“Perhaps travel…

July 18, 2013

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

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Reflections on my service

January 14, 2012

It’s been eight months since we left the Pearl.  I really miss Uganda.  I miss our host family.  I miss the beautiful birds.  I miss g-nut sauce.  I miss my counterpart and the people who supported my projects.  I miss going to schools reading to the kids.  I miss Peace the duck we adopted.  I miss the smell of jackfruit.  I miss seeing banana plants.  I miss the national parks.

When we left on April 22nd 2011 I couldn’t wait to get home.  I couldn’t wait for family and friends who I hadn’t seen in 27 months, running water, hot showers, be dust free, be in air conditioning when it gets really hot, better roads, walk on the streets without kids yelling out, “muzungu,” soy milk, tofu, my favorite restaurants, and running without any harassment.  Even if there were more serious things in Uganda that conflicted with my beliefs, I can’t wait to go back.  I really miss the country I called home for 27 months.

Right after new year’s day, Fractal and I called our host mom.  Hearing her voice brought back all the great memories.  I really hope our host mom is healthy and well when we get a chance to go back.  Her warm voice, welcoming heart, and open-mindedness are things I really value in her.

Now when I walk around in the heart o Atlanta, I wish I was in our quiet village.  Maybe, grass will always be greener on the other side.  When you’re here, you want to be there; when you’re there, you want to be somewhere else.  Regardless of what my heart pines for, I’m grateful for the time I spend in Uganda.  The lessons, my host family, the wonderful people who had our backs, the beautiful countryside, the positive and the negative experiences, the camaraderie, the different perspectives, everything.  Uganda, you taught me a lot that I’ll never forget in my life.  I hope I gave you something that was worthwhile as well.

Fractal’s folks came to visit us in Uganda on Dec 21.  We picked them up from the airport in Entebbe and made a slow trip through Kampala back to site.  Crazy traffic! The 3-hour journey took about 4.5 hours.

They stayed on the other side (in the guest house part) of our paper thin wall of our house.  They had a flushing toilet on the other side so they didn’t have to use the pit latrine.  The estate manager took it upon himself to get students to clean the guest house, wash the sheets, and slash our already small compound before my in-laws arrived.  Erik made beans for dinner but no one was hungry.  Ethiopian Airlines had fed my in-laws well.  Fractal & I had the sandwiches we bought for them.  We were well equipped with papaya, bananas, and pineapples.  We spend the next day relaxing and my in-laws tried winding down from their 30-hour journey.  We ate Fractal’s beans & pineapple.  Lots of Christmas cookies & other goodies that were brought.  It felt like Christmas.  I was thrilled to get make-up, nice shirts (wearing old shirts & 2nd hand clothes gets old) and lotions from home.  Fractal & I were excited about the small Christmas tree that my in-laws brought for us.

The next couple of days my in-laws met our counterparts, supervisors, went around campus, saw Fractal’s NGO, visited our town, met Nkunda (our cat) & Peace (our duck–even saw her fly).  They even wished they had more time at our site.  My counterpart, Mr. Wambi who’s also an educator like my mother-in-law, enjoyed the long conversations with her.

I made a travel itinerary for them.  I planned for all of us to spend Christmas Eve in Jinja seeing the source of the Nile & the night in Mabira Forest.  There was a change of plans because Fractal’s backpack was stolen from the car we hired for the travel.  The driver stepped out to grab some quick lunch and he returned to the car.  When we got back from lunch, I asked the driver where the backpack was and he said Fractal must have got the backpack out when he came to get something.  Our driver was in disbelief that something would be stolen in such a short time and under his eye.  He looked crushed.  Both Fractal & I couldn’t believe it.  Another theft.  After the major one in May, we just couldn’t believe it would happen again.  We went back to site to get some clothes for Fractal.

We went to Wakiso the next day, Christmas Day.  It was really nice to spend Christmas with host and Fractal’s folks.  My in-laws enjoyed meeting our host family.  Our host sister, her husband, and baby came from Kampala to see us in Wakiso.  Our host mom made delectable food & the best watermelon/tangerine/pineapple juice. It was awesome!

