Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Past Week and Some

A few things to catch ya’ll up… And sorry, this will probably be longer than I first intend. We’ll start with last week.


I was in Rakai doing some things around the house and Red Cross office. I put up a rope and hook to install a solar shower in my bathing area, but, I thought, I usually bathe in the morning, so there’s not much point to this with so little time in the morning to allow a solar shower to actually warm up. Oh well, it’s there, I’ll use eventually. In the afternoon, I held a life skills activity on Monday at the Red Cross office for the youth on school break, which Joseph and I were suppose to do last Thursday or Friday…I can’t remember. Unfortunately, Joseph was also absent from the activity today…we said we’d start at 2, right? I felt like calling him and asking him where he was, but I thought, it’s probably better that I don’t, just go ahead with the plans…I didn’t like the feeling of having to rely on people all the time, or that I shouldn’t follow through on a commitment just because he wasn’t there. Plus, a lot of kids were already there and waiting! So, the crowd…most of these kids I already know from around Rakai, some I didn’t. We had 19 boys and 1 girl (!!), all between the ages of 8 and 14. Noelina was the one girl, she did a great job participating and was confident when she spoke, which made me feel good. For those of you who don’t know, Noelina is the housegirl adopted by Prima, my landlady, who does most of the cooking, cleaning, washing, weeding, and digging around our compound, as well as going to school. The life skills lesson also reminded me how important language was, and that if I could be more like Ashlee in Suriname (she’s amazing with her language) this session would be even more productive. Luckily, the kids wanted to use English, and knew it, which I asked when I knew Joseph wasn’t arriving. Basically, I gave the youth some info about Red Cross in Rakai, summarized to them what life skills were, and asked them if they had any questions about Red Cross, life skills, school in America, or anything about America??? There were, and always are, some interesting questions about the US and Americans. A lot of people think the US is completely packed with people, no room, no land, and that nobody actually can dig with their hands…among many others. We then went straight into some activities and games. I had the kids introduce themselves by asking them to write their names, what grade they were in, their favorite food, one thing they “like” about themselves, and one thing “funny” about themselves on one side of a sheet of paper. Since “like” and “want” are the same word in Luganda, we got some answers about the kids “want” for themselves in the future…such as, someone “wants” to be pilot. The idea was to get kids mentioning qualities they like about themselves or other people. Answers for the “funny” things about the kids were usually related to their parents (usually, Dad) dying from AIDS when they were younger…not really “funny” things we would think about. My funny thing was that I fell out of a parked boat into the river when I was visiting Ashlee in Suriname… and how funny Ashlee thought it was =]. Not quite the same. After all twenty kids presented, we did one more activity that would help reinforce positive values, and help these kids better express themselves. I asked each person to stop by my desk after presenting and to write their name at the top of the back, and blank, side of their paper. The blank side was then taped to their backs. When we finished presenting, I asked everyone to stand up, and write one things on other student’s papers, identifying something they had learned about that person, or something that they liked about that person. When we finished this madness of running around 10 minutes later, got everyone to sit down, I asked them to take off the paper from their back, and volunteer to read what others had written. I had emphasized that they should write “nice” things about their friends…which was nice to hear they actually did. Some of them were really proud to read what others wrote. They kept this sheet of paper, helped me clean up, and that was basically the end of day 1. Walking home, I forgot how crazy a group of kids could be walking through town, since most of them waited to walk back with me home. Definitely overlooked this.

Tuesday thru Thursday

Tuesday I was traveling to Steve Wright’s site, another Masters International student from Michigan Tech, to work with Jon and Steve Worrell on a site plan for a primary school, and possibly build some stoves. On my way out of Rakai on Tuesday, I saw a girl wearing a South Milwaukee Badgers T-shirt, which is probably a little league baseball team whose jersey ended up in Uganda. Then walking around Masaka with Jon getting lunch, we saw a guy with a Milwaukee Brewers baseball jersey. You can really find A LOT of second hand items here in Uganda… Seeing these things always brings a feeling of home, and makes me feel like I should share these stories with you. To get to Steve’s, Jon and I had to go Kampala first, which was longer, but it made for a nice travel break and meeting place to find Steve Worrell who was coming down from Gulu. The three of us had two beers in Kampala, picked up some awesome food from a Hare Krishna sandwich shop, some packets of Popov vodka, and then went back to Taxi Park to go to Steve’s. The next day and a half felt productive and was a lot of fun. I think one thing we all took from was that this group “engineering” project felt more approachable together, and that our minds were much more active when around one another. Discussing our concerns with work, cultural issues, issues at site, difficulty in starting work, our research, and intended community development, also felt good to share.


Friday I was in Kampala (got in late Thursday night) and went to the Gender and Development (GAD) meeting at Peace Corps in the morning. I went to a buffet of local food for lunch near the PC office, and then went to Red Cross to meet with George and other office people. The main purpose of our visit was to meet with the Water and Sanitation engineer who supports Red Cross branch offices on related water projects. Overall, good meeting, made the connections I wanted to, but unfortunately, was informed that water/san projects were not something our Rakai Branch had been given money to do within current budget and 2006-2011 strategic plan. I know George has mentioned this in “minor” detail before, and we’ve talked about other ways of implementing and funding projects, but it was still a bit of a wakeup call for me. I would like it if Red Cross could provided the support it intends to within rural areas and the decentralized system they’ve created, especially since water/san is such a big issue in Rakai. We talked about how we could help assess the issues relating to water/san in the new strategic plan being written for 2011. The decentralized system Red Cross uses with field offices allows field workers and coordinators to get closer to their community to mobilize volunteers and their work. I now realize that doing something “big” will probably require me to go out and find external funding for Red Cross, or rather, the people we’re “helping” implement water/san projects. I know Joseph still wants that “big” project. I, however, think education and the importance of a community understanding their options and capability to implement better water/san/hygiene projects can be accomplished with VERY little money. But as Joseph would say, you still need money to move around for field work. I hope we can provide some of these messages on a larger scale in Rakai.

