Thursday, November 15, 2007

Belated Halloween and Early Thanksgiving Wishes (and Rwanda!)

Happy belated-Halloween and Happy early-Thanksgiving! I hope all of you dressed up for Halloween. I dressed up for a Peace Corps party, however the costume was Uganda specific so i am not sure if the hilarity of it will carry over (I promise it's actually funny!!), but I'll try to explain. There are a lot of street hawkers in Uganda, selling anything and everything from food to radios to underwear. When you are in taxi parks especially they are overwhelmingly in your face--it can be intense. Anyways, you operate cell phones here by purchasing airtime cards and then typing the airtime number into your phone, then you can make a call. Their are LOTS of airtime hawkers in the taxi parks. There are two main cellphone companies in Uganda: Celtel and MTN. So, my friend Amy and I dressed up as competing airtime hawkers, her as Celtel and myself as MTN. It's funny, seriously. I am not sure what my plans for Thanksgiving are yet, but don't worry I will be spending it with friends (although there won't be any mac n' cheese like your G'ma can make, Momo!). We are contemplating buying a turkey, but then of course we would have to slaughter, pluck, and cook it. Sounds like a lot of work, so we'll see....

In other news, I have a kitten!!! It is an adorable little Siamese that is just so cute you want to squeeze her till she pops. Her name is Sake (like the Japanese liquor). I found her abandoned in a ditch near my house. She was completely terrified and also appeared to be injured, so I just felt too guilty to leave her there. At first having her was a bit stressful, as I was concerned that she may have rabies and she DEFINATELY had lice. However, after getting her vaccinated and thoroughly de-lousing her I feel much better about the situation. I also planted a garden at my house. I am trying to grow tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, and zucchini. The tomatoes and broccoli are off to a good start, but I am not sure if the lettuce is going to pull through. Working in the garden has been a great stress reliever! It feels good to just do some work but not have to really think about anything. Although, seeing a white person digging in a garden is evidently pretty shocking/hilarious to most Ugandans, so sometimes I have a lot of people gawking at me, which is more stress inducing than stress relieving. In addition to my garden, I recently discovered that one of the trees in my yard is an avocado tree. The avocados aren't quite ripe yet, but I'm super excited.

At the end of October I took a vacation with four PCV friends to Rwanda. My companions on this trip, as pictured left to right above were Rishi, Brad, me, Amy, and Joe. It was amazing! The capital of Rwanda (Kigali) is about 8-10 hours by bus from the capital of Uganda (Kampala). We took a week off work and explored the Western half of Rwanda. We spent a night in Gisenyi, which is located on a beautiful sandy lake--Lake Kivu--that lies on the border between Rwanda and Dem. Republic of Congo. Although we didn't go swimming (evidently there are toxic volcanic gasses in the lake that can kill you???) it was gorgeous. We also toured the Primus Beer brewery, that national beer of Rwanda (the bottle holds 720 ml!! See above). The highlight of the trip, however, was when we visited Parc National des Volcans and hiked up Mount Bisoke, an inactive volcano 3711m tall. At the top of the mountain was a crater lake (pictured to the right) that was shrouded in clouds. Amazing. We didn't see any gorillas (mainly because it costs $500 to go where they live) but we did see some gorilla poop! The hike took us 7 hours round trip, most of it up-up-uphill, with our guide Jean-Claude and our four armed guards (half of Bisoke belongs to DR Congo, not the friendliest nation at the moment). The last memorable experience we had in Rwanda was visiting two different genocide memorials. I don't really know how to describe the feeling of visiting memorials to an atrocity that happened so recently. It was shocking/moving/horrifying/beautiful/indescribable. All in all, the trip was a success.

I love and miss you all. Sometimes I cannot believe that I've been away from home for 8 months already, and that there is plenty more where that came from. I am ecstatic every time I read your emails and hear what you are doing and how you are. Please write me letters and emails and send me news of your well being. Anyone who wants to send a care package (award goes to Mom, Dad, Eric, Mrs. Rossman, and Morgan/Holly/Brit for sending me wonderful goodies) I would love anything and everything you send. Food, books/magazines, games, art stuff, pictures of yourself, and surprises of all types are greatly encouraged!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The newest news from the equator

It's been awhile hasn't it? Sorry about that, I don't know where the time goes but suddenly it is September. Maybe it's the lack of seasons, but time for me has lost all meaning--it could just as easily be January as September in my mind. At any rate, I apologize profusely for being out of touch for so long. But hey, I AM on a different continent.