The day after Christmas we went to a crafts village in Kampala.  We had lunch at Cafe Javas & my in-laws met our good friend, Maria.  Good times.  Delicious food.  Maria who complained to us about her Uganda knife was super excited about the knife we gave her.  Fractal’s mom baked some limpa–traditional Swedish rye bread–and Maria was thrilled (even though she isn’t Swedish, the Dane in her loved it) to have some.  The time we spend we Maria wasn’t long enough. We had to stop by the Surgery.  I had a toe nail injury that was infected (I kicked a rock the night we returned from Jinja after the theft) and needed some treatment. All good things come to an end and we said good bye to Maria after lunch, got my toe treated (got 2 painful ladacaine shots on my toe) and went back to the hotel.

We spend the night in bandas at the Ugandan Wildlife Center in Entebbe.  The next day we went to Ngamba Island.  We had to bargain for a discount.  It was an expensive trip but it was totally worth it.  The chimpanzees make it worthwhile.  We saw so many of them on the island.  Saw many birds–spur-winged lapwing, thick-knee, common sandpiper.  Saw two monitor lizards.  It was fantastic though we were about to give up going at the beginning because of the price.

We spend the rest of the day at the Uganda Wildlife Center.  It’s such a great facility.  I love the exhibits.  Much smaller version of Zoo Atlanta.  I miss it so much.  Saw lions, white rhinos, elands, bush buck, patas monkey, red-tailed monkeys, Crested Cranes, river otters, fish eagles, shoe bill, African rock python, and other interesting animals.  I was sad to leave the Center in the morning.

We run some errands in town (needed to get some things after it was stolen for the 2nd time) and stop by Peace Corps to get some medication (our medical kit was stolen).

We set off on a 7 night/ 8 day safari to Budongo Forest, Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth, Lake Mburo, Kibale National Park.  We saw lots of animals–saw a lioness hunt a kob with her 2 cubs,  countless kobs, oribi, vervet monkeys, reedbuck, Jackson’s hartebeast, Patas Monkeys, elephants, warthogs, zebras, topis, impalas, and other incredible animals.  I wanted more time with the animals.  No amount of time is enough with these splendid animals.  Wouldn’t it be cool to become a veterinary pharmacist.  Work with chimpanzees.  I wish I had some time in the forest just to be with chimpanzees.  I went chimp tracking in Queen Elizabeth back in early Dec.  During our forest walk in Budongo Forest, we heard their pant-hoots nearby; we went on another forest walk in Kibale but all these forest walks makes me want more time in the forest.  I feel the time spend in the forest was just a little slice and I want more.  I really wanted to get lost in the forest.

We returned from the safari a day before my in-laws had to leave the country.  We went back to the Minister’s Hotel in Ntinda, where we stayed the night before we set off on the safari & Christmas night.  My in-laws had a lot of packing to do.

After breakfast the next day we set off to the airport around 11a.m.  We had lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Entebbe before we arrived at the airport.  It’s crazy how time flies.  It was already Jan 6! Since we weren’t allowed in the check-in area we said our good-byes to Fractal’s folks.  We weren’t even allowed to stay outside to wave them goodbye.  Two security guards kept telling us to leave because Al-Shabab could target people who were waiting outside the check-in area.  Security was tight in Entebbe after someone tried to hijack a Turkish aircraft.  It was sad to say goodbye; at the same time, I can’t believe that we’ll be making a similar journey 3.5 months from now.

2011.  Time for new resolutions & journeys.  I applied to take summer classes when I get back in April.  It’s amazing how the prerequisite requirements vary from one pharmacy school to another.  Mercer requires one more course  than UGA.  Out-of-state school required 3-4 additional courses.  Life’s full of uncertainties.  At the same time, I can’t wait to get back & start a new adventure.  Can’t wait to be a student again…

An article I wrote for PC Uganda newsletter to share with fellow PCV’s what I do @ site to preserve my sanity.