I still go back and forth about the role of a PC volunteer making a connection for communities (maybe abroad) and providing all the technical support for their work. For me, it’s not something I feel like we need to give them, because people have lived this way for a long time, but it’s something they rather want to learn to do and have the ability to do. There’s definitely room to do both. I realized with EWB in Guatemala, our work was centered around students raising money in the US to complete our designed project, while the beneficiaries provided some funds and lots of labor. In the US, it was our project and felt good working on and designing. When we arrived, most of us understood that this was something that community was already good at doing, our designs would be changed, and they could build it themselves…they didn’t need American students to physically build it for them. That’s also the last thing I think Ugandan’s need, and they still want the money. Not having local income (though other local resources) or financial support to complete projects, often makes these projects impossible to do. Note, there are A LOT of organizations in Uganda, A LOT of people “missed” groups, and it’s overbearing when your organization and local community first EXPECT you to find the connections to get someone to help “support” or pay for community needs. A lot of local NGOs in Uganda even have trouble with paying their “staff” or “volunteers”, and transporting community workers to assess needs. We use a lot of fuel in the US, and the money for the most part, is there. This dilemma all comes down to balance I suppose, and I imagine a lot of great people have great experiences, strategies and the “right” answer. All in balance and sustainability…


Saturday I went around Kampala and took photos with Steve Worrell, William (from my homestay), and Flat Stanley (thanks Titia). I’m glad I stayed in Kampala Saturday because it was the only time to see William, and I felt less rushed than if I were to have tried to go home…which is important to me when I’m in a place as hectic as Kampala. Saving sanity too, though I feel much more comfortable about my way around town now. The next school term is starting soon and William wanted to talk about some options about paying for school. A lot of kids have a real tough time paying school fees and for the other items which they need to bring to school. I am also approached by youth about this in Rakai. What do you tell a 12 year old kid who wants money to go to school because he parents can’t afford it all? Go find a job? Why do you wait until the last second? Could I have paid for my elementary, middle, and high school education under these circumstances? What’s it like not having a permanent place to live and only have 1 or no parents? You just need notebooks, pens, a metal school box, shoes, uniform, building fee, T.P, fees for your exams, and other small money for school fees? Is this something Peace Corps volunteers do? What could you help me do around here? So, Steve and I took William out to lunch, talked about how things were going at site, how he did in school last term, and made a few visits around Kampala. We’ve found that the sustainability of obtaining school fees is a bit harder to manage, but is something I feel we can help with.


Sunday, Jon and I left Kampala around 12pm and made it back to Rakai after stopping at the Rakai Health Sciences Project in Kalisizo to use the internet. Jon grabbed us some sub’s at the big supermarket in Kampala before leaving. These are made when you order, and are about $2.oo a piece…good deal for some filling and recognizable food. I left Kalisizo around 6:30pm and caught a taxi right away to Kyotera. Usually, they wait until these taxi’s are VERY full, but we actually left with just 3 passengers…which felt VERY strange. Getting to Kyotera around 7:00pm, I met with John the Carpenter, or “JohnCarp” as my phone says, and he showed me the furniture he’s completed for me. I’m also working with him on a report he wrote up for the support of orphans and youth affected by HIV/AIDS in Kyotera. His org didn’t really say how they intended to use the money, or account for it, though they said they could, and talked a lot about how important this was for people in their community. Hmmm. He also wants me to send this off to my “people” and connections I have in America. I told him that the best resources to use would be local ones, their government, or local organizations already working in the area. I don’t know? I also asked him about using the carpentry shop as a vocational program (they’ve done this some), and that maybe, people may be willing to help fund some equipment to train local youth. Hopefully, this in turn would provide youth with a skill and trade. Again, I don’t know everything about this, but I took some photos, asked him to write up some info about his carpentry program, how many carpenters they have, and some recent successes/goals/problems they have. He seems eager which is good and I feel something like this is something I can help with on a small scale. I waited in Kyotera for a bit before getting back home to Rakai. We would at least have to wait for 8 passengers to fill the 4-door corolla sedan. Good thing they usually let me get the front. Either way, I made it back home around 8pm, and thought, it feels good to be back home. I decided to make dinner, did so, started eating, and then Noelina came and brought me dinner she made. Awesome! I’m feeling very full. Tomorrow I’m going to pick up the furniture from JohnCarp in Kyotera and feel very happy about sitting down at my desk “working”

Monday thru Wednesday

Monday was a wash…though I did go and pick up the furniture and rearrange my house and throw away old paper until about 2am.

Tuesday was a day of interactions. After waking up a bit late, which is happening too often these days, I made breakfast and sat down to read on my couch. I got a call from Joseph saying he was at the Red Cross office with George (rare sighting in Rakai) and wanted to catch up and talk about some future programs. So, off I went. After about a 2 hour talk about work and our ideas, which was nice, the three of us went to get lunch at a local restaurant. A restaurant in Rakai is 1 room along a stretch of poorly built buildings that fits a large table and some chairs around it. No room for anything else, and the cooking is done directly outside of where we’re seated. Needless to say, the food is very abundant with the usual 4 carb dishes per meal, some meat with sauce, and cabbage. It’s a very normal meal for less than a dollar, with water included. After lunch, I went back up to the office to do another life skills day with the kids. Slightly less kids this time with 15, but Joseph was there, and we were able to make it “productive”. Last time the kids wanted more background about Red Cross, surprising, and Joseph was able to do this much better than I, and in the local language. I realize everyday that I need to commit myself to improving my language. I keep saying “in time”. After another fun day of like skills, which was helped facilitated by my Ugandan friends, and after I realized that I am not a great teacher, I went back home to get ready to meet with Father Joseph. What I thought would be just a talk getting ready for my Aunts visit, led to a trip to Kyotera with Father Joseph to meet with some of his co-workers at the Bikirra Parish and the school their building near Kyotera. Father Joseph is very busy, so talking in the car provides a good time to go over details. Every time I’m around him, he says something I wish every Ugandan would feel or understand, and that is someone I could really do some work with here. Obviously, it was a good night, and I’m glad I went. We sat around with 3 other people from the Church, I ate some pork and French fries, drank 2 bottles of Guinness, and talked. On our way back, we stopped at a hotel which was built to generate income for the school, so it would not have to rely on funds from Europe of the US, again, great to hear. They also have a few vehicles which they rent out (sometimes with drivers), and it comforted me knowing that if and when people come visit me, this is available.

Wednesday now, and I’m suppose to teach some kids how to play baseball. Off I go. It’s also market day, and the English mass with Father Joseph, so a lot to do. Till next time.



Friday, May 7, 2010

What It Can Be

I'm sorry to hear your parents are having trouble with your interest in Peace Corps. It's understandable and something you and them should definitely get information about before giving up...or simply decide not to listen to one another. I'm always up to help out and provide some insight if you're interested!

Peace Corps allows US citizens to travel, work, learn, and teach abroad for 2 years on behalf of our government and people. This is something a lot of countries don't take the time in doing/or even have the resources (money, people) to do. It's very special and unique. People in Uganda often ask how they can come to the US... I don't know???
Education, your government, volunteer programs, Church, work exchanges, NGO exchanges, family, friends, MONEY?

