The shopping experience

April 29, 2009

April 26, 2009

I left the US reassuring myself that I would have fewer number of choices to make in the Old World.  I wouldn’t have to choose among the myriad brands of cereals, flavors of soymilk, and distinctions of cheeses.  Shopping would be easy in Africa, where I envisioned a virgin land free from the pangs of consumerism.  I even thought that it might be hard to buy yogurt in a store, as they probably make yogurt in their homes.  The last supermarket visit to buy cooking oil took 30 minutes.    I should be happy that peanut butter, veggie masala, soy meal, oatmeal, tomato paste are available in Fractalville.  Even though I’m thousands of miles away from Kroger, or Publix, I feel the same desperation when I shop at the mini-supermarkets in F-town.

Visiting the local market is a different story.  Meeting new vendors, introducing myself in Lusoga, and inquiring about their day is a more enriching shopping experience.  Red onions, cabbage, red spinach, carrots, bell peppers, ndisi (small sweet bananas), bagoya (big bananas), matooke (cooking bananas), mangoes, and avocados add color to the market.  I relish the satisfaction of getting a good bargain.  I joke with the sellers and tell them not to give me a muzungu price.  Most relent and laugh at my remark.  I feel proud when I buy 3 bell peppers for a 100 shillings (the young vendor initially quoted 100sh for 1).  I try to learn their names (it takes me a second when they tell me their last name before their first name ).  I shake their hands and promise to visit again.   The different smells, the narrow aisles, the rows of stalls, and the spongy ground with the decaying veggies make me feel I’m maneuvering through a narrow canal filled with water hyacinths.  As I walk back out of the market, I am glad for the experience.  The people make it worthwhile.

“The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

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The little things

April 24, 2009

April 24, 2009

I’m patting myself on the back for the little things I’ve survived.  Two-minute cold bucket baths in a 2 square feet bathing area with a chicken-wire door.  If it weren’t for the privacy of the curved brick wall (right beside the unlockable chicken-wire door), I would be arrested for indecency.   I’ve started to enjoy the cold baths.  If there is an ounce of tiredness left in my drowsy eyes, then the ice-cold H2O certainly zaps every atom of fatigue  out of my skull.

Even though I tried avoiding pit latrines while camping (I prefer my own creative hole on the ground to the pit latrines), I’ve no choice here in my African corner; those days on the modern western flush toilets, where I sit comfortably browsing a riveting novel, are gone.  Now my primary concern is whether I would fall over backwards while I squat, or whether the floor would somehow cave in into the pit bathing me in the maggot-infested poop.   I’m also grateful that I haven’t suffered from any ailment that requires me to visit the latrine more than once a day.

I fix myself an exciting breakfast of bread and G.nut paste, boil water for Fractal”s coffee, and make two hard-boiled eggs in a pressure cooker before I head for the rejuvenating bath.  9:00a.m.  Fractal & I are waiting for his counterpart to drive us to the police department, where we dutifully register as new PCV’s.  12 noon.  Abraham the counterpart comes by to inform us that he has to procure his schedule from the university, where he’s a student, and would be back in no time.  1:15p.m. Abraham picks us up and we head to the Police Dept.

The police department is bustling with activity.  There’re many people waiting in the lobby like they’re patiently awaiting to pay their utility bill.  We meet the Deputy Crime Investigating Officer and greet her.  She responds to my greeting with, “Are you a negro?” Surprised by the question and uncertain on how to respond, I resort to an automated response, “I’m an American.” I’ve spend much time in the last couple of months explaining to many Ugandans that Americans come from various ethnic backgrounds.  There’re some as white as Fractal and some as brown as I.  Not satisfied with my response, DCIO asked me the question again.  I firmly gave the same reply.  This time I didn’t give any explanations.  In the next hour, we answer inquiries about our ages, why we haven’t produced any children, why we joined Peace Corps, and what we plan to do in Uganda.   By the end of the conversation, Sandy promises to cook us matooke (green cooking plantain that’s steamed)and ensures our safety in Uganda.

