward to the term. On top of the regular teaching/tutor responsibilities, Ryan and I are looking forward to some extra projects that we will be taking on this year. These include:
  • Clubs: Ryan and I hope to start clubs in the coming year. I’ll be working with a girls empowerment club to talk about issues facing young women in Uganda, and Ryan will start a similar club with the boys of the campus.
  • Books: We’ve been asked to help develop the “reading culture” of the campus, as so many students struggle with writing in and expressing themselves in English. So, we’re going to work on getting our students reading to primary school kiddos, attempt to start a book club to discuss different books, and work on getting the kids reading and talking in English.
  • Computer/Math Time: Since we’re here in the evenings, we’ll be making ourselves more available to students during that evening free time. Ryan plans to open the lab for free computer time 4 evenings a week, and have brief “extracurricular” lessons available to interested students. I’ll be available for math tutoring 4 evenings a week, and will eventually work to create a peer tutoring program between 1st and 2nd year students.
  • IGA project ideas: We’re working on thinking of ideas for income generating activities (IGAs) to expose our students to through workshops on the weekends. We hear so often about how the salary for teachers is so minimal that it’s difficult to sustain as a career. So, we thought if we can expose our students to some IGA options before they leave here, maybe they will be more likely to be able to continue teaching with a little extra income on the side.
  • VSLA: We’ll be continuing with our community microfinance group that we wrote about a while back. Things are going so well with them that we are excited to continue with their progress! At this point, they have been saving for about 10 weeks, saved over 2 million schillings (which is super incredible considering most of the 13 members in the group make less than 300,000 schillings per month), and have loaned every cent out to members of the group. So, all that saved up money is now generating interest, as well as enabling some of our members to undertake projects or purchases that they might not be able to otherwise afford. It is incredible seeing their excitement in realizing their ability to save, and using the group’s collective savings to help meet personal goals. A success so far to be sure! We're also going to offer our staff the chance to be trained in the VSLA model, so we'll see if there is interest for them to get saving and loaning as well!
  • Gardening and Chickens: This is just for fun! :-) We’re currently getting 2 eggs a day from Pinto and Voldemort, and enjoying watching the chicks growing up. Everyone is free range and comes home every night! In the garden, rainy season is starting once again! We’re working on growing strawberries, pole beans, cauliflower, carrots, basil, parsley, sage, cilantro, onions, bell peppers, and lots of flowers. We are astonishing our Ugandan neighbors and friends by the fact that white people can get their hands dirty and have some agricultural know-how. (We were recently told that we were working like Africans! A funny complement of sorts!)
So, we’ve got big hopes for the coming year and the coming term. We will be sure to keep you updated as things progress, mpora mpora, more likely than not.

Thanks for reading - we love and miss you all!


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

3 Weeks in a Nutshell

Hi Everybody! Hope you are all doing well! I wanted to share about the last three weeks for us here in Uganda. If you missed my earlier post, feel free to check out the significantly less wordy account of our trip - pictures! But, if you are okay with a potentially largeish nutshell version of the last month or so, read on!

Our first visitors - my mom and dad - arrived in Uganda on January 17. We had been looking forward to their visit for months, and were so excited that they were finally going to be in Uganda with us! They arrived without much trouble, and actually flew to Uganda with the sister of another PCV.

It’s hard to describe the emotions of seeing family for the first time after almost a year! We waited with so much excitement to see them come out of customs and as they walked through we all just ran towards each other and hugged and cried and hugged some more! It was really amazing! We were just so overjoyed to be together and know we’d be spending the next two weeks in the same country!

After the initial excitement of having them here (I think we were up until after 2 the first night!), we spent some time relaxing and catching up in Entebbe, then headed out on our first adventure - Murchison Falls National Park. We had hired a private car and driver/guide to try to make transport a bit simpler, ensure safe travel of all of our luggage, and try to cut down on Mom’s chances of getting car sick. It seemed like such a good idea....Long story short, we had a flat tire, breakdown in the middle of the game park, drove off the road in an attack of tsetse flies, and spent the entire trip back to Kampala going about half the speed of the cars flying by us. In the middle of the ride back, our driver calmly pulled over, walked behind the car, dialed a number on his cell phone, and started yelling (literally!) at the guy on the other end. It went something like this: “You STUPID man, STUPID!!! You sold us a FAKE CAR! Why have you sold us a FAKE CAR?! You STUPID, STUPID man...” And on and on....On top of all of that, it was dry season and dusty was everywhere! The car, luggage, and every inch of our skin and clothes were absolutely covered in dirt! I honestly don’t know if I have ever been so dirty!!! Luckily we all found the adventure more funny than frustrating, and everyone had a good attitude about it!

When we weren’t busy dealing with car trouble, our time in the park was great! Murchison is a huge park with lots and lots of the classic safari animals. We managed to see most of them! We started with a boat trip on the Nile, headed towards the base of the Murchison Falls. Along the way we saw tons of birds, crocodiles, hippos, Ugandan kob, bushbuck, waterbuck, colobus monkeys, baboons, warthogs, buffalos, and my favorite - elephants!!! We had some incredible moments along the boat ride - crocodiles suddenly charging our boat, birds in the hundreds taking off in flight, and an elephant who had waded out to the middle of the river and walked back to the other side just yards from our boat. He was very old, and very huge and totally breathtaking!