Important news/information/events:
1. You should all know that I bought a mumu--and that I love it dearly. Seriously. Now, I know mumus really catch a lot criticism in America, but they are whole heartedly accepted (even for professional events) in Uganda. They are unfairly judged in America and I would urge you all to give mumus a chance. It will be a cross-cultural experience!! Eventually I will send a picture of me in my mumu, I'm pretty sure I look incredibly attractive in it.
2. Did you know you can back on a charcoal stove?? I sure didn't until a few months ago, but now, if I do say so myself, I am pretty darn good at it. You create a miniature oven of sorts out of two large pots, placing the dish you are baking inside the pots. Then you place the whole thing on your hot charcoal, wait awhile (the timing is pretty unpredictable because the heat of the coals varies a lot depending on how much coal/wind there is), and viola!!! I've made spice cake, coffee cake, pumpkin bread, and corn bread. Which is actually quite odd, because I never cooked most of those even when I had a fully functional electric oven. I usually give my neighbors (the women who share the building I live in) some of whatever I make because they constantly give me things from their garden: bags of avocados, huge cabbages, papayas, eggplants, potatoes. It's amazing. Anyways, they asked me to teach them how to bake corn bread. I agreed, thinking I'll be teaching a few ladies to bake. Wrong. Somehow this turns into quite an event and before I know what's happening I am teaching 5 or 6 women and at least as many rowdy teenage boys. Thankfully the corn bread turned out excellent, because how embarrassing would that have been?!?!? Anyways, I guarantee anyone who comes over here to visit me fresh baked goods, hot off the charcoal stove.
3. I finally got a tent (thanks Dad and Mom!) and went camping in it for the first time a few weeks back. It was great. I went with 4 friends to Mabira Forest, which is a huge, wonderful, incredibly old, monkey-harboring, bird-filled (you'd love it Mom) rain forest. We camped and hiked, had a camp fire, roasted kabobs, and just generally had a great time. The only issue: seriously angry ants--everywhere. These are the kind of ants that are so big you can see their pinchers, from a few paces away. When they bite you they hang on and you literally have to rip them off. And there are a million of them. The lines they move in are just incredible, it's like a river. Just picture something out of national geographic. We spent a decent portion of our hiking leaping over these ant rivers at a run to try and avoid their vicious attacks. Still a great trip though.

Thank you thank you thank you to those who have emailed (Alison, you are the best/most consistent emailer I LOVE you), and those who wrote me letters/sent packages. I'm sorry if I haven't responded to people personally, but internet time is a serious challenge. Please keep emailing me and I PROMISE to respond to people individually soon. Maybe even later this week (Pete and G your emails were amazing, I will write you soon!). Internet time's up. Later from the equator.....

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Getting old

Is it really summer there?? I am still stuck in the belief that it is February in America, because that's when I left and I cannot imagine that time progresses undisturbed without me. That's just preposterous! But evidently it is now July, which I am especially aware of due to the fact that today, at long last, I am 23 years old! I had a wonderful birthday, which I spent with many of my PCV friends here in Uganda. It's been great. I even got presents!!!!! Remarkable among the gifts I received are a hand crafted birthday poster in which I have googly-eyes, a turtle carved out of stone, a crown made out of banana leaves, and four humongous cabbages. It was amazing--although I have to admit that I gave the cabbages away to an orphanage because what am I going to do with FOUR monster cabbages?!?! At any rate, it was all amazing. And I cannot wait to receive all of your birthday wishes, which I trust all of you remembered to send out approximately three weeks ago, and that I will be receiving in the mail any day now!

Life here is good. My neighbors are getting used to me and I am finally settling into my house, I even have some furniture now!!! The top left picture was taken looking out my bedroom window. The top right picture is my neighbor Grace washing laundry in our backyard. She is a cook for the priests at the Catholic church. The bottom picture was also taken in my backyard. As you can see, the neighbors were doing some major cooking. My kitchen is the metal hut in the background. My recent home-improvement project has been making curtains. I bought some majorly cool African print fabric and have been sewing two curtains for my house, because that's how many windows I have, two. It's taken me a little while, but some days I have nothing else to do with my time and sewing curtains seems great. It's kind of like TV when your bored, except not really because it is not especially entertaining. But I don't have a TV, so curtains it is!