“The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

April 23, 2009

We were sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers yesterday at the Pope Paul XIV Memorial Guest house by our Country Director.  After eating a light snack and waiting for couple of hours for a ride, we headed to our home for the next two  years.  Fractalville (name changed for security reasons) .  The two other PCV’s and we were seated in the 1st row in the back with three rows of luggage.  A policeman stopped our car on the way and asked the driver whether he had a permit to carry luggage.  He added that if fellow Ugandans never followed the rules, then (casting a glance at us) how could he expect visitors to obey the laws.  He gave a ticket for 40, 000 shillings to teach our driver a lesson.  Two hours into our journey we crossed River Nile into Busoge kingdom.  A rusting Welcome to Jinja: Source of the Nile sign welcomed us.  The dam wasn’t colossal, but the hydroelectric energy that was harvested here provided power to many.  Our 2-hour ride to Fractalville turned into a 3.5 hr ride.  Finally we reached Binary College around six-thirty in the evening where the other two volunteers were dropped off.  As we were unloading their luggage, the clouds gave a thunderous welcome and we were caught in a downpour.  Fractal”s counterpart Abraham told us that it was a good omen when visitors brought rain.  I guess for a place that generates most of its income through agriculture, rain brings good tidings.  Rain definitely sped us up and we soon departed the college.  We drove a little further down the highway and turned off the road and took a right turn through a white and blue gate.  We passed a primary school on the right and an orphanage on the left before we turned the corner into a dirt path to a house.  The matatu stopped before an apartment/ranch complex.  A thatched gazebo nestles in the middle of the yard.  There were the several apartments in the complex.  Frank, the treasurer @ Fractal”s NGO, greeted us and opened the door to the 2-room apartment.  The pit latrine and bathing area were situated outside the complex.  The kitchen was located in another building. Cooking and eating outside our crib would probably keep the friendly mice out. Lush green surrounds the complex.  The place seems like a haven for ex-pats.  Oh, wait.  It is.  We find out later that the place houses short-term Swiss and American volunteers.

“The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

Last few days @ Home

April 22, 2009

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April 17, 2009

The marathon’s almost over. I presented my qualifying project on Wednesday. I worked on it till the very last moment; it probably wouldn’t be the last time I procrasinate. Fractal who helped me organize the logistics of the presentation looked more nervous than I. The presentation went better than I thought. Surprisingly, the Language Proficiency Interview went well too. I didn’t interject my Lusoga with English, and used the right tenses. I tried to appear confident asking questions back in Lusoga. One has to score intermediate low to pass the test, and if I fail, I’ll be glad to get a private tutor. I wouldn’t be too unhappy if I fail since the night before the LPI, I was involved in a rescue mission. At least, the three young chicks in the homestay have a Momma.

The building that shelters poultry was mostly empty except for the three very young lonely chicks who lost their mother. The two-day old chicks didn’t know how to fed for themselves, or to stay warm. One of the host brothers helped me pick them up. I had never held a chicken before and was thrilled to handle the little ones. Noticing that one chick went to sleep right when I started stoking the back of its neck, I decided that they needed a mom. I took them to the patio where my host-mom was seated weaving her mat. Jenny sighed seeing them and added that she wasn’t sure whether the chick would survive without a mom. I asked Jenny if one of the hens who lost their chicks would adopt these young. She said I could introduce them to those hens and observe whether they accept them. The first two attempts failed, as those hens didn’t show any interest in the little chicks (maybe, they don’t even remember they had young ones). The third time, I brought them close to a mother hen who lost three of her five chicks. The hen and her two chicks were also attracted to the food near the other chicks. Then hen didn’t peck at the 2-day old chicks and they went close to her. They weren’t really sure what to do, but after half an hour they figured out what to do. They went underneath her breast to get some warmth. I felt relieved knowing those little chicks would be cared for by a mother. I recommended to Jenny that if she leaves the mother and her chicks in the poultry house until they grow big enough to defend themselves from predators, then she would have 5 additional chickens. She followed my suggestion, and now the fowl safely reside in their new shelter.

April 18, 2009

I found out at the Homestay Thankyou festivities that I passed the LPI. I was thrilled, but I still plan to hire a tutor to improve my language skills. My day got better when most of my host family came to the talent show. I dedicated a dance to them for opening up their home to us and welcoming us to their lives. The day was filled with other fun performances; the Lusoga language group shared an important tradition that was a part of every presidential inauguration—the Hokey Pokey. We hokey pokied in English & Lusoga. We were pretty famished by lunch time. I had some beans, chappatis , avocado-salad, matooke (steamed plaintain that’s a staple of an Ugandan’s every meal), and Fanta. I probably had more sodas in the last two months than I’ve had in the last 5 years back home. I would probably stick to the healthy H2O option if it were safer. I rather be stuck with those lipids than be glued to the pit latrine. After lunch I met some people Fractal visited during his field trip to a women’s craft co-op, who supported at women who were HIV postive. They had an amazing collection of paper bead necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. I wanted to buy a necklace of every color, but unfortunately a volunteer’s wallet doesn’t support such an ambition. I was happy with the pink necklace I finally settled for at the end. We finally left after four when we saw the dark heavy clouds roll into the sky. There was a downpour right before we got back home. I was grateful that the rain didn’t spoil our day.

