All Volunteer Conference

September 27, 2010

I left site on Sept 1st to attend the All Volunteer Conference held over the next two days.  Before I got to the hotel, I stopped by the Wild Life Club Office.  Procured a permit card for the college.  Yay! Now we officially have a live Wild Life Club at the college partnered with a parent organization.  I’m so excited.  I really can’t wait for one of the staff members to come and give talks & show documentaries.  It would be incredible if the students could visit one of the parks.  Gosh! That would be a great opportunity for them.

I rushed to get a facial after a downpour while I was at the Wild Life Club.  I know, facial in Africa.  Totally! A friend at a salon gives me awesome facials.  She is friendly and professional–2 things I look for before I do business with someone.  The saloon uses high grade skin products.

I met up with Fractal in Garden City and had mouthwatering vegetable pies at Uchumi before we headed to Hotel Ridar.  Finding a taxi around rush hour on Jinja Road was a headache but the broker whom I greeted found us a private car who was going that way & we paid the nice lady for the ride.

We checked in and found a room with a double bed, which is unbelievably hard sometimes.  After checking in, we went downstairs for dinner.  I wasn’t hungry since the veggie pies were still digesting.  We saw PCV’s we hadn’t seen for ages.  It was a wonderful reunion.

Over the next two days I spend time with some incredible people, met Ambassador Lanier (I mentioned to him that I send him a letter addressing my concerns about how Ugandan visitors are treated at the Embassy), sat through interesting sessions (Raising Voices, Family Planning, secondary projects–I never knew making soap would so rewarding)ate delicious food, caught up on my sleep, and hung out with the kitchen staff.  The kitchen staff @ Ridar were welcoming and super cool.  On the last day of the conference we had some delectable pizza.  My mouth waters when I think how delightful it was.

I also danced @ the Talent Show because someone from my group signed me up.  Even though I love performing, I don’t always take the initiative and was glad some one gave me the push.  It was an impromptu performance but it worked out.  A friend from my group asked me whether I could go to her site and show some of the girls in her area Bollywood dancing, which I gladly agreed to.  That gave me another idea of starting a dance club.  Dancing is an integral part of African culture and empowering girls through creative movement may be a way to break the initial ice and give them opportunities to express themselves where they feel in charge and comfortable to be themselves.

After the conference Fractal went back to site.  I wanted to visit homestay but an emergency came up.  I heard from our host mom that our host sister’s baby was in the hospital.  I made my way to Kololo hospital where I stayed the whole day. Baby I is an adorable baby, happy & the least fussiest baby I’ve ever met; it was painful to see a 7-month old baby with tubes inserted in his nose and arms.

I don’t know how pediatric nurses, doctors & other medical professionals tolerate all that pain their little patients take; it takes incredible strength to do what they do.  Even though I’ve respect for pediatric doctors, I was annoyed by Baby I’s doctor.  Baby I’s grandma (my host mom) managed to calm him down; soon after he calmed down, the doctor entered the scene, picked up the baby, and asked him how he was doing.  Baby I started shrieking.  Seeing the infant’s response, the doctor asked him why he was crying.  What’s the doc thinking? Or is he not? Why would you take a child who’s comfortable on his grandma’s lap, raise him in mid air, and ask him how he’s doing.  I was later introduced to the doc and found out he did an exchange program in the twin cities in MN.  I wanted to ask him where he learned to interact with his patients the way I just saw but decided to hold my tongue.  In the evening my host sister, her husband, Baby I’s nanny & I headed back to their apartment while the grandma cared for the baby.

I had a restful sleep and headed back into the city the next morning.  I had my first tennis lesson at the American Rec Association.  The coach was amazingly encouraging and patient.  I learned forehand and backhand.  Met some really nice and friendly staff.  I was introduced to the ARA cat Jerry; I thought the name was slightly odd for a female cat, even though giving girls traditionally male names is not uncommon here.  She was the fattest and the oldest cat I’ve seen in Uganda.

After the tennis lesson, I made my way to the taxi park to catch a matatu to I-town.  That leads me to a lesson I learned that day: if you can help it, then avoid taking late afternoon taxi because the drivers think they’re infallible.  I had a gravity defying experience and felt I was in an airplane at various points of the voyage.  I did make it home in an intact piece.  I was glad to be home to Fractal, Kunda the cat & Peace the duck after a long rewarding day.

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A couple of weeks ago we took our first trip to the intoxicating capital city since our arrival at site, the first real break since trying to move to the village for the last two months.  Determined to make the most out of the trip to the All Volunteer Conference in Seeta, about 10 miles in the outskirts of the capital city, we embarked on the two hour journey a day early to the bustling city center.  Kampala.  The world of noxious smoke, the white & blue taxis, the marabou storks, the trouser-clad women, the cell phones, the high-heeled shoes, the men in denim shorts, Game (Uganda’s Target), the cappuccino, the crisp dosas, the Chloride Exide solar outfitters, the African horn bills.  Kampala, the city on seven hills, really sits on at least hundred hills when you’re a pedestrian visitor exploring the concrete jungle.

If you happened to find a hotel on Kampala Road, the one that showed us the naked guy running away from mob justice, then you are also that unlucky one to find out that the city never sleeps.  Getting advice from an elderly Indian hotel employee on the evils of cohabitation and watching his relief when he learned we are married reminded me of my concerned parents worrying that we might land into trouble with the police when we check into a shoestring hotel traveling as the white & brown team in India last year.  Those cops on raids, the safe guarders of the moral compass, might mistake us for a white dude on LSD visiting the sandy beaches of Goa and picking up a local girl to attain enlightenment.

The next day when Fractal attended a meeting at the Peace Corps office, I spent an hour nervously holding my arm out for the Peace Corps Medical staff who wanted a blood sample.  Hesitant in pricking me more than once, the three nurses, on my insistence, took turns drawing my viscous blood.  “Are you drinking enough water?” they asked.  The next several hours Fractal–also quite a paramedic–reminded me to hydrate myself.

Over the falafel sandwich and the cheese burger (Fractal’s first in years) and a mango & passion fruit smoothie, we caught up with our host sister Michelle and her husband in the food court of Garden City Shopping mall.  “We miss your mother,” we tell Michelle. We talked about our desire to visit her mother after we move to our new place.  She told us about her work at the state-sponsored television network, his video production takes, their daughter’s birthday party.

After the three and a half hour visit, we boarded a taxi for the hour odyssey to the Hotel Kabeka in Seeta.  Welcome to the alien planet of hot showers, tiled floors, running water, porcelain bathtubs, indoor toilets, and complimentary conditioners; despite the shine & shimmer, the varying heights of the stairs with its unaligned rails was somewhat precarious.  Someone used different tape measures that were several centimeters off from one another and just didn’t think anyone would notice the poor calculations.

The next few days the veteran volunteers taught us about organic gardening, healthy nutrition, creating newspapers in their schools, traveling in Africa, planting trees, and sanitizing water.  During meals volunteers talked about their trials, tribulations, likes, and dislikes of working and living in the pearl.  A few new volunteers shared frustrations about settling into their sites, and others from our group shared how thrilled they were when their sites turned out to be better than they thought.  Some discussed what more they would bring if they were coming to Uganda as a new volunteer.  Camp towel, skirts with lining, stainless steel knife, and flip-flop Rainbow sandals.  A talent show and a cultural show entertained the nights.

Rejuvenated and enriched after the three-day conference we got back before sundown on Sunday.  Ready to find a welding generator to finish the rest of the work in the house.  Ready to move to the village.  Ready to start the work we came here to do.