The other night I woke up to hear something rustling in my room. I listened for a minute and concluded that whatever was making the sound was certainly bigger than a cockroach, which can be pretty big here. So I decided I should probably investigate. My room has a sink in it, although there is no running water in my area, and as near as I can tell there never really has been running water despite the fact that some buildings have had pipes installed. Anyways, I tracked the noise to the useless sink, which had an empty travel-size tissue package in it. The package was moving. But what was in the package???? I couldn't tell. Deciding it was probably a bad idea to poke at the package or try to pick it up, I scooped it into a Tupperware and slapped the lid on. And what popped out of the tissue package??? A mouse!!! A very frightened mouse, and rightly so. I released him outside, but if the other ladies who live in my building had seen him he surely would have been beaten to death with a huge stick. Truthfully, I've seen my neighbor Grace pulverize one rat and one snake with a very very large stick. So this mouse was lucky he was only expelled from the house and thrown into a nearby bush.

My work with the schools here has been pretty slow in starting. There are days when I do absolutely nothing related to education. Instead I sew curtains or do my laundry or go to the borehole. But that's okay, because I see work on the horizon. I have an idea I am beginning to flesh out that would deal with literacy and creating books for children to read. There are NO story books available to kids here. Seriously, like NONE. This project could also deal with social aspects of issues such as AIDS. But this project is still just an idea, so don't expect much of an update on it for 4-6 months at least. Progress is slow! More immediately, I am working with my counterpart, Lukman Kirya, on organizing an Instructional Materials Exhibition at our school. We are asking schools in the area to create learning aides for different subject areas from locally available and low-cost materials. Then we will have an exhibition in which the materials are awarded recognition, by a panel of judges. Or at least that's the idea, we'll see how it goes. Could be amazing, but also has the potential to just be super stressful and mostly unsuccessful. On July 13th we'll see.....

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Time to get lonely

I just want you to know that right now I am having the best internet experience ever! The connection is fast and there are ceiling fans running. That's pretty much it, but it's the little things that really make me happy. I am in Kampala, which is the capital of and largest city in Uganda. Last Thursday we were sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and sent off on our own to our respective sites. My site is in a town called Kakiri, which is only about an hour outside of Kampala. I have two rooms to live in, which are part of a building shared by three other women. The rooms are pretty small, but newly painted and tidy. I also have my own pit latrine and a bathing room, which is a cement room the size of a medium closet with a drain in one corner for the water from your bucket-bath to run out of. Furthermore, I have a Ugandan-style kitchen! It is a little hut outside of the main house that you can do your cooking in. I have a charcoal stove, called a sigiri, and today in Kampala I just bought a little kerosene stove as well. So far I haven't really cooked, as I just got the stoves, but I plan to start. I also still don't have any furniture. So the past four days have basically consisted of me sitting on the floor and eating food that doesn't involve heat. It's like camping, only indoors! But I am slowly getting all the necessities, so don't worry.

I am living in Kakiri at a place called Naddangira Coordinating Center. The Coordinating Center is where I will work out of with my Ugandan counterpart, whose name is Lukman Kirya (he is really nice!). The Center is part of St. Pius Primary School, which is a government aided school but also Catholic--church and state aren't separated here the same way they are in the US. My house is next to the primary school, behind the Catholic church, and down the road from a clinic also run by the Catholics. Then there is also a secondary school on the same hill and some staff housing. It is a nice little community. I've only been there 4 days, so of course I am a bit lonely, but I think that will be remedied with time. My neighbor Rebecca already invited me to go to her church with her. Of course I accepted (what else did I have to be doing, sitting on my floor eating peanut butter and wallowing in loneliness??????). She goes to a Seventh Day Adventist church and on Saturday I went with her. It was a great experience, if perhaps a little long--I spent over 5 hours at this church! Everyone there was so nice to me and friendly, not at all judgemental that I wasn't an Adventist, or even a Christian of any type. I'm really glad I went, even if the entire service was in Luganda and, hence, beyond my comprehension.