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When people ask me what my religion is, I sometimes tell them that it is running. When I don’t practice this religion that I discovered three years ago, I feel pretty discontent with my life. I feel sad, withdrawn, restless, empty, and worthless, which may sound like tendencies of a person suffering from clinical depression. Even though I haven’t been diagnosed with clinical depression, these tendencies can develop in anyone even though someone who has a genetic disposition has a greater risk in developing the condition. No one is immune to clinical depression. Our body can develop conditions when we don’t take care of it; similarly our mind can develop disorders when we neglect our mental health.

Each person is responsible for figuring out the best way to take care of his/her mental health. Some people may meditate or combine meditation with yoga; others may find solace in prayer or silent reflection. Playing a team sport, or expressing oneself through creative movement or visual arts may help some others. No matter what one’s outlet is, it’s important to do something. Doing something to take care of one’s mental health is even more important when one is living outside of one’s home base.

In my mid twenties, I decided that I needed to do something so I can stay healthy in the various stages of adulthood. I had no aspirations to do one-armed push-ups like my great granddad, but I wanted to develop habits that increased my chances in staying fit and healthy in my 80’s. Around that time, I also decided that I wanted higher bone density levels into my late adulthood, so I can lower the risk of developing fractures or osteoporosis later in life. I enrolled myself in a weight training program in the Peach State (home of the Georgia Bulldawgs, Yellow Jackets, & the Eagles) I lived in before moving to the Pearl. Combining weight training, cardiovascular activities (running, aerobics), and flexibility (yoga) made me a happy camper back in Athens, Ga. When I moved to Uganda, I was concerned that the change in my physical routine would affect my mental health.

When I was in homestay in Wakiso, I tried running a few times. Not knowing what to do with unwanted attention, my runs became occasional. A sudden change in my physical routine made be anxious and unhappy during PST (Pre Service Training) and I probably would have left the country if it weren’t for my super loving host family and almost a decade long desire to do Peace Corps.

When I moved to site, I decided that I needed another reason to run in a patriarchal society. I decided that I want to run for the fellow women. In a culture where women are expected to live under the authority of their fathers and later under the control of their husbands and are defined and judged based on their role as caregivers to their children, I wanted to show that a woman can do something just for herself. Not for her partner. Not for her babies. Not for society. Just for herself.

When I started running regularly, I immediately noticed a change in my mood elevations, which isn’t surprising since running increases one’s endorphin levels that generate an overall sense of well-being and elevate one’s moods. When I run regularly, my body has practice recovering from the increased levels of adrenaline, which provides practice in recovering from the effects of physical anxiety. When I feel less anxious, I can focus on things that are important to me—giving back to those around me and acquiring skills I need to accomplish my long-term goals.

Running doesn’t just help in the mental health but it also has many benefits to the physical health. Elevating the heart rate over a long period of time can boost one’s cardiovascular health. When a person first starts running, the physical exertion forces the heart to pump more blood than it is used to pumping. This initial change in heart rate overloads the heart and the heart adapts to the change in the heart rate by pumping (more) efficiently. Once the heart pumps more blood, then more oxygen can be delivered to the muscles and more ATP can be produced in one’s body. ATP or adenosine triphosphate is a multi-functional nucleotide (fancy term for molecules that join together to make structural units) that plays a crucial role in metabolism and serves as sources of chemical energy. In addition to that, studies show running may contribute to an increase in brain cell growth in the areas associated with memory (The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer).

Running also helps in working towards one of the goals that I want to achieve before I hit my 30’s—running a marathon. A PCV volunteer, who ran two marathons, told me that once a person runs a marathon, then he/she feels like he/she can do anything. My goal for the first marathon is to finish the challenge. I don’t have a time goal even though I would be more comfortable if I can finish it in four hours. If you plan to train for a marathon and have a time goal, then you should ask the volunteer who has trained for several triathlons, or one of the many PCV’s who have completed a marathon.

If you don’t have a time goal, then you may want to follow the following training schedule (Whitsett, Dolgener & Kole’s The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer) in the table below. The distance is in miles. Before you start on this training schedule, you should be able to jog continuously for 30 minutes. The authors also experimented with training programs from 4-6 days a week and found four week programs are just as effective as those programs with more than 4 days a week of training. Figuring out your foot type and investing in a good running shoe (Asics Nimbus 11th generation works great) would reduce your chances of developing injuries.