You should read over the 3 Peace Corps Goals, 2/3 of them directly relate to the learning and sharing of each other’s country and cultural understanding. By spending 2+ years somewhere, living amongst common people (who you will learn will be a lot like yourself), learning a bit of their language, and making the attempt to learn from someone else, while also providing them your technical knowledge and experience, is special. It's much different than spending all your time isolated and separated from people in YOUR own or THEIR country.

I had a lot of people tell me I could do this work in the US, and that the US has plenty of ppl to also help out...which is VERY true and needed. No doubt this is on my mind a lot. Maybe your family brings this up? It's important to talk about. My response to people was that this was an opportunity to learn more about the worlds needs, not just ours, and be able to bring that back to many people in the US.
I told them that it was for only 2 years, and an opportunity that made since for me to do NOW. Although I heard it plenty before, I’ve learned quickly that poor in America does not equal poor in Africa, or anywhere else for that matter. Doing this doesn't mean you don't care, or don't plan on moving back to the US. I think by becoming a US ambassador (not really) for 2 years for these very different and isolated communities does a lot for our own country and its people. People I meet don't really know much about the US, and it's amazing the connection you can give them, and the satisfaction they get from learning it. I believe world relationships are something the US needs to improve, anyhow.

There's a book called The Ugly American if you're interested in reading what's wrong (or what was) with American foreign policy; it was given to me by one of my graduate professors.
Good read, and it helped me understand about why Peace Corps was structured the way it was, though the book never once mentions Peace Corps. Before it’s time I suppose…

As for the reading material to explain PC to your family, I would highly suggest contacting your PC recruiter. He/She will definitely have that information in electronic form, or be able to mail it to you. I was given a hard copy of a manual for parents on what to expect, and how to cope with a child in Peace Corps. I got this when I was given my country invitation, maybe they could send this to you sooner. These questions I feel are exactly what you're recruiter should help you with.

Take care, there. I think telling your family that PC is something YOU are interested in doing and is an opportunity to learn much more than you'll ever get out of reading a book... or watching the news, will help. Again, this doesn’t mean you won’t be coming back. Be sure to tell them you’re willing to listen to their concerns as well…their family after all. Maybe after all this there'll be better understanding and some hope. I don't doubt it...and it is important to get past.
I believe most volunteers go home early because of family, friends, and/or school anyhow. The two years are not easy, but challenging and rewarding (and I’ve only been here 8 months). The way I think of it, is that there's no place I'd rather be, or nothing else in the US that I'd rather be doing. Again, family is most important, and you guys should want to talk about this stuff first. I hope it goes well. Just be happy about whatever decision ya make...sounds like either of your options are pretty good ones. There's a big world outside the US, one that I haven’t even come close to seeing or feeling. I hope this initial perspective helps.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010: Letter to My Aunt

Hi Titia

I’ve included some tips and summarized some information which I think is worth knowing before your trip to Uganda. Hope I haven’t ruined the excitement! I’ve given you some items to bring, but I thought I would just give you the basics first. I’m looking very forward to your visit!


Getting the Info

The Bradt Guide Book for Uganda, 5th Edition (2007), is definitely worth picking up and skimming through before you come. You should be able to find this at Borders, or any big bookstore. It offers travelers A LOT of information about coming to the country, what to bring, and places to visit. You can also try them online at, or get country info from the Lonely Planet agency at I told my mom about the Bradt book as well, and it would probably be worthwhile to get and share. Very useful. I’ll make a bulleted list of must-brings in another email, but check out the book first.

Some Packing Tips

Overall, I think most important when you arrive will be to just feel comfortable carrying your luggage and moving around. Try not to over pack and dress in comfortable clothing you won’t mind getting dusty. I would carry a backpack and a bag you can carry by hand or shoulder strap. It’s also nice to have a smaller day bag you can use later for short trips. It’ll always feel good to have one or both hands free. I wouldn’t even be afraid of carrying a rolling suitcase on the plane, they are very common here, and I feel easier to open and organize as we move around. Really, whatever, you’re comfortable with, and not afraid to get a little dirty during travel. I have a lot of the things we’ll need at home, and at worse, we can find almost anything we need here in country, though usually, the good stuff is at an inflated cost, and may be harder to find.


I’ve given you some tips here about money, but please, don’t take this as me expecting you to pay for everything. These are only things which I feel you should know about money in Uganda. First off, I would bring your ATM card and have cash ready to exchange. Visa access is available throughout the country and will be good for emergencies. Using a Visa card casually in Uganda, outside ATMs, nice hotels, big super markets, and tourist destinations, pretty much doesn’t exist. Just let your bank know you’re coming to Uganda. I haven’t had any issue with using my ATM card, though Summit Credit Union does charge a 1% surcharge on the money I take out at an ATM. Not much. I did have some trouble with a credit card I used for a conference and hotel, but we were able to straighten things out the same if I were in the US. That said, most people don’t use credit here at all, as stores are usually very small, and we’ll buy a lot of our food at site in a market. I only know of a few stores in the capitol you can use a card, and still, I use cash. Just make sure you have cash available in a crunch, but carrying a lot won’t be necessary, since we’ll be able to stop in towns with banks and ATMs. When you arrive at the Entebbe airport, I’ll be there with a taxi and will have already paid. When we get to Kampala, we can exchange money at a private forex bureau, which provides the best exchange rates. I carry a wallet just like I do in the US, though I just use cash instead of my Visa card. You’ll get the best exchange rate with newer $50 and $100 bills. I would never exchange anything less than a $20 bill, unless I really had to. The exchange rate is anywhere from 1800 to 2000 Ugandan Shillings (Ushs). If you want to know how much money you’re spending in Uganda, it’s very common to just divide it by 2000. So, that dinner for 25,000 Ushs at a restaurant in Kampala costs around $12.50. Lunch in Rakai costs about 1,500 to 2,000 Ushs (yes, that cheap) at a local “restaurant”. I’m not sure what the tourist places will be like, but definitely more expensive than that. I’ve also heard it’s not good to compare Ugandan costs to what you’d be spending in the U.S., because, things ARE typically cheaper here.