I also managed to kill about an hour fetching water from the borehole. The borehole is conveniently located at the bottom of a treacherous hill. I was in a stubborn mood when I went to get water, so I decided to fill my 20 liter jerry can up all the way. I can carry this, right? Then I decided to decline all offers of help from pitying passersby. Great idea, Brett. Anyways, I was triumphant, but I have since bought a smaller jerry can to fill!!! I'll see how I manage with 10 liters.

Mail update: Even though I have moved you can continue to send mail to the same address. It is the Peace Corps office and I can pick mail up there periodically. So send me stuff, because you love me and now I am all alone. Sniff, sniff..... Packages welcome. Send me mix-tapes, seriously I have a tape player!!!!!!!! Here is the address:
Brett Snyder, PCV
P.O. Box 29348
Kampala, Uganda

Miss you all, but am still loving it here. The real experience has just begun......

Saturday, April 7, 2007

I'm a muzungu now

It has now been confirmed, to any of you skeptics, that there is indeed internet in Uganda!!! There may only be internet in the few large towns, and there may not always be electricity, and when there is a large town AND electricity it may take 20 minutes to check a single email, but there is internet none the less (actually, internet accessibility is growing by leaps and bounds in Uganda, as is a lot of other technology). But that doesn't mean you are all excused from writing me a good old fashioned letter, as so many of you promised to do before I left. So far only my mother has followed through on that promise. Thanks Mom!!! So the rest of you better step it up, or I'll be making new friends when i come back to the States! Just kidding, but seriously you should write me because then people here won't think that I'm an outcast in America cause I never have any mail....

So far being in Uganda has been an experience to be sure, a seriously great one. Since I arrived, and for the next 4 weeks, I have been living in a town called Luweero. Each volunteer in my training class, which is 50 people, lives with a different Ugandan family in Luweero while we complete training. My family is great, it has been awkward at times--many, many times--but they are super sweet and nice to me. The pictures at the top are of the house we stay in. My host mother, Robinah, is the woman standing next to the bicycle. The picture to the left is my 'brother' Sam. He is two years old and acts completely and utterly indifferent to my presence. The family speaks Luganda (which is the language I am learning) and English, so I can communicate fairly well. They gave me a room and they cook for me and are just generally excited to have me around. The food is good, but insanely based upon carbohydrate intake in huge amounts. They want me to eat a heaping plate of food--seriously heaping--two times a day and have three tea breaks with substantial snacks. At dinner my family has matooke (unripe bananas steamed and mushed into a mashed potato tasting paste), potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, plain noodles (which they call 'maceroons'), cassava, and posho (a millet porridge). All in one meal. Then we will also have a little beans and peanut sauce or possibly some fried (bitter) greens. It is an Atkin's dieter's worst nightmare!!!!!! It tastes good, but it will be a relief to be able to cook for myself again just so I can increase my vegetable intake. Plus, I don't eat what they consider to be enough food. Being fat in Uganda is a sign of being healthy and well taken care of. So everyone would know how well my family is treating me if I gained a lot of weight, so that is their primary goal I think. My host mother told me she wanted me to get so fat that when I sent pictures home my friends and family wouldn't recognize me! I'm trying not to let it get that out of hand..... My "sisters" Sanyu, Lillian, and Loy are peeling Cassava for dinner in this picture.

To get to and from the place where we meet for our training classes I ride a bicycle. While wearing a skirt. And the bicycle is seriously too large for me and has one tire which consistently goes flat. But it works, and it is only a mile or so to the training center. Ugandans call white people muzungu, which pretty much just means 'white person.' so when I walk places or ride my bike there are constant calls of "muzungu! muzungu!" The best are the children though, they get a pretty good chant going. It goes "byyyyyyyyeeeee muzuuuuuungu, byyyyyyyyyeeeeee muzuuuuuuungu, byyyyyyyyeeeeeee muzuuuuuungu." I am not sure why they all say 'bye,' rather than 'hi,' but no one seems to be aware of any derivative of the word 'hello.' This is probably because there is not an equivalent word to 'hello' in Luganda, the local language of the area. Alright, my time is up. As they say in Luganda, "Beera bulungi!" Or, stay well!

Friday, February 23, 2007

3, 2, 1...Uganda!