April 19, 2009

Last day of homestay. Packing was a drag, but I managed to stuff most of our possessions in the four matching REI duffel bags, 3 buckets, and 2 sleeping-bag sacks. I can’t believe how many books we accrued over two months. I’m not looking forward to the move in two years. Fractal washed most of our laundry in couple of hours. After sending off our luggage in the Peace Corps pickup, we went to town to say good-bye to Faluna (aka chocolate lady), and Pina (my fav fruit vendor). I found Faluna seated near the stove frying small donuts that filled up a 5L can. She said she was making our farewell gift—a snack for us to share with the other trainees. Pina offered us an avocado and mango. Their generosity touched us. Fractal who wasn’t that emotional about leaving Wakiso felt a tear slip his eyes as we walked back home from the market.

Saying goodbye to our family is going to be difficult. They have shared so much with us in the last two months. I truly feel I’ve a family in this new country. We promise to visit and keep in touch. We’ll go to Kampala tomorrow and stay there till we swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers. Then we start our life as PCV’s in our African corner without electricity, running water, but very own pit latrine, solar panel, and a deep cycle battery! Peace Corps. The toughest job you’ll ever love.

“The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”

Easter Sunday

April 13, 2009

April 12, 2009

Many Ugandans were in high spirits on Easter Sunday, but it was still a laundry day for me. Doing laundry is a big deal when one doesn’t have a washing machine. My fingers feel as rough as sandpaper after spending couple of hours washing our clothes. I volunteered to wash my husband Fractal”s clothes since he meticulously tidied our room yesterday. Our host brother David glanced across the patio as I was washing our clothes.  I felt a bit self-conscious, as I wasn’t heeding his instructions. David told me that I washed like a 3-year old when he first saw me wash clothes. I informed him that I didn’t have to wash that hard since all my clothes were colored and I preferred them to last a bit longer than a few months. He still took the shirt from my hands and scrubbed it to make sure I knew how to clean the shirt.  As he proceeded to tightly wring it, he noticed a distraught expression on my face as if I was feeling the cloth fibers scream in pain. The moment he stopped, I gently took the shirt and told him that washing instructions said not to wring clothes unless you want them stretched out and last for a few months.  He got a good laugh when I showed him the white piece of “instruction” tag. David couldn’t understand why one would need directions for a simple task of washing clothes–an activity a 7-year old Ugandan would know. I informed him that I lack the expertise of hand-washing clothes as machines wash and dry clothes for me back home. After asking me whether washing machines were common in the US, he added that he would never trust machines with his clothes; he believed that only his hands could up hold those high standards of cleanliness. David fortunately didn’t give me any more advice on washing laundry for the couple of hours. &nbsp;Having assembled a line of buckets—one with soapy water, the second with plain water, and the third without any water—I wasted no time as I dipped one article of clothing in the soapy water bucket and squeezed the soap out before I placed it in the next bucket. I had a long way to go and didn’t have much daylight left since I started kind of late in the afternoon. We would have damp laundry drying in our room tonight. &nbsp;I really don’t like the smell of wet clothes in a room without adequate ventilation (we leave our windows closed for fear of Anopheles mosquitoes and door shut to keep our privacy).

Our room is large enough to fit our beds and some of our luggage. The house has three other bedrooms. The host mom Jenny, niece, cook’s daughter, and a cousin live in the main house with us. A living and dining room, an indoor toilet and a separate bathroom, a small kitchen, and a garage are in the main building. Most of the meals are prepared in another kitchen outside the main house, which also houses some hens that are incubating their eggs,in a rectangular building with three other rooms. The host brother James lives in one, the host-mom’s aunt and the cook sleep in another, and the goats stay in the other. There are couple of rooms in the main house adjacent to the exit door that one cannot access from inside the house. Our host brother’s fiancée Tara and nephew David live in those rooms. In addition to these members, there’re couple of men who live in a third building that has another room, which accommodates the rest of the domestic fowl. The house is always alive with some kind of activity. There’s always someone washing dishes, cooking the next meal, or weaving mats in the patio. I like coming back from Raco, where we have our language classes and technical training, to someone calling out, “Kuli Kayo” (welcome back).

I actually wish I had more time with our homestay. The long six working days/week training didn’t give us that much time with our host family. I truly hoped we had more time for conversations with Jenny. Now we’ve just another week before we go to Kampala for swearing in as Peace Corps Volunteers at the US Embassy. I still have to prepare for a qualifying project and a language proficiency interview. At least, the laundry is done.

“The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.”