I realized the whole clothing thing wasn’t as difficult or different as I thought it would be…but I’m a guy, and it’s noticeably more difficult for women. Peace Corps staff told the female volunteers to wear long skirts every day, and that pants were not allowed. They did end up wearing pants, and I definitely wouldn’t tell you not to bring any, especially since we’ll be in the capitol, other tourist destinations, and people will know you’re visiting from abroad…exception made. I actually think too much emphasis was put on this, and volunteers have obviously loosened and “styled” up a bit. Go ahead and bring pants which are light and comfortable. As for shorts, I think the only place you could wear these would be on the safari, but even so, women really don’t show their legs here. It will just be important to bring clothing which is easy to wash, not too heavy, and you’re comfortable in at “work”. If I were coming for a month, I would probably bring a week’s worth (or maybe just a little more) and plan on washing clothing once a week. A rain jacket or light fleece would be adequate for “cooler” nights or rainy days. I do most of my washing by hand, which saves a lot of money, but you can pay someone to do it, especially at the hotels. Ugandan’s also like ironing everything. It’s easy to say that dress here is fairly conservative. Men polish their shoes as if they didn’t walk on dusty roads every day, or maybe that’s why they do. If, and when you do dress nice, people will say you look very “smart”. You’ll notice that people do try to dress nice, and some do, just most clash stripes, colors, or really anything, together. Material is obviously a bit cheaper here, but good, because it’s light and cool.


You won’t need big hiking boots. Definitely bring sandals. Maybe two pair. One pair which are comfortable for walking around in throughout town, and the other, you’ll just wear around the house and slip on and off. I would also bring a pair of walking shoes for the capitol and the safari. It’s very common for women to wear nice dress shoes or sandals everywhere. In our definition, these would still be somewhat casual. I wear a pair of Birkenstocks almost daily now…and a brown pair of loafers or fake black leather shoes for work…sometimes. I am probably also underdressed…but I don’t feel too bad about it. I have a pair or running shoes for sports and have a pair of slippers around the house and even sometimes for short trips into town. People here have very rough feet and are not afraid to show them. There are also some people who wear sandals which have been made from old rubber tires. These are awesome. Since we do get a lot of rain, people also wear rain boots, or “gum boots” when it’s muddy, and maybe out farming. Just make sure you bring something that you can wear in the rain. I’ve noticed though, it’s much easier to clean a pair of sandals and your feet, over a pair of heavy shoes and white socks. Try not to bring white socks, I brought close to 6 pairs (dumb), because they will get dusty and dirty. A load of dirty white socks is not fun to wash by hand, though, can be rewarding as they slowly turn white again. I’d recommend bringing 5-6 pair of socks, ones that are light, allow your feet to breathe, and are dark or tan in color.

Perspective, etc

So, some perspective, Uganda is still a developing country, with its traditional way of life and dress still very present in its rural areas (80% of 30 million or so people live in rural areas). We’ll see much more of this than the capitol way of life. You’ll notice though all people that have the capacity (or capitol) to dress nice, do. In the capitol and other bigger cities, and very likely in the tourist destinations we visit, we won’t dress that much different than what we’d wear in a “warmer” US city. I don’t say hot, because I don’t believe Uganda overall is very hot, but this is my Rakai perspective, not safari perspective, and the highest I’ve felt is probably in the 90s. BUT, Uganda is still a very dusty and muddy country, and it’s hard to stay clean for long. Definitely bring a handkerchief to carry in your pocket, they’re nice to have to clean up a bit, dry your hands, and maybe cover your mouth when driving on dusty roads. Also, every Ugandan carries one.

Norms about My Home

At site, I live in a connected two room flat within a shared U-shaped compound. I have one door that looks out into the grass compound, and I have neighbors which live to the side of me. Most of my neighbors are educated women who work for World Vision. Overall, it’s a nice compound, and our landlady Prima will definitely make an impression. There are a very few children who live here, and most of my neighbors are gone over the weekend. More kids are around now since on their school break, but will be back in school when you visit. There are no crying babies or big families that live in the compound, but we will still see our fair share. Prima also has a lot of visitors, mostly older men and women, as she heads a local organization called Rakai Women Against Aids and Poverty (RWAAP), and is also running for Town Mayor. In the compound, there are “maids” or “housegirls”, or young girls, who are in school, and do a lot, or all, of the housework around the compound. This includes cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, getting water, or anything their moms ask. This is normal in Uganda and very acceptable. Town is simply a 5 minute walk, and consists of 1 paved road. Rakai is actually where the paved road ends, and is where the District offices are held. If these offices weren’t here, there wouldn’t be much going on.

My Cooking

I cook on a 2 burner gas tank stove and buy all of my vegetables and fruit at the local market. I stock up on rice in Kampala, which lasts a few months, and pick up pasta, macaroni shells, or anything else I can boil. I usually make a mix of onion, garlic, green pepper, tomato, spices, salt, pepper, and vegetable oil with either rice or pasta. There are also very traditional dishes here using bananas you’ll definitely get a chance to try. As for snacks, I pick up biscuits (crackers), peanuts, and small, ripe, “sweet” bananas. Tea breaks are very normal in the late morning hours and afternoon, so at some point, we’ll be expected to sit down and have tea with people. Coffee is usually instant, but I’ll have much better coffee, and a filter. I have no refrigeration, though I do have power, most of the time, for lights, charging phones and a computer, a razor, radio, small things. I usually don’t store any cooked food or dairy, though sometimes choose to in the few Tupperware containers I have. With that said, some people and stores do have refrigeration in town and we’ll be able to find milk and yogurt. I’ll also have powdered milk, though I don’t like it as much as getting the fresh milk. There are a number of bakeries in other nearby towns, so I usually buy bread when it’s driven in, and still somewhat fresh. I always have flour, vinegar, sugar, peanut butter and jelly, and sometimes a jar of Nutella. The biggest thing about cooking is the cleaning I have to do afterwards. Instead of a sink, I use two plastic basins, one for soapy water and one for rinse water, which I set out on the stoop of my flat. After cleaning, I let the dishes dry overnight inside my house, and stock them in the morning. For breakfast, I have oatmeal, eggs, toasts, French toast, bananas, tea, coffee, or nothing.