So, guess who's going to Africa in one week? Thaaaat's right, youuu guessed it. It's me!!! On March 1 I will be embarking on my long awaited Peace Corps journey. I am travelling with the Peace Corps to Uganda (right in between Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo) to work as a primary school teacher trainer. I will spend 10 weeks in Uganda being trained for my assignment, and then spend 2 years working in a rural Ugandan community, finishing in May 2009. Exactly what sort of work I actually end up doing is really any one's guess, as each community's needs vary and most projects are free-form and self-motivated. However, the Peace Corps literature says that generally speaking teacher trainers help teachers improve their technical skills, plan lessons, develop resources, and introduce participatory activities in classrooms. I will also probably have a chance to work with administrators to build leadership skills and help communities become connected with educational projects. But like I said, it is really hard to know exactly what the work will be like. It's like a surprise, and who doesn't love surprises?!?!?

Here is a brief historical note on Uganda, to help contextualize the Peace Corps' work there and give everyone an idea of the country's status. Uganda gained independence from Great Britain in 1962. A few years later Milton Obote, the country's first leader, suspended the constitution and ruled by martial law. People began to be unhappy with him. In 1971 he was overthrown in a military coup which brought Idi Amin to power. Idi Amin, who would rule as President of Uganda until 1979 was at first welcomed by both citizens of the country and the international community. However, by the time Amin was exiled in 1979 he would be recognized as responsible for the deaths of over 300,000 Ugandans. Suffice to say, he was not a good guy. You can see/read "The Last King of Scotland" if you'd like to get a taste of the kind of man Idi Amin was. Anyways, to make a long story short, Uganda is still one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world (in 2000 Uganda ranked 158th out 174 countries in the United Nations Development Programme). However, the current government, led by Yoweri Museveni sine the mid 1980s, has been successful in a number of development projects and social programs. Despite Uganda's impoverishment, it is widely viewed today as an inspirational success story, economically and culturally. Interesting contrast, huh? A decade or two ago the AIDS virus was at 30% of the population. Yet after a number of projects and reforms it is today down to under 10%. That's a big drop. So Uganda is doing something right.

But let's return to the topic of education. As stability returned to Uganda in the 80's and 90's the number of children attending school quickly multiplied, straining resources and increasing the numbers of untrained teachers. On top of that, in 1997 a policy of Universal Primary Education began, allowing children to attend school for free. Overnight the number of pupils doubled. The Peace Corps hopes to support the improvement of the basic quality of education in Uganda. So, in a nutshell, that is why I am have been invited to go to Uganda.

Alright, enough academic explanation. How about some fun facts! Here is the info people seemed to want to know most when I told them of my impending expedition, or stuff I think is cool.
-There will not be other volunteers working with me in my community. I will be the only American living there.
-I will probably not have running water.
-I will probably not have electricity (although last night I had a dream I did!!!).
-There are lions in Uganda. And hippos and various monkeys and lots of other cool animals!
-Uganda has a lot of lakes, which together are the source of the Nile. The actual SOURCE!! I kind of forgot the Nile had one before I read that.....
-To get around between the schools I will be working at I will ride a bicycle. I think it will be the kind you back pedal to put the breaks on.
-I get 2 days of vacation per month I work, so anyone who wants to come explore the region drop me a line, cause I plan on doing some traveling!!!
-I will probably have email access every 2-3 months, so definitely write me, but expect a belated reply!

And finally, yes, I can get mail. So, I am making a move to bring back letter writing. Let's all pretend the Internet doesn't exist, it's fun! I would be ecstatic to receive some letters, and I promise to write back. Seriously, letter writing is often a great from of recreation for Peace Corps Volunteers (think no TV, movies, cars, etc.). And just think how excited you will be when you get an actual, real live letter from me! Evidently letters take at least 3 weeks to reach Uganda from the United States. So start writing now! Here is important letter writing information:
-Write "Airmail" and "Par Avion" on your letters so that they are sure to go by airmail (surface mail takes like 6 months)
-If you want to send me anything (I encourage pictures, candy, random trinkets, etc.) keep it small and just put it in a padded envelope so that it is treated as a letter.
-Don't worry if you do not hear from me right away, it may take my letter a long while to arrive.
-This will be my mailing address during my training, which will be until about mid-may. I'll let you know my new address then:
Brett Snyder, PCT
P.O. Box 29348
Kampala, Uganda

Well, enough for now. I will miss you all and think of you often while away. I am so excited for this trip and have been waiting to have such an adventure for soooo long!!! I will email when I can, and of course write letters (it's fun!!). Stay well everyone, and I hope to hear from you all.