Week Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Total
1 3 4 3 5 15
2 3 4 3 6 16
3 3 4 3 7 17
4 3 5 3 8 19
5 3 5 3 10 21
6 4 5 4 11 24
7 4 6 4 12 26
8 4 6 4 14 28
9 4 7 4 16 31
10 5 8 5 16 34
11 5 8 5 16 34
12 5 8 5 18 36
13 5 8 5 18 36
14 5 8 5 9 27
15 3 5 3 8 19
16 3 3 Walk 3 marathon 35.2

Taking care of one’s mental health requires work. It takes dedication and discipline to follow mental and physical exercises. Following a discipline makes one emotionally and physically strong. If one takes small measures now to take care of one’s mental and physical health, then one can enjoy short-term and long-term benefits.

On a personal note, four years ago I couldn’t imagine running a 5K and found the possibility daunting. Last year I ran my first 10K. My granddad once told me that the only person who can stop you from doing what you want is yourself. The possibilities of what one can do are endless. The first step is to get up and do something. Let us stay true to the PC motto: Life is calling. How far are you willing to go?

I wish you the very best in taking care of your mental health while you strive to make a difference in people’s lives. Age Quod Agis. Do well whatever you do. May the force be with you (Yoda, Jedi Master).

I spend September 19th visiting chimps on Ngamba Island.  One of the staff members at the Wild Life Club Office asked me whether I had a chance to visit them; when he learned I hadn’t, he offered up his seat for me as he had been there numerous times.  I was super excited and arrived at the taxi park half an hour earlier than I said I would to meet the staff member.  As it was past the time we discussed to meet, I went ahead to Entebbe Nature Center.  ENC houses 40 different species of animals & cares for about 150 animals; they are different from a traditional zoo since they are a refuge for injured and older animals that cannot take care of themselves in the wild.

After an hour and a half of waiting (during this time I got a free entrance into the nature center) the staff member finally arrived at ENC.  Another hour went by before I headed with a secondary school group on a two-hour long ferry ride across Lake Victoria.  I won’t deny that I’ve a mild hydrophobia even though I know how to swim.  Something about not knowing how deep the water is and from almost drowning in the Indian Ocean as a 3 and a half-year old.  I also had no desire to be in Lake Victoria because of the high prevalence of Schistosomes that cause Bilharzia.  Despite my fear of water, flukes and rocking of the ferry boat, I was grateful for the (free) opportunity to visit the island.

I spend the time before the chimps’ feeding time exploring the island, taking pictures, spotting the Sacred Ibis (for the 1st time), other birds & two monitor lizards, and listening to a lecture that the secondary students had to attend.

It was refreshing to see students ask questions as I worked with older primary students in the village who had a lot of difficulty being comfortable enough to ask questions.  The answers to the questions were interesting; I felt the staff member was doing his best to answer them but I noticed a tendency to anthropomorphize the chimps.  It may take conscious effort to understand non-human animals in their own environment without feeling the need to attribute human qualities to make them more relate-able to people.

After the lecture, we went to the chimps outdoor habitat to see them feeding.  It was impressive to see our 98.7 % relatives sitting hunched forward with their knees bent before them, holding out their arms for a veggie, and vocalizing when their keeper threw veggies over the fence.  There were over forty chimps in the outdoor facility; the chimps were confiscated at the customs close to the border with Democratic Republic of Congo.  A couple of them were held in the indoor holding area because one of them kept trying to escape the island when he was picked on by other chimps & the other chimp was an incredible acrobat who like to jump over the fence.  Since an average chimp has physical strength of at least 3 adult men, visitors don’t get the same experience as they would when they track chimps in the wild (where they come relatively close to the chimps without protected contact, a fence).  We were also asked not to go too close to the fence since some chimps had a habit of throwing things at us.  I was amazed at how similar we were to the chimps.

After the feeding time, we left the island and returned to the mainland.  I felt exhausted and was thankful for the free ride (that was arranged by one of the staff members) back into the city.  After dinner I went straight to bed and left for site early next morning.

Next post…Gorilla tracking on September 25th.