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene

Don’t be too afraid…I think it’s fairly easy to stay healthy and clean in Uganda. It just takes a bit more effort, and you’ll notice you’ll be using a lot less water in doing so. As for water, we have a shared and metered compound tap stand, which provides water from a nearby lake. I pay 200 Ushs per 20-L “jerry can”, which are what most people store their water in. I pay this to Prima who pays a monthly water bill to the local water authority. The lake water must be boiled and usually contains some visible and floating particles. I have been working on a filter and treatment system for this at my house instead of using fuel to boil every time. If you don’t boil, there’s a solution called WaterGuard, which treats 20-L of water per cap full. A lot of volunteers use this, but Ugandans will say the water tastes funny, or rather, like chlorine. This is a sure way to clean your water, but getting locals to believe it is a challenge. Water is available almost all the time, but it’s good to have storage in jerry cans, just in case the tap is “out”, which usually doesn’t last more than a day. Bottled water is very available and sold in 0.5-L or 1.5-L containers at any store in town. These are very okay to drink, though their costs will add up. Recycling plastic also doesn’t exist here, and most people just burn them to dispose of them, so I try to limit myself. Rainwater use is becoming more common, we just don’t have a tank within our compound. Sanitation at our compound consists of 4 pit latrines, which shares 1 single vent. I have my own “locked” pit latrine, so it’s not shared with anyone else in the compound. People are unfortunately not the cleanest, or even conscience what an uncovered, dirty, pit latrine attracts…flies! I hope you don’t mind reverting to a squat latrine pit while you’re here in Rakai, though, throughout Uganda, flush toilets are common. Toilet paper is also common, cheap, and okay to flush, as compared to Guatemala. Flushing won’t be an issue at my home in Rakai…sorry! Since we don’t have running water, “showering”, or bathing, takes place bucket bath style in a closed door stall outside. I also have my own private stall for showering, and usually just do this in the morning. It’s sometimes nice to wash the feet at night, since they can get dirty wearing sandals around the compound. We’ve made a hand washing station outside the bathrooms, and this has improved the way people wash up after using the bathroom. Soap is very available at stores, and I always keep dish washing soap, laundry detergent, bleach, shampoo, toothpaste, and bar soap around the house. My Peace Corps medical kit carries a number of emergency type supplies, but I really haven’t had to use any of it. It does cool down at night to about 60, so I’ve gotten a few small colds…I think because of the weather, dust, or pollen. Bring any medication you think is necessary, but don’t go overboard… I have a lot of the basics.

Housing Conditions

Since my house is fairly small, there’s a possibility we can get one of the extra empty rooms Prima has here in her compound. This room would also have electricity, some furniture, a mosquito net, and bedding. I think if we do this, I’ll stay in the empty room, and let you stay in my homier room(s). My living room (remember, my 2 room flat) is what opens up to the compound, and is basically my only sitting and guest room. I have a nice wooden framed couch and chair with cushions. This room is also where I do my cooking…so if I were to stay in the empty room, we’ll still spend most of our time in this “living room”. Don’t worry about bringing a mosquito net, we’ll have one for you, and most places we’ll stay will have one, or you won’t need one. You may want to bring mosquito repellent, or a roll-on stick you can use at night. I often keep my door open in the evening before bed, and sleep with my windows cracked open. I feel I do not have a problem with mosquito’s, but it’ll be better to be safe than sorry, so, remember to take the malaria medication. Bedding, sheets, a pillow, and a spare towel will all be here. Overall, I think you should “feel” comfortable in Rakai, though the town is rural and has a lot of farm animals (goats, cows, chicken) running around.


I’ll try to keep this part short, because in theory, it’s easily available throughout the country with taxi’s and buses, it’s just a bit chaotic and probably better to just experience. The things you should be ready for are fast drivers, packed vehicles, exhaust fumes, dusty roads, and crowded streets. Streets in the capitol will be crowded with other vehicles, including cars, trucks, mini buses, buses, motorcycles, bicyclists, and a crap load of pedestrians walking roadside. These all exist in rural areas as well, just fewer in number, with more animals, and still a lot of people walking around. Fitting 9 people into a small 4-door Toyota Corrolla is not abnormal around Rakai, and most of the time the taxi drivers won’t leave for their destination until the car is COMPLETELY full. They’ll usually also put a ton of stuff in the trunk, and sometimes utilize the rolling start if the car’s not in good shape. This is probably by far the unsafest thing I do in Uganda, but, really, there’s not much way around it. As a volunteer, we are not allowed to drive a vehicle or ride on a motorcycle. I try to tell my co-passengers they don’t have to deal with this, that they can complain, but the usual answer is, this is Uganda, and how do you drive in the US? Most of the time this happens because people don’t have a lot of money, and they feel that cramming people in a car is the cheapest way to get around…and really, it does maximize fuel use. I just don’t get taxi drivers driving all around town trying to pick up people, may as well stay still and leave with one less person? I could go on… But I don’t think we’ll have to deal with this much. We’ll have transport around Rakai with the Fathers at the Catholic Church and also out to Queen Elizabeth trip national park. I also think taking public transportation is one of the things to experience here in Uganda anyway.

The Call of the Muzungu

You’ll undoubtedly be called “muzungu” while you’re here. Probably every day, you’ll have a group of very young kids calling out “muzungu, muzungu, how are you muzungu?” It’s sometimes actually pretty cute, the kids do get very excited, and is harmless. What’s sweeter than kids jumping up and down, getting more excited than I will all week, just for a quick hello and wave? I’ve tried to teach some of the kids I don’t always see my name…but I’m not sure if it’s working. I don’t think you’ll hear any educated or older person call you muzungu, though some of the motorcycle (boda-boda) drivers in town may call this out to us. They are usually a harsher bunch in general though, and are the cause of a lot of harassment, especially towards our female volunteers. I don’t think this will be any issue for us, it hasn’t for me, I just thought I would say it. The meaning of muzungu basically translates to “white foreigner” to Ugandans, though someone from anywhere but Africa, including some of our African American volunteers, get it. Again, it’s not used in a derogatory way, and shouldn’t be taken to be offensive. It can just get annoying sometimes.


I hope I haven’t ruined any of the surprises you were looking forward to. I think most of the things I mentioned will be helpful in hearing, but better to just experience when you’re here, and go with it. I’m very excited with sharing all of it with you, and really appreciate coming all the way here to do it, Titia! Thanks! I’m looking very forward to seeing you. Please email or call me if you have any questions, concerns, or need anything. Hope all is well, and good luck getting ready. I often realize that I over prepare the things I bring with me, and realize, that I could have done with the things which are already very normal and comfortable to me at home. Hope this has all helped

Take care,


Phone: 011.256.702533609


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Friday, April 30, 2010: Rakai Morning

