This may be the last day we are together, but tomorrow is the first day of why we actually came to Uganda is a paraphrase of what another trainee said during a speech at our Peace Corps Volunteer Swearing In. It’s true. As much as I enjoyed training and hanging out with other Americans, I came here to be integrated into an African community and for a partnership with locals that will better the lives of Ugandans.
It was 6am as I started the bus trek away from the other 42 people. Katherine and I were both placed in a small former internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in the Acholi Region. The town is slowly growing and although electricity was scheduled to come in August, I’ve been told that it will be here by December, the end of the year, and also before elections in 2011. Either way, my landlord said he would give me a fan for the little hut when the dry season heat comes.
It’s a small town which has only been around for ten years. It’s moving right along in terms of things to do. There are places to eat- mainly rice, posho, millet, irish potatoes, and sweet potatoes for the starches and malakwan (greens and peanut butter), odii (peanut butter), cabbage mixtures, veg curry, smoked meat, fish, and chicken for the sauces. There is Oasis which makes amazing Spanish eggs with all sorts of veggies and chips/fries. Every now and then, we get lucky and a place has cold drinks. Fanta is my choice. The market really lacks any variety. Tomatoes, onions, rice, beans, sometimes eggplant and peppers. It’s hard to find bananas most days. Carrots are a rarity. We did find pineapple. Such a great sweet juicy treat. Katherine and I are going to another town for the weekend and we’ll both bring back a few different foods. We’ll make it work.
I have yet to cook in the hut. Late last week, we finally got the gas tank for the kitchen top stove so I can at least attempt to cook now. There is a small table which will be used for the “kitchen”. I still need to get shelving to place pots/pans and the like. I did finally buy 3 spoons/forks/bowls/cups yesterday. That’s right- only two visitors at a time and I might have to do dishes before we can do anything. I’ve been living off of going out to eat with the other random volunteers and care packages sent from home (Thank you so much!).
Here is a simple idea of the hut-
This last week with my organization was spent setting up the hut, meeting the key holders of the community, meeting people in the vocational school and going out to the fields/ IDP camps. We met people of the local government, health center, police detectives, the president’s representative for the district, and a few more. They were welcoming and excited that we are here. I’m interested in working with the reproductive health worker in educating even the girls at the vocational school.
I would say there are roughly a hundred students on a daily basis at the school. They have classes for bricklaying, carpentry, motor vehicle technology, bakery and catering, tailoring, and computing. I’ve mainly interacted with the computer students. Their teacher is taking university classes on the weekends and isn’t here some days. Last Wednesday, I went into the classroom and started playing with the students babies. If girls are unable to have someone take care of them at home, they put them on their backs and take them to class. I sang ‘the itsy bitsy spider’ to one baby and the girls were like “teach us!” They had me write the words down and I showed them how to do the thumb to index movement of the spider. It was fantastic watching the girls try and then a sense of accomplishment when they got it. I never realized how awkward of a movement it actually is. Me, I goof around and play around with singing. These girls, they sing as though it is a choral performance in soprano unison. You should hear it. I hope that while I teach them American nursery rhymes for their babies that they can teach me traditional Acholi songs.
Thursday and Friday, I went with others to the surrounding areas for an IOM project. IOM is trying to identify businesses which are viable in their communities and would be able to teach youth the skills to start their own businesses. They use Community Based Facilitators (CBF) who play a key role in the process. They are respected people in the communities and are the hands and feet of going out there and getting things done. FRO goes in and teaches them what we are looking for and how to fill out the forms and then they report back to us. It was interesting to go out to what used to be IDP camps and to see how people are living after 21 years of bush life because of the war.
We had a meeting with about 45 people in one of the communities. I introduced myself saying “ An nga Sandi. A aa kwi Indiana I America. An latic ikin gang ki bulu i Pader ma Friends of Orphans” basically saying “my name is Sandi. I’m from Indiana in America. My work is in communities with youth in Pader with Friends of Orphans.” The people thought it was great and gave an extra loud applause. I was able to understand a few things while different people brought up what were viable businesses in the area but I still lack a ton of language knowledge. Afterwards, a group of 7 women came up to me and started talking away… and I had no clue what they were talking about. Once I get a tutor, I hope to be able to converse freely to the women who desperately wanted to talk.
Last Saturday, I went over to the girls dorm where another volunteer was hanging out. Natalie is pretty sweet. She’s about finished at Berkley school of Music in Boston and has been here the last two months working with groups of girls on songwriting. It’s similar to music therapy and helps with identity reconstruction, building self esteem, and dealing with issues from the past. Not only do the girls now have their own songs about their abductions, rapes, living with the LRA in action, but Natalie has also taught them Lean On Me and a Beatles song. It’s pretty great. Natalie left this morning though to get back to Boston –sad face here-
The girls dorm situation is interesting. Last year, all 20 or so girls and then their babies were in a room at another organization. Not ideal. This semester, they have been staying at a different location. Someone started building a guest house but are letting FRO use the property for the time being. There is office space in the front and then behind there are about 16 rooms with like a courtyard feel/ what you call a compound here. Eventually, each room will have its own bathroom. Since the building process was cut short, the bathrooms are empty spaces, the girls aren’t able to put holes in the walls for their mosquito nets, three girls and their babies are placed in one room, and there is one latrine and one bathing area for all of them. Not ideal but at least its a place for the girls. I wish FRO had the funds to buy the property and to finish it. I would love to live there as a dorm mom of sorts for all the girls and work with them mainly. We’ll see… I did talk to my supervisor about creating a student life part of FRO.
All in all, I’m excited to be here. There is a lot of work that needs to be done and although I know there will be many frustrations, I also know there will be a lot of small fantastic things to smile about. Getting to know the community, building relationships, gaining respect, and working together with others are all things I look forward to.