The boat tour took us to the base of the falls, which was a great view. Then, we headed back downstream to the dock, seeing many of the animals again along the way. It was a truly unforgettable ride. Disney Jungle Cruise - you’ve got nothing on us!!

In the evening we headed out on ridiculous roads to see the top of Murchison Falls. The roads in the park are so bad it honestly feels like you’re on a really poorly done simulator! I kid you not. Thank God for 4 wheel drive! Anyhow, the top of the falls were really spectacular! Standing on the top and looking out, you get soaked by the spary and the power of all that water is truly amazing! Pictures don’t do it justice! But, we enjoyed the view as the sun set over the park.

We spent the night at a rest camp overlooking the river and woke up in the middle of the night to the sounds of hippos crunching the grass outside our bandas. We had a short night in order to start the game drive early the next day.

Our game drive was good, though probably not the highlight of the park for any of us! (The boat trip was a hard act to follow!) We were able to see a gorgeous sunrise, giraffe, warthog, baboons, lots of deerish animals, and even two young lions. Although we didn’t get a great view of the lions, it was super interesting to watch all of the animals react as they knew that they were on the prowl! After we’d seen what we could, we made the long trip back south!

Back in Bushenyi, Mom and Dad enjoyed seeing where we live, meeting our friends, neighbors, and coworkers, walking to town and around our village, doing their wash by hand, and cooking peace corps style! We also played lots of games and of course talked and talked and talked! Mom and Dad also gave us an enormous stocking full of belated Christmas gifts each day - calling it the 12 days of Christmas! They were so generous in restocking our supply of American toiletries and giving us so many incredible, practical, and fun gifts - pam cooking spray, chocolate chips, American sweets, new clothes, yoga mats, puppets to play with the kiddos, etc. It made for a wonderfully festive belated Christmas celebration!

While in Bushenyi we also had the chance to track Chimpanzees in the nearby Kalinzu Forest Reserve, and visit a neat lodge on the escarpment overlooking Queen Elizabeth National Park. Chimp tracking was a crazy adventure. We hiked (and hacked) our way through an incredibly dense rainforest and were able to see chimpanzees, three different monkey species, and lots of really interesting plants. It was a national geographic worthy day!

Last but not least, we had the opportunity to head to Rwanda and spend a weekend in Kigali. Mom and Dad got the authentic public transport experience on this trip - overcrowding, delays, breakdowns, and even (almost) fistfights! One of the funniest public transport moments of the trip was when we had 10 people in a car the size of a Toyota Camry. All four of us and one (lucky) Ugandan were crammed into the backseat of the car. The driver was trying to get the door shut and just kept slamming it into Dad’s hip. The Ugandan tries to grab Dad around the shoulders and pull him in, the driver is shoving him from the outside with all his might, and Dad just can’t stop giggling! We all laughed a lot, and I had to try to explain to the four passengers sharing the front seats that we don’t really travel like this in America!!!

But, Rwanda was lovely - so clean and organized! We were able to stay with a relative in Kigali who was lived there as a missionary for the last 26 years! He experienced the genocide there in 1994, as well as the aftermath that followed, and was able to share many really interesting perspectives and experiences, having been in Rwanda (and East Africa) for such a long time. While in Rwanda we were also able to see the Hotel Des Milles Collines (the hotel from Hotel Rwanda), and a really beautiful, but really sobering genocide memorial. It was a really great trip - fun, interesting, and poignant too.

Then, last Thursday we sent Mom and Dad off again. They insisted on braving public transport alone (earning major kudos from our Peace Corps friends!) and flew out later in the evening. The time flew by, but we really loved every minute and are so thankful for the time we were able to spend with family.

Now...back to reality! Although the term technically started yesterday, our returning students are waiting for their exams to be marked (exams they took in November), and as such are not back yet. Since the government won’t pay for students to repeat a year at the PTC, they must first know whether or not they passed year one in order to determine if they should come back to school. So, they’re scattered all around, listening to the radio, and we hope that they will be here before too much time has passed!

We’ve been joining the staff for beginning of term meetings (3 days of meetings, to be precise) and been reminded of some of the frustrations of service that we managed to ignore for the last couple of months - poor timekeeping, low attendance, and a very different style of “running” a meeting. But, we are excited for the term and year to come. We have lots of new ideas and big plans, and we will be sure to keep the blog posted as the term goes on!

For now, thanks so much for reading! Thanks for your thoughts and prayers, and know that we love and miss you all very much!

Much love,


PS - February 11 marks the anniversary of our arrival in Uganda and the end of our first year as PCVs! We can’t believe it’s already been an entire year!!!

Friday, February 3, 2012


Yikes - it's been almost a month since we've written! The beginning of January was slow, but since then we have had an incredible couple of weeks! My parents arrived on the 17th and we had an absolutely fantastic time traveling together and just spending time in the same country! I have so much more to tell you, but for now let me give you all a much less wordy account of our last few weeks - pictures! CLICK HERE for a link to our facebook album from the week! I will be sure to write about it in more detail in the next couple of days!

Thanks for reading! Love and miss you all!