Well, if I had to call this morning anything, it would be a mix of “relaxing” and “lazy”. Quite a mix. Usually not my cup of tea, but I think we all apply those feelings differently. My “relazy” morning consisted of waking up at 9am, which I convinced myself ok because it was raining hard earlier. Joseph told me he got up at 10am today. I started with the normal routine, wake up, stretch a bit while sitting on my bed, open the windows and prop the door open, which makes it look like I’m about to go out to the people in compound…but I’m not..not yet! I then took the clean dishes which dry over night in my plastic bin, and put them away on the shelf where I always put them, literally, same place. I then start boiling some water for coffee or tea. I boil enough water for bathing, which I add to an almost full plastic bin of cold water, grab my towel, go outside and get ready for the bucket bath in my stall. Somewhere in there I make it to the bathroom (two doors down from my bathing area), this just depends how long I actually laid in bed holding it. There’ll definitely be someone in the compound, if it’s in the middle of the week at 9am, the ladies which work at World Vision have already left, making me feel relazy…but it’s Friday and people only work half days, because everyone heads to Kampala, where they’re actually from, or where there family is. I don’t feel bad this morning…I’m feeling good about it, because I’m also convincing myself that I’ll be able to a lot of work done at home today. Noelina, lives here in the same compound, orphan taken in by Prima, will definitely be out doing something; she is, this morning she’s doing some washing. All the kids are on their break after the end of the first term, so a lot of them stop by and see what I’m up to. Noelina’s, maybe 13 yrs old, has probably been up since 7 doing chores. So after the “shower”, greeting the folks in the compound, my 30 pushups, I started getting ready for breakfast. I started cutting onion, green pepper, and 1 tomato for scrambled eggs. Even have some bread with strawberry jam this morning, along with some sweet bananas, so this made for a very balanced way to start my day. Ahh, I love mornings like this, sit down for a big breakfast, read for some time, drink my tea, be relazy…I just wish it wasn’t 10am, I wish it was more like 8am. So it goes.

Water in Uganda

A little more about water here in Uganda. Where to start? I’ll try not to make this too long. Country wide, Uganda does have a very proactive and responsible National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) that is doing a lot to improve access clean water and sanitation to urban and rural populations. I just got back from a conference the NWSC held in conjunction with the African Water Association (AfWA) in Kampala about Africa’s water and sanitation problem, with emphasis on prospective threats to water and sanitation from climate change and energy issues. A lot of international water suppliers, governing boards, and environmental interest groups were present to discuss these issues, including the keynote speaker, Wangaari Mathai (Nobel Peace Prize winner from Keyna) who talked about the importance of conserving Uganda’s natural environment. Got a picture with her at lunch, it was great! It was also reinforcing to see that there is that structure in place in Africa, though most the work discussed was directed at much larger scale than which the Peace Corps volunteer works at. Oh well, interesting nonetheless.

At the district level in Uganda, there’s a lot of talk about what the government is doing to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation in the area, you just don’t see them much. Again, a lot of talk, not a lot of money, and still a lot of rural populations lacking access to safe water and sanitation. In my particular area in Rakai Town, most people do have piped water from a nearby lake available at community or compound owned taps (very few, if any, individual taps) which are locked and metered, and bills paid to the local water office. Outside town, there are “free” boreholes which people use and “maintain”. Though, as the story often goes, there’s actually little maintenance here and user ownership attached, so when a borehole does break, or no longer produces water, they often wait for someone else (the government) to take the initiative to fix it. There a number of local organizations, including PC volunteers, trying to increase the formation of water committees for proven water sources. There’s also a major push for rainwater collection, which is improving, and provides a much cleaner source. Money is still the issue. When these options aren’t available, people revert back to open sources, which happens probably more than I see.

As for treating, the most common method people use to treat water is by boiling it. People here are well educated in that area (and have been for some time)…so much they almost neglect to think about other methods. I don’t think there’s anywhere in Uganda I’d feel safe even drinking tap water without treating it first, including the capitol, Kampala. I haven’t gotten much into water quality testing out in Rakai yet, but there is a volunteer nearby, who just attended a training which organized and provided WQ equipment to Ugandans to go out and test its water sources. Since most of our local water sources in Rakai come from deep boreholes, people here seem to accept that it’s relatively clean, and then still boil. As for slow sand filters, I’ve seen them built and sponsored by some of the aid organizations, though I really haven’t seen them used by anyone locally. I believe they definitely could be used at the household level in rural areas, but I don’t think people have a lot of trust, the proper training, or even the patience for it yet. I also notice that a lot of people don’t actually drink a lot of water. Rather, Ugandan’s drink a lot of tea (former English colony), so they boil anyway. I imagine I still don’t see the whole picture.

As for SSF with biological treatment, I think it is something which could improve here. The Centre for Affordable Water Supply (CAWST) provides trainings and has developed some promotional materials…check out their website if ya haven’t already. Otherwise, people that have the money and access have no problem just buying bottled water. So…the number of water bottles in this country, or plastic in general, with no readily available method of recycling or disposal, is just as important of an issue.

Another method of water treatment here in Uganda, which is very inexpensive and available throughout the country, is the use WaterGuard or PUR. Both are chemical solutions which are put directly into a filled water container for treatment. Water containers, 20-L “jerry cans”, are the most common water containers used in Uganda. They are also usually not very clean. After 20 minutes or so in these containers, both of these solutions do produce safe drinking water. Unfortunately though, people, and especially kids, will say they don’t like the taste of this chemically treated water, and that they prefer boiled water. One kid told me he rather likes to use the bleach like solution for cleaning his cloths. So continues boiling over charcoal stoves and the destruction of Uganda forests.

To wrap this up, I don’t believe Uganda lacks aid organizations trying to improve this situation, though it is hard to reach all 32 million people in the country, most of which are in rural areas and below the poverty line. If there’s anything else you’re interested in hearing about, I’m happy to share, and very excited about being in a place where I can relay this information to someone. Again, I appreciate your response to the email, it’s great to hear from friends and how things are back home. Drink some tap water for me!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010: Recent Rakai Business

Hi all, got some thoughts and updates again to send out. Hope it’s going well! Here we go.

I bought some local honey at our recent Peace Corps Life Skills training from fellow PC volunteer and Masters International student (UC Davis) Zach Bagley, who works in Kitgum (northern Uganda) with a women’s bee keeping organization. This has made my tea, and even French toast, very enjoyable the last few weeks.

I spent Sunday moving around with Prima, as my last email said, and Monday and Tuesday around Rakai, also with Prima, with short trips into Kyotera. Along with Joseph and Prima, I went to a microfinance bank in Kyotera which provides loans for both groups (i.e. local women’s groups), and individuals, for say, starting an income generating activity (IGA) or school, respectively. Joseph was very excited about this, and is planning to go pick up his secondary school records for an application at a small local University. I’m just going to remind him that he needs a plan to pay back this loan, and to make sure it’s really a good offer. The information I got from the microfinance bank was much better (i.e. does not have 30% interest charges, or putting your house up) than the bigger banks. Joseph lost his father when he was 7, has 1 younger sister, 1 younger brother, and a Mom who is HIV+. Joseph has been working, or rather volunteering, with me at Red Cross. He is 22 years old, just as old as Nick, really wants to go back to school, and has been a good friend in Rakai showing me around and meeting people. I’ve even been doing some farming with him on his Grandfathers land. He has something like 5 grandfathers (who are actually just Uncles) here in Rakai. I hope I can advise him in this decision…people getting excited prematurely about things happens a lot here (actually, probably everywhere).

In other news, I stopped by the Catholic Church last night, 3 Fathers live there at the church, 2 (Father Joseph and Father Charles) are younger, or middle aged, and very kind. Father Charles is who I had a beer with last night, and has been to Minneapolis! He went on an exchange visit a few years ago with a Church up there, and got quite a tour of Minnesota…even wears a Twins baseball cap. I went up to the Parish tonight with Prima so she could ask for Father Joseph to review a proposal she wrote for her organization, Rakai Women Against Aids and Poverty (RWAAP). I went so I could ask them about working in the Church’s primary and secondary school, and make sure it was ok to do Life Skills with the youth. Younger Joseph (counterpart) and I are planning on calling this, Life Skills with Red Cross, so Red Cross becomes more active in our community. We figure we’ll also throw some Red Cross info in there. I also wanted to talk Father Joseph about my Aunt possibly volunteering at a school when she comes to visit. Titia gets here on July 7, and leaves July 28. Other than a few days in Kampala right after she lands, and a day or two before she leaves, 3 days at Queen Elizabeth National Park for a safari, she wants to spend her time in Rakai and volunteering at some local schools. The Fathers sound like they’re really going to hook it up, with visits to multiple schools and some exchange with teachers. We’ve even been invited to a wedding, so Titia will get to witness that. Fun, right? It will be held nearby, and we even got a personal invitation from the groom, who works at the Hospital, and was also up at the Parish this same night.

I know the Church is looking for more help in fundraising (donations) and I think by taking visitors around to show them what it’s like in some areas to see what’s actually like out there, is a way for them to get this support. In a lot of Ugandan eyes, I am that connection between US donations and them getting money. In truth though, there are a lot of people, and a lot of youth, living in severe poverty and highly affected by HIV/AIDS here. Rakai is the district where HIV/AIDS was first identified in all of Uganda. I was thinking about this today, and some other things I’ve see which have become “normal”, such as mud houses with bamboo reinforcing, cattle herded thru town and down busy streets, goats tethered up everywhere and anywhere, salesman carrying all their merchandise to the market on a bike, 10 people piled into a small 4 door Corolla (man I can’t wait for this when I’m back), people burning bricks for homemaking along the roadside, are probably what visitors will perceive as being very dysfunctional. I’d love to name more… and will. This was definitely all a bit strange for me, but my point is here, like the dysfunction, the same goes with for what it actually means to be “poor” here. Driving down the paved highway to Rakai (think rural highway and large farms in the US), you pass many small 1 to 2-room poorly built brick homes, most falling apart, large families, lot of animals around, you would think everyone here were living in poverty, and no doubt many are. I guess what I was trying to say, though, was you’d be surprised by what you thought was poor, wasn’t, and what you would think would be unbearable, is also comfortable. It’s hard to explain, better to see, and easier to understand after you’ve been here for a while. Now think of the people who have always lives here. Very normal. The phrase that kept coming to mind in the car was “in the eye of the beholder” as corny as that sounds. Unfortunately though, just like in any other cash based economy, people need money, and in this country unfortunately, a lot of people just don’t have it.

Hope I didn’t end on too sour of a note…I know I’ve changed up some ideas quite a bit, but… so it goes. Look forward to hearing back and always glad to catch some of you guys up, though I haven’t been doing it enough.

After all that I said, I think I’ll be able to get wireless internet at my house soon. So again, take care and keep in touch!

Sunday, April 25, 2010: Field Work with Prima

So, as I said, I promised myself that I would do a better job capturing my days and some of those can’t forget experiences. This whole day has been an experience, something I know I’ll think about when I’m back home and won’t ever be able to fully describe. In fact, I think it’ll even be hard to explain to people here. Well, here’s my shot at it…and probably with too much detail. I must preface this post will the following. Though this day may seem just as annoying as it does memorable, I had a great time. Hope you can enjoy it too.

It started out by waking up early Sunday morning at my home in Rakai Town, say around 7 am, which is early for me on a Sunday morning, nonetheless, it felt like a good way to start the day. I went to Church with Prima and a gang of kids crammed in the RAV 4, getting there about 8 am, looking smart (dressed nice), pocket full of change for the church donation basket, and ready to not understand (Luganda) for more than half the service. Going to Church is something very custom here in Uganda, and I’m finding myself appreciating what the Church is able to provide for people in the country. It’s definitely a very powerful tool to use for effective community work, something I don’t mind being a part of. Simply being at Church also allows a majority of people from town to see me, and for me to share something in common with them. Sitting there, I always think that it’s one of those things most people (Americans) would really like going to once or twice, experience it, hear the singing, feeling the energy, realize you’re in Africa, stand out and maybe feel a little special. Not sure about that last part…but it does feel unique, and fun, even if it is just sitting in a Church for 2.5 hours not really understanding everything in another language.

After Church, around 11 am, Prima, a bunch of kids, and I packed again into the RAV 4 and went back to the compound, where I thought I would spend the rest of the afternoon washing some cloths (by hand), listen to my iPod, and read a book. Well…Prima’s had other thoughts. She was already late for her scheduled field work activities and practically leaving the compound once we got back from Church. Her fieldwork consisted of taking a local women’s group to provide HIV/AIDS sensitization at another Church some 2 hours south of Rakai Town, toward Tanzania, in much more rural areas. Well, cutting to the chase, she asked me to come at the last minute, maybe just as the token white guy, or the nice lady she is, who knows? Well, with only 2 sweet bananas (much smaller in size than normal bananas) for breakfast at 730 am that morning, and a relaxing day ahead of me, I really wasn’t too excited for a full day of field work with no lunch in site. But, being the nice guy I am, I said yes, happily, which in turn made her happy, which also turned out to be the best decision I could have made that day, no question about it. Read on.

Field work with Prima is something else. She is really loved by a lot of people, and has a sort of connection and draw to a lot of people. The way she describes it as, is she has dedicated her life to serving others, this after being infected by HIV/AIDS some 15 years ago, being a widow with 3 kids (2 in college right now, 1 of those in the US) and making her purpose everyday to help those more in need than herself. She does this volunteer work very well by consulting through World Vision, again, as a volunteer, and only paid through the activities she does in the field, which she does very effectively. She’s also got a brother and sisters who have faired off pretty well in Uganda. I also don’t want to give the impression that she doesn’t want money, because she does, but the work she does she enables herself to reach a lot of people, most in very rural communities, and in a way that I don’t believe any PC volunteer could ever come close to doing. She also writes all her proposals to World Vision by hand. As I said earlier, people love her, she’s one of them, is an outspoken women with HIV, a counselor for many many widows, is running for Mayor* (who still cooks over a charcoal stove for meals), is very lively, and just a very unique person. This is also my landlady in Rakai, or the way she describes it sometime, my mother in Uganda, as her son’s in the US (Boston area), is the same age as me, and his birthday is only 5 days after mine (May 25, 1985, seriously). She and I talked about the switch him and I unknowingly made a few days after I arrived in Rakai. To say the least, I feel happy living here.

Ok, I realize I got off topic there for a bit, probably will again, but will now try to get to the main reason why I’m writing you this, and why this was a memorable day. I even think I can make this part shorter than what I imagined.

So, along with Prima in the RAV 4, and another van driven by another driver, we went to a village just outside of Rakai town to pick up 15 women from a local women’s group. I met these women once before when I had just arrived in Rakai, to figure out how Red Cross could get involved in the community, and to perform my own community “needs assessment.” These women have organized themselves well and written songs and plays about the problem of HIV/AIDS in Rakai, how it’s directly affected them, and the message the wish to send others. They’re great songs, very traditional, use a few drums, and what you’d imagine from a rural women’s group in Africa. Again, I feel lucky being able to hear this very openly, causally, and live! The group also has a few songs about hygiene and sanitation, family planning (why men ruin things and women lack empowerment), and how girls in particular are dressing very inappropriately these days. So, today, this women’s group services, with the help of Prima and World Vision, was being requested some 2 hours away at another Church to help sensitize the people of this area on HIV/AIDS. In other words, this is an exchange program supporting local women’s groups in Rakai, and then outreaching to other communities teaching about HIV/AIDS. Prima organizes these, enables World Vision to reach these people, writes the reports, and donates a lot of time and effort providing people the right message. I personally think the more people talk about HIV/AIDS, have the right facts, and send reinforcing messages; Uganda will continue reducing new HIV cases.

So, we picked up the 15 women just outside of Rakai, crammed again into the RAV 4 and the van, and headed south in very rural, hilly, beautiful Rakai district. We had 2 boys in the boot (trunk area of RAV 4 open to the rest of the car), 5 grown women in the back seats, myself and another women in the passenger seat, and our driver in the RAV 4. That makes 10 in a 5 person (seatbelt) car. We were on our way…

Shortly after taking off, these women (in both cars) were obviously very excited about the trip, and wanted to, well, do what they were good at…sing! For roughly the next 2 hours, my group of women sang song (and chant, repeatedly) about leaving their home (we’ve gone), arriving in new places, caring for people, how I was their “muzungu” (white person, or foreigner), and their appreciation of Prima. Unfortunately, due to my lack of Luganda, I was not able to translate everything they were singing, though I could pick up the gist of it. Nonetheless, it was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget, a group of 6 Ugandan women singing in a car, 2 boys playing a big drum in the back, listening to very traditional live Ugandan music.

At the actual Church service (remember, 2nd one for the day, still no lunch), Prima and I were welcomed as the guests of honor (and they didn’t even knew I was coming, but were happy I was there), seated at the front of the Church (mud building about the size of a classroom), and were asked to give introduction speeches. I did my typical Luganda introduction speech, which always helps to establish the mood and relationship, and shows a bit of care, no matter how short it actually is. It’s always fun to see the faces of people listening to me speak Luganda, and since the building was small, a lot of kids stood outside the building and looked through the windows. Even after the speech, especially in crowds like that, I can always catch one of the Ugandan youth staring at me, or sometimes, even petting my arm to feel the hair. I think my head was even patted a few times by the women sitting behind me in the car.

Part of the Church service was dedicated to fundraising so the group could build a new building for the Church. For the fundraising, many of the local people brought food(s) with them to auction off. Prima and our other driver bought most of these things (at deliberately high prices), kept some of the food to bring home, and then gave most of it back to people in the crowd. Interesting… I did bargain for some avocados, with Prima, but we just ended up splitting the winnings. The people here were again very welcoming (as most Ugandans are, especially at a function like this) and excited for their day. The women’s group we brought along with us performed their song and dance at the end of service and was very well received. This mode of community work continues to prove to be a very effective way to reach people, especially on HIV/AIDS sensitization, even if you are a few hours late for your own field work activity. A lot of people will wait just to watch women perform songs or act out an educational drama show.

The Church provided all of us with lunch around 4 pm, again, very hospitable and welcoming, which is still probably an understatement. As I sat on the wooden bench in the mud building looking through the wood framed door at the banana plantations and rolling hills, I just reminded myself to appreciate the things I’m able to do and places I’m able to go. The thing I haven’t mentioned is the poverty these people live in, though don’t always act like it, and which becomes very relative in time. I’ll talk more about this later.

On the way back from Church and to Rakai, our women’s group had not tired, and again, sang the whole way back. I think this time they even more used of the names “Colin, muzungu, Prima, etc.”. Actually, I think they sang more in the car (really, about 1.5 hours each way on a very hilly, bumpy, dirt road) than they did at the Church. Either way, I’d say they definitely had a good time by the way they were singing, and the greeting they got back in their Village from their kids and family members. For their day’s activities, roughly 8 hours of work, they made just about $25 for 15 people. I imagine most of this money will just go directly to their women’s group bank account (they use a community based savings account). Though to the women’s group this day was rewarding, it’s not that much money (standards…), and I know they could still use the support. This is something I’m continually working on with Red Cross.

After dropping off the still very excited group of women, Prima and I stopped by a local bar to have a beer with Father Charles, from the Church we had been to in the morning. Father Charles is a good friend of Prima, a very nice man, and even bought both of us a beer. We talked about the day, as I’m doing here, and about some volunteering at the Church’s primary and secondary school. We got back home around 9 pm, came back to write this, and realized that this day was been much better than if I were to have sat here all day and washed cloths. I’m tired, I realize that I will probably never again have this experience again, unless they’re sung by very young kids in a crowded minivan, and obviously, wouldn’t be the same. For one, the scenery in Rakai District is beautiful…I hope you are all able to check out some of the photos I’ve recently posted. The combination of family owned banana plantations, rolling hills, the greenness, mud houses, loosely built brick houses, kids screaming muzungu with a big smile on their face, is almost unforgettable. Try not to cry…jk.

So, I hope you’ve all enjoyed this… I’m sorry for my long explanations. Know that I’m always excited to hear back and how things are going in the US. We do get news here in Uganda, I just don’t always have the mean to check it. I do have a phone though, and calls and texts are highly accepted. Oh well, Hope everything is well for ya and take care!